Q&A: Addressing body image issues when your daughter won't talkWritten by Focus on the Family
Question: Our teenager seems to be suffering from a poor body image, but she won’t talk about it. How do we bring this up without smothering her, alienating her or otherwise hurting our relationship?
Where adolescents are concerned, forced discussions of deep emotional issues are usually counterproductive. Rather than pushing her to share her feelings, we think the best approach would be to focus on spending more one-on-one "fun" time with your daughter. Invite her to take walks with you in the evening – it's a good way to get some exercise while simultaneously providing an opportunity for natural conversation. You could also set up a shopping date or arrange to go out for lunch or bagels and hot chocolate on Saturday mornings.
Ask open-ended questions
Once the two of you are relaxed and having a good time, look for openings to delve into deeper issues. Don’t try to force the discussion to move in a certain direction. Instead, ask open-ended questions. Your daughter needs to feel that she can safely share her thoughts and feelings with you. If you’re gentle and sensitive, there’s a good chance she will gradually open up. When she does, resist the urge to respond with advice. Hold your tongue and learn what it means to be a good listener.
It's worth bearing in mind that many teenage girls – even some you wouldn't suspect – have problems with a negative body image. You may be interested to learn that fathers can play an especially important role in helping their daughters overcome these emotional and psychological difficulties. Every girl longs to feel loved and cherished by her father. If dad gets into the habit of encouraging and affirming her on a regular basis, letting her know how special she is in his eyes and in the sight of God, it won’t be long before your daughter’s self-image begins to move in a positive direction. Naturally, he should take extra care to compliment her on her character rather than simply on her looks or achievements.
If you’re concerned that your daughter may be at risk of anorexia or bulimia, we’d encourage you to seek professional help immediately. Psychological treatment for eating disorders often involves a family-systems approach, in which the entire family goes to counselling together. Focus on the Family Canada's counselling department can refer you to a qualified Christian therapist in your area. For more information and a brief over-the-phone consultation, give us a call Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. For more on this topic, we recommend you get a copy of Dr. Gregory Janz's excellent book Hope, Help, and Healing for Eating Disorders.
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