Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 5 are going through a crucial growth stage. According to the Child Development Institute, this is a stage of rapid physical and intellectual development. Results of a new study have revealed that these preschool-aged young children actually develop perceptions of body images, which is significantly earlier than their parents probably thought they would develop this awareness. These perceptions of their small selves can be either positive or negative, and parents may be missing opportunities to promote healthy mindsets about physical looks, Medical Xpress reported.

"Parents view early childhood as the 'age of innocence,' a time when children are free from body-image awareness or self-consciousness," said Janet Liechty, who led the study, according to Medical Xpress. "However, aspects of body-related self-concept such as healthy sexuality, body confidence, body acceptance and early signs of body size preference are all influenced by family socialization processes beginning as early as preschool."

Liechty and her co-authors interviewed 30 parents — with children from just over 2 to nearly 4 years — to examine their perceptions of body image in preschoolers. According to Medical XPress, most of them expressed beliefs that their preschoolers were too young to be concerned about body image.

However, 40 percent of the participating parents described behaviors that indicate their child was concerned with body image. These telling actions include simply discussing weight, imitating comments about size or weight, or seeking praise for their appearance or clothing.

"Without greater awareness, parents may be missing opportunities to foster body confidence and acceptance in the early years so that kids are better protected from negative body image in adolescence," said co-author Julie Birky in a statement. "As a parent of preschoolers, it was empowering for me to realize that body image is being formed in these early years and to know that I can create a positive environment in my home to help my sons develop positive body image."

Source: Liechty JM, Clarke S, Birky JP, Harrison K. Perceptions of early body image socialization in families: Exploring knowledge, beliefs, and strategies among mothers of preschoolers. Body Image. 2016.

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