Dresden International School

The blog emerged from my own questions about young children and continues to be fueled by my experiences in the DIS Preschool as well as questions from parents. In these posts you will find some parenting tips, some insight into young children, and perhaps even a few surprises.

by Joyce Larson, DIS Preschool Coordinator

Mental Blueprints

The table was cleared, the family dispersed, and there I was, about age 3½, sitting alone at the mostly empty dinner table faced with the parental mandate: you can leave the table when you finish all the food on your plate.

Through the opening to the kitchen, I overheard my grandmother say, “You’ve got to do something about Joyce. Her face is like a little moon!”

“I know,” my mother sighed heavily. “I’m trying.”

This was the moment of origin for my mental blueprint. Before that moment, I really had no idea about identifying people as fat or thin; I basically categorized them as fun or not fun to play with. But at that moment, I found out something new about myself: I was fat… more particularly, I was too fat. And it was causing my mother stress. It must be a very bad thing. I must be a disappointment.

Hold up. Do you see the irony here? My mother and grandmother were despairing that I was too chubby at the very moment I was forced to finish a plate of food I did not want!

Through the years of childhood and adolescence, my mental blueprint became rock solid. Back in primary and secondary school, I remember thinking every year that I must be the fattest person in the class, maybe the school. My mental blueprint removed any objectivity to discern whether or not it was true (though now with the perspective of 30+ years working with children ages 1 to 14 as I look back at photos, I think it was not true).

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"Children's opinions of their bodies form at a very young age. Research suggests that children as young as 3 years old can have body image issues. There are many things that influence how children see themselves. Parents can play a critical role in helping children develop a positive body image and self-esteem (how you see yourself and feel about yourself).” See: Body Image Issues (Children and Teens) |

How can parents help their young children create healthy mental blueprints? Here are some places to start from Love the Skin You’re In: Tips for Cultivating Healthy Body Image in Our Kids and How to talk to your child about race:

  • Celebrate differences. “Whether that is skin color, shape, or height, we are all different. Teaching our kids to not only acknowledge, but also appreciate those differences can positively influence the way they view themselves and their peers.”

  • Focus on abilities vs. appearances. “Teach your kids to focus on what their bodies can do rather than how they look.”

  • Talk about differences. “Hair, skin, eyes – preschoolers are noticing all these distinctions and beginning to describe them. It's normal. If your child points out that someone has curly hair, you can say, ‘Some people have curly hair, some people have straight hair – isn't that great?’"

  • Aim for color fairness, not color blindness. “If you don't acknowledge differences, you fail to prepare your child to live in a multi-ethnic society. The message should be that ‘your ethnicity is part of who you are, and you treat everybody fairly, equally.’ We're all different, but no color is better than another.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Virginia Lumsden agrees: “Promoting a positive appreciation of our bodies and what they can do; celebrating our similarities and differences; and identifying what you like about yourself and others are excellent starting points with young children, ... (as well as) encouraging children to be open-minded, non-judgemental and appreciative of others.” Promoting healthy body image in your early years.

Now an adult in my 60s, I see how through my life there was constant tension about body image, self-esteem, and self-confidence as my weight went up and down the scale, making the mental blueprint of my early years a reality and then struggling against it. I hope this anecdote spawns reflection on how you influence your child's mental blueprint.

Finally, here is a great resource from Alexandra at Big Life Journal to help shift the focus from noticing a person’s looks to appreciating them on a deeper level:

PS: I’m adding one more piece of advice which my parents would have benefitted from: Don’t use the “clean plate” measure of food. Do teach your child to pause and determine whether they are full or satisfied.

This blog began in 2014 as documentation of my learning journey into early childhood when I left the Primary Principal position after 8 years to become the Preschool Coordinator. I hope you enjoy reading, and I welcome your feedback, questions, and ideas.

Joyce Larson, Preschool Coordinator

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