Your baby learns about her body in the same way that she learns about everything—through exploration. She moves her body, touches it, tastes it, makes noises, names her body parts, and watches your reactions to it. As she explores what her body can do and realizes it is her own, you can guide her in that exploration and help ensure that she develops a positive body image. Some of this guidance comes from intentionally modeling your own positive body image by developing an internal gauge of your own health and creating an environment in which you accept imperfections.
At birth, your baby’s movements and sounds are spontaneous and involuntary. As she grows and gains muscle control, she can begin to explore her body and figure out how she can use it to affect the world around her. At about two months, she finds she can lift her head and move her eyes to follow people and objects. Within another month or so, she sees that she has hands and feet, and she can wave them herself. By four months old, she can use her hands to bring objects to her mouth. As her strength and dexterity increase, she gains the ability to discover what her toes taste like. Through her first year, she explores her body’s parts, capabilities, and sensations.
When she is one year old, she begins to recognize and point to her body parts, starting with her eyes, nose, mouth, and hair. Soon she adds her fingers, arms, hands, legs, toes, feet, and tummy to the parts she can identify. By the time she is two years old, she will probably be able to recognize and point out all of these body parts when asked.
As your baby discovers her body, she realizes that it is distinct from other people’s bodies. She develops a sense of self. Her image of her body will correlate to her emerging self-esteem and confidence.
Part of your baby’s self-image comes from her caregivers’ reactions to and acceptance of her movements and explorations. She feels the intention of your touch, she sees your looks of approval or disapproval, and she hears your verbal encouragement or discouragement when she uses her body and tries new things.
To promote your baby’s body control and encourage a positive body image, try the following activities.
- Provide her with experiences of touch and physical contact. Hold her. Swaddle her. Hug her often. Touch her just for the purpose of connecting. Dance with her in your arms or holding hands.
- Encourage her to explore and learn about her body parts. Read books, sing songs, and play games that talk about her body and identify its parts. You can name parts, and she can identify them on herself and then on you.
- Provide opportunities for movement, and then provide positive reinforcement for those movements. Put your baby on her tummy, and cheer when she lifts her head or eventually rolls over. Make sure you have steady pieces of furniture available when she is ready to pull up to standing. Show excitement for her when she masters a new physical feat.
- Provide toys and objects that stimulate gross and fine-motor activities. For fine-motor skills, provide blocks, crayons, stacking rings, and anything else that requires grasping and manipulating. For gross-motor skills, provide balls, push toys, jumpers, and riding toys. For safety’s sake, make sure the toys you offer are appropriate to your baby’s age and skill level.
To help your baby form a positive body image, be aware of what you say about your own body in front of your baby. Your baby takes her cues from you. The best way to encourage her to love, respect, and take good care of her body is to model that behavior for her. Show your baby that you honor your body and enjoy your health every day. She will most likely follow suit.