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Ask the expert: Children and body image

Q: "My nine-year-old daughter keeps saying she's fat and sometimes tries to skip meals. She's not at all fat. What can I do to help her realise her weight isn't a problem?"

A: Behaviour specialists and educational consultants Nicky Hutchinson and Chris Calland have written the new book Body Image In The Primary School (published by Routledge, priced £18.99, available now).

Hutchinson says: "Despite the pressure from media and friends, you are still the most important role model for your child and what you say and do can encourage her to feel good about herself and her body.

"Reassure your daughter that you admire her for all her unique strengths, qualities and characteristics and don't over-emphasise her appearance, which is just one part of herself. Encourage her to express her individuality, opinions and ideas which will help her to develop her self-confidence.

"Take teasing seriously and make time to listen to your child's worries and concerns. Help her to look critically at the unrealistic images of thinness or beauty that she sees in adverts, videos and magazines and talk about the pressures to achieve a certain look.

"Make sure that mealtimes are pleasant social times where you all sit down to eat together. Avoid labelling any foods as 'good' or 'bad' but instead aim for moderation, balance and variety.

"Don't make negative comments about your own or other people's weight or appearance and never make critical comments about your daughter's looks.

"Reassure your daughter that she's not overweight but, if after all your efforts you are still concerned about your daughter's eating and attitudes about weight, you need to consult your doctor for further advice and support."

PA Media