When our kids are confident in themselves, they’re better able to be caring and sensitive towards others and body confidence is an aspect of overall confidence. Body confident kids feel good in their bodies and excited about all the things their bodies can do!
To raise body-confident kids in a world filled with harmful messaging about body type and image is certainly a challenge. Kids, like adults, are pressured to look a certain way from an early age in our culture. This leads many to be critical of themselves when they don’t, leading to a lack of overall confidence.
While you can’t change the way all this messaging might pop up in your kid’s life, with some mindful messaging, you can help your child cultivate a positive self-image and embrace others in the process.
Model healthy behavior and self-talk
Our children pick up on so much of what we say, do, and believe. That’s why one of the best things we can do is model healthy talk about our own bodies. But for many, this is easier said than done.
The first step is to pay attention to how you’re feeling about your body. If you’ve been struggling with body image, take some small steps to address how you’re feeling. A small step might look like speaking with a mental health provider, talking to a trusted friend, or finding a weight inclusive physician.
When you talk to your kids, do your best to focus on what your body can do rather than how it looks. For example, rather than making a negative comment about how you feel in a swimsuit, focus what you say to your kids on how excited we are to jump in the waves with them.
Focusing on positive messaging helps our kids to appreciate and accept their own bodies and helps us rewire the ways we talk about and to ourselves.
Talk about body diversity
While it might be tempting to avoid the subject of bodies altogether, this can make the topic feel taboo to kids and can leave them with unanswered questions. Instead, have conversations with your kids about how everyone’s bodies are different for many reasons beyond an individual’s control. Looking any way doesn’t increase or decrease one’s value as a person. Appearance isn’t linked with health and you cannot tell how much someone exercises or eats by the size of their body. Nor can you identify their contribution to this world by looking at their body. This is the age-old “never judge a book by its cover” concept. Teaching children to value people for who they are, not what they look like, is a gift they will benefit from throughout their entire lives.
Focus on health versus appearance
The conversations we have about what we eat and how we exercise should be geared around our health, wellbeing, and fun, not our body size. Move away from labeling foods as good and bad — and body sizes as healthy or unhealthy.
When you’re talking about exercise with your kids, try to frame exercise as a way to feel energized, strong, and healthy — not to achieve a certain look or body weight. Discuss how foods fuel our bodies to be strong and keep our minds sharp. For example, you might explain how vegetables give us strength and help us fight illness. Or that cookies can bring us joy and some short-term energy. Educating our kids about these topics can reduce anxiety and prevent food restrictions.
Never make critical comments about their body
You may worry that your child will get bullied for their body type or weight, and it’s natural to want to protect them. But sometimes our own fears lead us to say things that could cause our kids to be self-conscious and self-critical. Focus instead on conversation around emotional health. If you’re concerned, check in with your child about their body image, the pressure to be thin, or other body-related issues. Validating the very real feelings of inadequacy people in bigger bodies can feel is important. This type of conversation can also help you identify if your child is experiencing body dysmorphia, a different issue than body image. Body dysmorphia is a warped sense of one’s appearance. This can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food or even an eating disorder.
Help develop a positive self-image and confidence
Encourage your child to see their strengths and beauties, both physical and non-physical. Comment on how their strong legs help them climb a tree or how their fingers play the piano beautifully. Talk about their internal qualities, too, such as their kindness or curiosity.
When we share specific and positive feedback with our kids, they’re more likely to see their unique value and beauty beyond their body’s appearance. They’ll learn that their worth isn’t based on how they look, what they eat, or how much they weigh. They’ll know they’re wonderful and loved no matter their appearance.
Ana Reisdorf. “How to Teach Your Child Body Positivity.” Mental Health America. Mental Health America, Inc. 2022. https://mhanational.org/blog/how-teach-your-child-body-positivity
Kaitlyn Kamleiter. “Avoiding picky eating during holiday meals.” Children’s Minnesota. November 25, 2019. https://www.childrensmn.org/2019/11/25/avoiding-picky-eating-holiday-meals/.
Sumner Brooks, MPH, RDN. “How to Raise a Kid Who Is Satisfied With Their Body, According to a Registered Dietitian.” Good Housekeeping. Hearst Digital Media. December 9, 2021. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a38029229/positive-body-image-for-kids/