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Helping Kids Develop Healthy Body Image

Body image begins long before we actually sit down and assess health goals as adults. As kids pick up math skills, playground games, and new hobbies, they’re also developing a certain way that they see themselves. Guiding kids toward having a healthy body image can do wonders for their self-esteem, emotional wellbeing, and personal development.

With mass media laying down lots of pressure to look or appear certain ways, kids aren’t always receiving the best messages about their bodies. Parents, older siblings, and other adult mentors can all step up and be a positive influence on a child’s growth towards self-acceptance and healthy body image.

Not sure how to help? Take a look at some of the concrete ways you can help kids develop healthier body image.

Recognizing Body Image in Kids

By definition, body image is the way a person feels about their body. In kids, healthy body image consists of feeling good about how their body looks or what it can do. This often translates to confidence in other activities – getting excited on picture day or wanting to show off new sports skills.

Poor body image, on the other hand, may manifest as dislike for one’s body or an overall lack of self-esteem. Kids may not want to be in photos, or they may be severely hesitant to try on new clothes or even new activities. The butterfly effect of body image ripples out into many aspects of life.

Adults sometimes don’t realize that small actions and comments can have huge effects on kids. Remember, children are like sponges when it comes to learning – they’re constantly listening, watching, and taking note of how people behave, as they form an idea of how the world works.

There are many things that adults can do to help kids develop healthy body image. These positive habits vary slightly for each age group. Take a look!

Body Image for Toddlers (Age 1-3)

Toddlers tend to show a natural affinity for their bodies, wiggling toes, squirming, and walking around without worry. Parents can reinforce these good vibes by:

  • • Playing gently and cuddling
  • • Allowing toddlers to make new noises and move their bodies freely (in a safe environment).
  • • Smiling and praising toddlers when they accomplish new skills, like taking steps or waving hello.

Body Image for Children (Age 4-11)

As they start developing an identity, most kids are generally proud of their bodies. However, comparison starts to creep in during this age range, which can compromise otherwise positive body image. Parents can help by:

• Teaching kids about their bodies, as well as how to take care of their bodies (brushing hair, bathing, clipping fingernails).

• Paying attention and showing interest when kids are trying to show you a new skill.

• Encouraging kids to be active (playing outside, going for a walk together, visiting a jungle gym).

• Complimenting kids on how they look, how much they’ve grown, or a physical skill they’ve been working on.

Body Image for Teens (Age 12+)

Puberty can put the brakes on self-confidence. Every child reacts differently to changes in their body, so be attentive and supportive by:

• Allowing them to try new haircuts and clothing styles.

• Complimenting their appearance.

• Not criticizing or comparing how they look or dress.

• Encouraging healthy sleep and mealtime habits.

• Encouraging physical activity for the sake of healthy fun, not for weight loss.

Be a Good Role Model

Remember, setting a good example can be the most powerful action of all! Plus, observations about your attitudes don’t end when kids reach the age of 18. Try and practice positive body image yourself, and you’ll be amazed at how much this healthy habit rubs off on those around you.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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