Body Confidence in Kids
When I was younger, I didn’t pay too much attention to my physical appearance until I was a teenager. I didn’t have a full-length mirror, we didn’t have a scale, I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up until I was 16, and I had an annual clothing budget of $100.
You could say that the emphasis on appearance in my family was pretty low. But, maybe those were just the times I grew up in.
If you read this blog, you know that I believe experiences in childhood may have an effect on a child’s eating, self-esteem, body confidence, food preferences and more.
Early experiences don’t always come from parents and the food they serve, although these are inarguably powerful influences.
Early input can come from the outside world.
Pretty Mom Paula
My mom’s friend Paula lived down the street and I started to babysit for her two young children. Paula was very different from my mother.
She was blonde, and she was pretty. Pretty in a different way than my mother.
Paula used a hair dryer to blow out her hair and a curling iron to shape it. She wore makeup, even if she was in a tee shirt and shorts. She was young and she smelled good.
She always smiled. I noticed because she wore lipstick.
When I would babysit, she would tell me about the diet she was currently on. She would apologize for the lack of snacks in the house, and I remember, I always felt disappointed.
Paula was the first woman I remember who took great care with her appearance. Not just on a party day or a church day, like my mom, but every day.
Paula was also the first recollection of a person who outwardly spoke and lived a life with diets. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what it all meant.
As a child, I don’t think knowing Paula, or her dieting ways, harmed me in terms of my self-esteem or the way I ate. In fact, I think she opened up my small, insulated world a little bit more.
But, I could’ve been a different kid who had a different impression and experience with Paula. I could’ve taken up dieting. I could’ve been restrictive in my eating. I could’ve started an obsessive focus with my appearance.
But, I didn’t.
I like to think the reason had to do with my self-esteem as a child and the fact that in my home, there wasn’t an overt emphasis on appearances or dieting.
I didn’t grow up in an environment where much attention was drawn to a person’s physicality.
That’s not always the case, though.
What is it that could rattle or build your child’s self-esteem? What is it that could set a child on a path of poor self-esteem and poor body image?
Could it be the neighbor? Could it be your child’s best friend? Could it be the babysitter?
Could it be his favorite TV show? Could it be you? Or, could it be the inherent temperament and genetic make-up of your child?What is it that could rattle or build your child’s self-esteem? Click To Tweet
What I’ve come to recognize in my years of working with kids and their families, and my own motherhood, is that as a parent, one doesn’t really know the effect life experiences will have on a child, and whether those experiences will be positive, neutral or negative.
I’m a Good Person
A 2016 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Society looked at over 200 5 year-olds. The researchers took these kids through a series of developmentally and age sensitive exercises to tease out whether they had good self-esteem (I am a good person) or bad self-esteem (I am a bad person).
Their findings suggest that a child’s self-esteem is already established by age five.
Self-esteem—or feeling good or bad about oneself– is a personality trait, one that is established early on, well before heading to school, the scientists argue.
They also suggest self-esteem is relatively stable across the lifespan. In other words, this idea of whether you are good or bad stays with you.
I believe this inner knowledge is a powerful link to surviving the ups and downs of childhood—as a child, and as a parent.
Building Body Confidence
Of course, a good self-esteem is naturally tied to building body confidence in kids.
As kids grow up, their self-esteem can be challenged and called into question, especially from those outside forces I mentioned earlier.
Their body confidence can be shaken, particularly as they muddle through the challenges of puberty.
Growing girls may feel a pressure to be thin and pretty, while boys may feel the pressure to be muscular and strong.
Kids can be cruel, too, pointing out differences rather than accepting them. And frankly, adults do the same thing.
As a parent, I have had my fair share of worries about my kids’ self-esteem and body confidence.
I do what I know best to build up and insulate my kids from outside influences. I’ve done my best to support my kids when their confidence has been rattled.
Could I prevent them from going through the ups and downs of feeling insecure about themselves?
Prevent them from having self-doubt? Poor body confidence? A shaky self-esteem?
I wish I could answer with a resounding “Yes!”
I wish we could inoculate our kids from all the negative messages the world sends their way, but I don’t think there are any guarantees–just hopes, wishes and our best efforts.
I think that your child, like mine, will probably experience ebbs and flows in body confidence along the way. I think your child will compare himself to others and come up short some days.
On some level, this is part of growing up— figuring out where you fit, who you are, and who you want to be.
Despite this, your unconditional love and support—no matter what—is some of the best medicine against poor self-esteem and body image you can give to your child.Your unconditional love and support—no matter what—is some of the best medicine against poor self-esteem and body image you can give to your child. Click To Tweet
The Recipe for Body Confidence Success
In the spirit of putting your best foot forward and raising a body confident kid, here are some essentials I think you should consider:
Respect and Honor Your Own Body
Mothers and fathers who self-criticize or who criticize others send an indisputable message of body perfection. No body is perfect.
Moms, don’t put yourself down, hate on your body, or openly be desirous of another woman’s body in front of your child.
Dads, don’t make disparaging comments about women and their weight, don’t idolize swimsuit models, and stay away from commenting about women’s body parts.
Tolerate Normal Child Growth
Every child grows at a different pace and certain phases of growth favor more “pudginess.”
Pre-pubescence is notorious for pudginess—don’t harp on your child about his eating, exercise or need to lose weight during this time.
If you’re feeling bothered by this phase, I bet your child feels the same way. Don’t make it worse by drawing attention to something that will likely pass with time.
Focus on Your Child’s Inner Qualities
Keep a running list of your child’s best qualities and highlight them frequently. There’s not a child on the planet that doesn’t enjoy hearing he is loyal, kind, friendly, fun, smart, thoughtful and adventurous.
Descriptive words like these can help shift the way your child thinks about himself and may help him see there is more to him than his physical appearance.
Limit Media Influences
This is a hard one today. Media is everywhere and many kids use it. Fashion magazines and social media encourage self-comparison.
If you can’t downgrade your child’s engagement with media, be sure to teach him media literacy. Make sure your child knows when he watches sitcoms or peruses magazines, what he is seeing doesn’t reflect the real world.
If you have a sporty kid, consider team sports. They have been associated with higher self-esteem.
If not, cultivate other skills that can sustain your child’s self-esteem and body confidence. Try theater, writing, voice, cooking, technology or woodworking.
Tap into the important aspect of building a skill set — it is tied to better self-esteem.
Praise your child for the effort, not the outcome. Not only does this help sustain self-esteem, it also helps instill motivation and perseverance.
Raising a body confident kid is a day-to-day endeavor that starts with a good self-esteem (I am a good person).
Nurturing and sustaining self-esteem is one of your most important jobs, and can help you raise a body confident kid.
Are you raising a body confident kid?Are you raising a body confident kid? Building Body Confidence in Kids Click To Tweet
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: February 8, 2017
Updated on: September 20, 2019