Helping Kids Maintain a Positive Self-Image

5 min to read
A student in a grey shirt and yellow workout pants is jumping rope and working on her physical fitness while taking online classes at Connections Academy.

Having a positive body image and healthy habits are critical for children and teenagers. Yet, in a world that bombards them with altered images, fad diets, and “health coaches,” it can be difficult for children and teenagers to know what is healthy and positive for them and their bodies. 

Here are some tips for how parents and Learning Coaches can help children develop a positive body image, a positive self-image, and healthy habits in general.

How to Help a Teenager with Body Image Issues

Have open conversations about social media

It’s difficult, and perhaps unrealistic, to shield teenagers from social media completely. So, instead of avoiding social media, consider having open and age-appropriate conversations about the content that your students are being exposed to, who they follow on social media, and why they follow those people. You can even suggest some content creators whom you feel would be positive influences on your student and who encourage them to have a healthy body image.

Provide opportunities to increase self-value

Self-value refers to internal feelings of being worthy of love, being a good person, and belonging to others. Positive self-value can aid students in withstanding external emotional blows and give them the strength to get up and try again if they fail at a task. Developing self-value can also help protect children and teenagers from believing those who want to convince them that they are not worthy until they look a certain way or buy a certain product. Thus, self-value can help children and teenagers to build a positive self-image that is independent of what their bodies look like.

Self-value can be developed through altruistic acts (such as volunteering), by feeling like one is part of a community, and via developing habits of gratitude.

Focus on the positives

It is easy for people, regardless of age, to fall into the trap of focusing on what they don’t have. This focus can lead to negative self-talk, an unhealthy body image, and a gloomy outlook on life. To combat this, encourage your student to focus on what they do have and what they can be thankful for.

This can be accomplished by making a list of what the student is grateful for. You can also encourage a focus on positivity by having students pause, look around them and at themselves and encourage them to love the features that make them unique and confident.

Image of two young Connections Academy students, a girl in a yellow shirt and another girl in a striped shirt, making a health dish together.

Discuss body changes

Numerous changes occur during puberty, and these physical and hormonal changes can negatively impact students’ self-image, particularly for teenagers. Communicating with your student throughout these changes can help them view themselves in a positive way. 

For example, discuss what is a natural part of puberty, what is only temporary, and the purpose for the changes. These conversations can aid in demystifying the bodily changes, thereby making puberty less scary and showing the student that they are not different, bad, or “less than.”

Promote physical activity

Physical activity—whether in the form of sports, exercise, or games—aids students in improving their cardiovascular health and building muscles. Physical activity can also help protect them from ailments such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Thus, physical activity can encourage students to feel strong and healthy, which will encourage them to have a healthy body image.

Further, by having students focus on what their bodies can do rather than what they look like, parents and Learning Coaches can reframe how students view themselves so that students have a more positive body image.

Also, physical activity has been found to reduce stress, manage ADHD symptoms, decrease anxiety, alleviate depression, and help students to focus more effectively on schoolwork.

Seperate emotion from eating

Research finds that labelling foods as “good” or “bad” can generate guilt for a person by causing them to judge themselves as morally “good” or “bad” based on what foods they eat. This may also lead to a difficult cycle of restricting food, binging, and then feeling shame.

Therefore, perhaps the best stance is food neutrality in which people observe how individual foods make them feel. For example, maybe broccoli makes a student feel bloated, but celery makes them feel light and ready to run around. So, encouraging food awareness can help students remove possible shame associated with food and to have a positive body image.

Look at food as fuel

Parents and Learning Coaches should discuss the nutritional density of foods and how different aspects of food affect the body. For example, parents and Learning Coaches could explain that fish oil helps the heart to be healthy and carbohydrates give humans energy to think and run. By pairing a food with a function of the body, students learn how food is fuel, which can be a learning opportunity to discuss anatomy, physiology, and chemistry with the students.

Model healthy behaviour

Children and teenagers often pick up on what they observe. So, if teenagers see their parents and Learning Coaches have healthy body images and talk positively about their bodies, then students will be encouraged to treat their bodies in the same way. 

Having a healthy body image is no easy feat, and it is something that many people struggle with, even as adults. However, parents and Learning Coaches have several options for encouraging their students to develop positive relationships with their bodies and to help students who are struggling with body image issues. While it may feel like a lot of pressure, it is also empowering to know that the people who care the most about their students can also have the greatest influence on these students.

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