How to Help Kids Build Body Confidence

From social media to parental opinions and everything in between, the pressure is on for kids, especially girls, to look a certain way. Get expert advice on how to help your kids love their body.

Filtered faces, photoshopped bodies and an unrealistic expectation of beauty. It seems that’s all you find when scrolling through your social media feed these days.

Over time, those photos of “Instagram models” can have a major impact on your kids, especially girls.

“Nowadays, I think as social media is bigger and bigger — media and social media are huge impacts of how we view our bodies and our appearance and just the societal pressures and expectations,” says Emily Tarjeft, behavioral health psychologist at Great Lakes Psychology Group in Clinton Township.

It’s a big problem that can lead to issues with self-esteem, which can result in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, binging and purging — and could prompt a child to isolate from peers.

The societal pressure to look a certain way is nothing new, particularly for females.

“The ultimate message is for us to be pleasing in every kind of way to everyone else, and that even means visually,” she says. “Our job is to make sure that we don’t offend anyone with our appearance, that we don’t make anyone uncomfortable with how we dress.”

The focus on one’s appearance begins in the first year of life when people are busy focusing on how cute or handsome the baby is, Tarjeft notes.

“I would say the influence already begins before they even have a chance,” she says.

How can parents combat the body perfection pressures of society and help their child embrace their body just as it is? Here, Tarjeft offers advice.

Shifting the focus

“You look pretty today.”

“You’ve lost weight — you look so good!”

These statements might seem like compliments but they are part of the problem. If you want to help your child embrace their body, start by focusing on anything but appearance.

“The best thing that they can do to give their child resiliency against these other pressures is to just not talk about it, to focus on other things that are more important,” Tarjeft says.

Say, “oh you look so happy today” versus “oh you look so beautiful” or “I’m so proud you did your chores.” Find different ways to talk to or compliment your child while leaving appearance out of it entirely.

“For parents, they can model those compliments between each other,” she adds. Instead of dad telling mom how beautiful she is, he can praise her for her kindness, drive and accomplishments. Even if these compliments aren’t directed at the child, Tarjeft says they will still pick up the value.

If you’re going to talk about the body, do it in a positive way and focus on actions or accomplishments rather than the appearance of the body. For example, say, “I’m so grateful for my body. I love to be able to use my arms to give you a hug,” she suggests.

When it comes to social media, Tarjeft notes that research shows that teens are seeing peers photoshopped and filtered, which puts even more pressure on them to meet an unrealistic expectation of perfection.

Try, if you can, to limit how much time your child is spending on social media. If you can’t limit it — if your teen simply will feel too left out not using it — she suggests looking at the images your child is viewing in their feed. If you don’t see different size and shape bodies, races and ethnicities, it’s time to spice it up.

If you are personally struggling with body issues, she suggests seeking support to overcome your own body image struggles.

“Our kids are watching, and the way we treat our body is going to teach them how to treat theirs,” she says.

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