Self-confidence will help your child to be resilient and good self-esteem will stop them focusing on any flaws or comparing themselves unfavourably with others. Through communication, praise and support you can help them to feel good about themselves
Many people are unhappy with their bodies and this can make them feel self-conscious. A negative body image can have long-lasting effects on self-esteem – especially for children. So, what can be done to help with a child’s self-esteem? Here is some guidance for recognising, preventing or alleviating a child’s problems with negative body image and poor self-esteem.
Confidence and self-esteem help your child to be resilient in the face of setbacks. If they can take criticism and brush off failure, they are better able to learn and stretch themselves with new challenges. Good self-esteem stops them focusing on any flaws or comparing themselves unfavourably with others.
Children who like themselves are confident and comfortable in their own skin. They are less likely to suffer from social anxieties or worries. A positive attitude is a great platform - for learning, and for living.
For many people, unfortunately, self-esteem is closely allied with their personal appearance. Most body-image and self-esteem issues occur around puberty. Changes in a child’s body are scary enough, but their hormones are upset too, leading to emotional disturbance. Self-consciousness and anxiety about their appearance can easily be blown out of proportion – but to your child, they are real. The media (in posters, magazines, videos and TV) tend to show ‘beautiful, slim’ or ‘handsome, fit’ people. Teenagers are impressionable enough but, shockingly, children as young as 5 have expressed concerns over body image.
Low self-esteem is pervasive. The NSPCC organised 35,244 counselling sessions for children with this problem between 2014 and 2015. In the UK, 1.6 million people have eating disorders, and 11% of these are males. 72% of eating disorder sufferers have admitted to self-harming, and the issue can lead to more tragic consequences. Bullying can make things worse too. Bullies often focus on appearance to taunt their victims. This can feed into a child’s own unhappiness with how they look.
Two thirds of all teenagers had Facebook accounts in 2013. Teenagers are also using other social media websites and apps such as Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat. It is easy for people – not always friends – to comment negatively on your child’s posts or how they look. Unsurprisingly, this can have negative consequences for their self-esteem.
Airbrushed images of ‘perfect’ celebrities give youngsters unrealistic expectations of how they should look. Children can easily compare themselves unfavourably with the models and actors they see. The rise of the ‘selfie’ image also feeds into the public obsession with appearance. With doctored images posted online, anyone lacking in confidence can feel inferior to others.
Talk to your child about the influence of the media. Explain that images are often unrealistic and digitally enhanced – even selfies! It's all an illusion. Help your child focus on the more important issues of happiness and health.
Body image affects boys as well as girls. According to a study by the YMCA, 49% of teenage girls have dieted at some point – and 34% of boys. Boys are overloaded with images of ‘perfect’ male bodies and they often find it harder to discuss their feelings than girls. Suffering in silence can lead to eating disorders and self-harm. Talk to your child and be on the lookout for warning signs.
Pressures can soon overwhelm youngsters, so spot any warning signs early on. You might notice that your child has become lonely or withdrawn. Perhaps they aren’t socialising or participating in activities they previously enjoyed. There are some more warning signs that your child may have a problem with body image or self-esteem. They may:
Lots of children feel bad about the way they look and have a poor body image. Yet, only 1 in 10 youngsters will ask for help, so address any concerns you have carefully. Your child may be defensive or in denial, so reassure them that you are there to support and help them. Focus on their positive qualities, and appreciate that it may be difficult for them to open up to you. Explain that additional help is available - confidentially. A valuable resource for parents and children is Young Minds. Talk to the school or your doctor if you are concerned for their health or welfare. You could also check out the NHS page on Eating Disorders.
A good proportion of children suffer with low self-esteem. If your child is one of them then there are several ways you can help. Firstly, listen to your child and encourage them to talk. Try to understand how they are feeling, and why. You could schedule in some family time together and reassure them they are loved and valued. Praise them when they have tried their best and don’t dwell on their mistakes. Encourage them in their favourite activities and cheer them on if they want to try new things. Let them spend time with friends who are positive and supportive. Of course, if things are really bad then you should seek professional help. Perhaps you could start by suggesting they visit the Childline website. As a last resort you can always talk to your GP.
Children are influenced by what they see and hear at home. How their family behaves can either reinforce a negative body image or promote a healthy one. Children will take note if you are constantly criticising yourself or obsessing over diets and weight – so be careful of your role modelling. Words can hurt – often unintentionally. Challenge any teasing. Brother might think ‘Chubby’ is an affectionate nickname, but sister could be damaged by it.
Puberty is a time of upheaval. Hormones are flying round and bodies are developing. So how does puberty affect body image and self-esteem? Sadly, it’s often in a bad way. Reassure your children about the changes to their body that will occur during puberty. Show them inspirational individuals as positive role models who don’t depend on looks, and talk to them about eating disorders. However, be sure to encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle, eat a balanced diet and take regular exercise.
So, how can you help with your child’s self-esteem? Start young, and continue to support your child through puberty. Let them know that they are loved and reassure them how proud you are of them – for who they are inside – not for how they look or what they do.
Communication is important. Encourage your child to speak up and express any concerns they have. They should also come to you if they are bullied or if they witness bullying.
Encourage them to love their body, and what’s inside too! Investing in your child’s self-esteem will pay dividends throughout their life.
For further reading you may find Education Quizzes' Knowledge Bank very useful. We have a whole host of articles which aim to provide answers to parents’ questions. Whether it’s advice on raising happy children or the details of the National Curriculum – we have tons of info to keep you in the know!