Boosting Body Image
As preteens try on different looks, parents can help by being accepting and supportive, providing positive messages, and encouraging other qualities that keep looks in perspective. Be sure to:
- Accept and understand.Recognize that being concerned about looks is as much a part of the teen years as a changing voice and learning to shave. You know that in the grand scheme of things your daughter’s freckles don’t matter, but to her they might seem paramount. As frustrating as it can be when they monopolize the bathroom, avoid criticizing kids for being concerned about appearances. As they grow, concern about their looks will stop dominating their lives.
- Give lots of compliments.Provide reassurance about kids’ looks and about all their other important qualities. As much as they may seem not to notice or care, simple statements like “you’ve got the most beautiful smile” or “that shirt looks great on you” really do matter. Compliment them on other physical attributes, such as strength, speed, balance, energy, or grace. Appreciating physical qualities and capabilities helps build a healthy body image.
- Compliment what’s inside too.Notice out loud all the personal qualities that you love about your kids — how generous your son is to share with his little sister, the determined way that your daughter studies for her tests, or how your son stood by his best friend. Reassure them when they express insecurity. When you hear “I hate my hair” or “I’m so little,” provide valuable counterpoint.
- Talk about what appearances mean.Guide your kids to think a little more deeply about appearances and how people express themselves. Talk about the messages that certain styles might convey. One outfit may send the message “I’m ready to party!” while others might say “I’m heading to school” or “I’m too lazy to do laundry.”
- Set reasonable boundaries.Be patient, but also set boundaries on how much time your kids can spend on grooming and dressing. Tell them it’s not OK to inconvenience others or let chores go. Limits help kids understand how to manage time, be considerate of others’ needs, share resources, exercise a little self-discipline, and keep appearances in perspective.
- Be a good role model.How you talk about your own looks sets a powerful example. Constantly complaining about or fretting over your appearance teaches your kids to cast the same critical eye on themselves. Almost everyone is dissatisfied with certain elements of their appearance, but talk instead about what your body can do, not just how it looks. Instead of griping about how big your legs are, talk about how they’re strong enough to help you hike up a mountain.
Having a healthy and positive body image means liking your body, appreciating it, and being grateful for its qualities and capabilities. When parents care for and appreciate their own bodies, they teach their kids to do the same.