Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Teaching Kids Self-Love and Creating a Healthy Body Image
Published Jan 7th, 2021 & updated on Jan 17th, 2022
Kids don’t start thinking about how their body looks until someone points out something “wrong” with it (we’re gonna use a lot of air quotes in this article by the way, so BUCKLE UP!). No five-year-old kid looks at themselves in the mirror and sees “too much” or “too little” of anything unless they’re taught to see themselves that way. From an early age, it’s important to teach kids what body image is, and how they can create a healthy body image. That way, when they’re faced with comparison or with the idea that how they look “isn’t right,” they’ll be confident and prepared to deal with future negative comments and not take them to heart.
There’s been a shift in messages from the media (finally!!) that suggests people should love themselves as they are and should deconstruct the previous negative messages they’ve been told about their body. Notice we said a shift, not an overhaul. Those negative messages are still there so why not teach kids to accept themselves unconditionally at a really young age? Let’s do it before those negative messages get too indoctrinated into a person’s belief system!
But how do we do that? We’ll tell you!
Body Positivity Versus Body Neutrality
Let’s get one thing straight before we get into the list: it’s okay not to love your body every single day. We all have days where we feel insecure! And sometimes, body image issues make us really struggle to love our bodies. If loving your body doesn’t feel right, you can try to aim for body neutrality instead.
Quick explanation: body neutrality is the idea that people should try to accept their bodies, even when they don’t love them. It’s more focused on what our body does for us, like letting us move around, listen to music, and live our lives everyday. When your kids are finding it hard to love how they look, try to teach them to accept their bodies for what they can do.
Okay, on to the list!
1. Don’t Say Negative Things About Yourself
It can be hard to look in the mirror and not pick yourself apart. For years, you’ve been told that a person should look a certain way because society tells us what that “normal” or “standard” body is supposed to look like. Except there’s nothing standard about those images. It’s all a lie. If you’ve given birth, you’ve probably seen commercials or ads for creams and oils that reduce the appearance of stretch marks, or magazine covers telling you how to get back to your pre-baby body.
It can be hard to change the voice that’s in your head, but try your best to do that. Your kids will look at you and see how you view and treat your body. They’ll mirror your actions and your attitude towards yourself.
Show your kids that you need time for yourself too! Do some self-care, set some boundaries with your kids, and show them that it’s important to put yourself first sometimes. When you show them how important it is to care for yourself, your kiddos will grow up understanding that as well.
If you show that you love yourself, your kids will follow your lead and treat themselves with love too! And when self-love doesn’t feel right, self-acceptance will work just fine. It sounds really simple, but it’s really effective.
2. Validate Your Kids’ Insecurities, Then Teach Positivity
You know how we mentioned that little voice in our heads that loves to pick us apart? Kids get down days, too. If they come to you with their insecurities, it’s important to validate their feelings. Rather than forcing a positive mindset (remember the bit about body neutrality?), tell them it’s okay that they feel that way. Sometimes, validation is enough to make them feel better! Then, when they feel validated, you can work on teaching self-love.
Dr. Carrie Jackson has some great self-talk tips, along with more advice for teaching kids about healthy body image, in her course “Teaching Kids To Be Comfortable In Their Bodies” in the DiveThru app. Check out her videos for advice on examining media with your kids, teaching kids positive self-talk, and confronting how your own body image issues might impact your child.
3. Give Them Praise
This is a great way to show your child that you’re proud of them! This will make them feel super warm and fuzzy inside because praise shows them that they did a good job and made you proud!
However, you should be mindful of a couple of things:
Don’t over-praise: praising them too much kind of diminishes the purpose of praise in the first place. It starts to sound empty and fake after a while. If your kid does poorly at a soccer match, say something like, “I know you had a rough game today, but I’m still really proud of you for trying your best. That’s all that matters.”
Don’t only praise results: if your child comes home with an A on a quiz, amazing! Great for them! But don’t just praise the result of their efforts. Praise their efforts too. Did they have a good attitude about losing a game? Did they try really hard on a project or practice their guitar a lot for a recital? Praise the work that they put into something, not the end result.
4. Make an “I Love Myself” Jar
This is such a great way to teach your child to love themselves! Every day, have your kids write down something that they love about themselves on a piece of paper. If they’re not feeling the self-love that day, they can try something more neutral. Then, put it in a jar. You can decorate this jar howeeeevverrr they want to make it fun and special for them to have. At the end of every week, or every two weeks (you get to decide when to do this), you can open up the jar and read all the really nice things that your kids wrote about themselves.
Not only are they reinforcing their self-image every day, but they get a jackpot of love when they read all their messages all at once! They’re reminded why they’re so awesome and why they should love themselves every single day! Eventually, they’ll begin to hold onto those messages and keep them inside as they face a world that tells them the way they are is not good enough. They’ll remember why they’re good enough because of this exercise!
5. Watch Videos on Self-Love and Self-Esteem Together
Watching other people talk about self-love and self-esteem might make your kid realize, “Hey, this is an actual thing and not something that my parents made up!” It gives it a little bit more gravity and legitimacy to the concept you’re trying to teach.
YouTube is a fantastic resource that’s full of awesome videos about this subject. They have tons of videos for kids and parents on just about anything you can think of!
We did some YouTube deep diving of our own and found some videos on self-love that might be a good place to start for your family:
Hopefully these tips and resources help you teach your kids how to love who they are and establish a healthy body image early on. We know that they’re amazing, kind, smart, talented, and loving kids. Now, it’s just time to help them see that for themselves!