Skip to main content

Helping your child have a good body image

From an early age, children are bombarded with images of ‘perfection’ online and in music, TV, film, advertising. This can make them feel that how people look and present themselves is more important than who they really are. It can also make them feel insecure about their own developing bodies. But while you can’t really stop them seeing images of ‘perfect’ bodies in the media, there are simple things you can try to help them be more confident about the way they look.

What is body image?

Body image is how we think about our body, how we believe others see us, and how we behave towards ourselves and other people as a result. It’s a big part of who we are as a person, and can change throughout our lives as we grow up and go through different life stages. 

Having a ‘good’, ‘positive’ or ‘healthy’ body image doesn’t mean being perfect. Far from it! It means: 

  • accepting our body the way it is
  • appreciating it for everything it can do
  • looking after it so it can stay healthy
  • being able to filter out things that could make us feel bad about ourselves.

So really it’s more about being ‘neutral’ towards our bodies than feeling good about them, because nobody feels good about themselves all the time.

Body image is nothing new. People have always cared about how they looked – even cave people wore jewellery! People of all genders can have issues with their body image, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what we look like – people who are celebrated for being beautiful can still struggle to accept their bodies. It’s not all to do with weight either – from face to feet, we all have some part of us we don’t like very much. But we may all have parts of our bodies that we like too!

What can affect body image?

The way we see ourselves isn’t just influenced by our own thoughts and the mirror. It’s affected by lots of external things too, like:

  • how our family and friends and people in our wider community see us and treat us
  • the culture we grow up in
  • images we see in magazines, adverts, on TV and online and in social media. 

The way we see ourselves can also be affected by health conditions, our psychological wellbeing, neurodiversity (how our brains work) or disabilities and by life changes that affect how our bodies look and function, like puberty, accidents and pregnancy.

Why is it important to encourage children to have a good body image?

There are very few people who are 100% happy with the way they look all the time and wouldn’t change a single thing. But for many people, puberty and the teen years are when they start to feel more self-conscious about their bodies, and when body dissatisfaction can begin. 

Being embarrassed about or ashamed of our bodies can stop us from leading a happy, healthy life and taking part in all the things we want to do. And this can also lead to mental health problems like depression, and is often linked to eating disorders too. So it’s never too early to start helping your child develop a positive body image, before they start to become more self-conscious about the way they look.

Tips for helping your child feel confident about their body

Isn’t my child a bit young to be worrying about their body image?

You may well feel that your child shouldn’t be worrying about the way they look and that these are concerns for older children and teens. But sadly research shows that children as young as 6 don’t like the way they look. So it’s never too early to start thinking about how you can help boost their confidence at home. 

What can I do if my child’s struggling with the way they look?

If your child’s unhappy with the way they look, here are some things you can do to reassure them:

What should I do if I’m worried about my child’s attitude to their body?

Signs that your child may be feeling down about their body include:

  • noticeable changes in their mood and the way they behave around you and their friends. 
  • big changes to the way they eat or exercise
  • suddenly covering up parts of their body or not wanting to take part in activities where their bodies will be on show, like swimming or PE
  • avoiding any photos being taken of them
  • spending a lot of time editing photos and using apps to alter their appearance significantly
  • having very fixed ideas about what a ‘good’ body looks like.

This leaflet from YoungMinds has lots of helpful advice around how to help boost your child’s self-esteem, and has information on where to turn if you need someone to talk to about it.

Last updated: 5 Jun, 2023