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How to #BuildConfidence in Your Kids. Right Now!

In my job as a child and adolescent psychotherapist, I once worked with an adolescent boy who had a script running through his mind that he just couldn't shake. In fact, the script ran on repeat so often that it became part of his core belief. It went a little something like this: "I'm fat and lazy and I will always be fat and lazy."

He accepted these negative self-descriptions and lived them out day after day. Occasionally a friend asked him to play something active and he found that he loved spending time with friends while biking or playing tennis. For a while, he made time for those positive experiences. But then something would hit the play button on his negative script, and that was the end of outdoor activity with friends. More often than not, it was his mom. She didn't do it on purpose. She simply hit her own negative script, and that triggered her son to do the same.

When it comes to body image, there is a lot of talk about teens and there is a lot of talk about girls, but rarely do we shift the focus to boys. That's a mistake. Boys do struggle with feelings about their bodies and these concerns about body image can be present for very young children.

A recent report by Common Sense Media found that more than one half of girls and one third of boys as young as 6 to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size. The report also shows that by age 7, more than one in four kids has engaged in some kind of dieting behavior. Let that sink in for a moment.

The truth is that kids are bombarded with mixed messages about body image on a daily basis. They hear positive messages about healthy eating and the many benefits of exercise, but they see wafer-thin models in magazines and ads, watch movies and TV shows that draw connections between size and popularity or size and perfection, and they hear complaints about body image from older siblings or older friends and even parents. It's confusing at best.

The sooner parents address body image and the more open and honest parents are when kids question their bodies, the better self confidence kids will display when it comes to body image.

Helping kids build their self-confidence is tricky. We have to empower them to find their strengths without pushing them one way or another. While we certainly don't want body image to be the thing that impacts their self-confidence for better or for worse, we can't ignore the research. Kids are already worrying about their bodies; it's up to us to guide them through these difficult feelings.

1. Be a good body image role model

How you talk about your appearance sends a powerful message. When you fret about your hair, your weight, how you look in your clothes and any other aspect of your appearance, you teach your kids to evaluate themselves with a critical eye.

It's easy to look for problems, but pinpointing the positives shows your kids that you're happy with the skin you're in—that you're proud of who you are. Instead of viewing your legs as large, for example, talk about your leg muscles and what your body can do with those muscles.

Teaching kids to appreciate their bodies begins with helping them see what it means to have a strong, healthy body that can do so many wonderful things.

2. Talk about images in the media

I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but even the most controlling parents out there can't stop their kids from viewing sexualized and negative images somewhere in the media at some point. Magazines, billboards, ads on TV, movies and even beauty products and denim options lining the shelves of your local Target or Old Navy all convey messages that set unrealistic standards of "beauty." You can't hide from it, but you can talk about it.

Break down the images, the song lyrics or the characters in the latest and greatest TV shows with your kids. Ask them what they see when they look at a pop star dresses perfectly, looking positively perfect. Share what you see. Help your kids reframe their thinking from outside is beautiful to inside is better.

3. Utilize some great resources

It would be foolish to think that these conversations are easy or that one conversation will cure all body image issues for life. It's a process. It takes time and an open mind blanketed in unconditional love.

The good news is that there are resources available to help parents talk to their kids about body image. The Representation Project has tool kits for moms, dads and other caregivers that include talking points and strategies to help foster healthy self-esteem and body image in all kids. They want to #BuildConfidence by empowering parents to take an active role in modeling healthy body image.

What are you waiting for? Start talking and start building confidence today.

This article is part of mom.me's collaboration with The Representation Project and their #buildconfidence campaign. Research shows that body image issues originate well before adolescence and that parents are pivotal in instilling confidence in their children. #BuildConfidence campaign celebrates and empowers parents, caregivers and mentors who model positive self-esteem and body image. Share this article and tag #buildconfidence to help us spread the word!

The rest of the series:

Rebecca Woolf — Building Confidence in Our Girls (and Boys)

Jay Miranda — It Took Me Years to Get Over My Mom's Lack of Body Confidence

Margaret Jacobsen — Growing Confident Kids Means Honoring the 'Every Moments'

Marsha Takeda-Morrison — Building Confidence, One Living Room Lecture at a Time

Laurel Dalrymple — When Your Boy Is Not the Athletic Type

Whit Honea — Being the Skinny Boy Was Never Easy

Serge Bielanko — I Was the Fat Kid

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