Healthy Body Image for Your Teen

As kids navigate through the tween years, which are a wonderful time filled with physical and emotional growth, the road may also be riddled with a few body image bumps.  Your previously confident child may begin to show signs of doubting herself or of questioning her weight, and it’s important for you be there as her guide.

In our home, I have tried my hardest to model positive body image and not speak the negative words that I may feel at times.

  I definitely don’t use the words fat and skinny.  I’ve just never liked them.  However, my sixth grade daughter recently came to me and innocently asked if she was too skinny.  I told her that she was not and asked her why she asked me.  I asked if someone had said that she was too skinny.  She said that she just thought it on her own, and she wondered if her bones stuck out too much.  I reassured her, explained that she continued to be active and eat a well-rounded diet, and that this is just how her body is developing.  I didn’t realize that the thought of being too skinny was still nagging at her until her annual check-up with the doctor.  My daughter asked the doctor if she was too skinny.  And to my amazement, the found much relief from the doctor plotting her growth, showing her where she was on the growth chart and that she was continuing to follow her previous growth pattern, and discussing her BMI which was within normal range.

So are there ways to give some roadside assistance when there are self image issues and provide preventive maintenance to keep some issues at bay?  There sure are!

  • Be the best role model that you can be.  Eat well with her.  Exercise with her.  Feel good about yourselves together.
  • Be available for listening, for providing information, for encouraging, and for guiding.  I asked my daughter if she exercises, if she eats well, and if she gets plenty of sleep (knowing that the answer is yes to all, but I wanted it to be her answering the questions).  Realizing for herself that she does these things made her feel more comfortable in her skin. 

    Gather tools to use to help you provide the information that she needs.  There are books, blogs, websites, etc. that you can use for yourself and/or share with her to aid in your discussions.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  If you know that you have a difficult topic to discuss, read about how others handled the topic and find words and examples that work best for your situation.

    • Continue (or begin) providing a well-rounded healthy diet filled with fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.  Remember that nutrient-rich snacks are still important and can help to prevent a “drive thru” of the pantry when hunger strikes between meals.  Also, being familiar with healthy snacks (and having a supply of them in the home and ready to pack) can help prevent the purchase of not as healthy convenience items in vending machines, at fast food restaurants, etc.  And your tween is old enough to get in on the action with helping to plan and prepare meals and snacks.
    • Encourage regular exercise.  Find something that she likes or something you can enjoy together.  Power walking through the mall while window shopping counts!  Dancing through the house counts.  Just keep moving. 
    • Make sure she knows about changes to her body during puberty and that everyone develops at their own rate.  There are many different body types, and being healthy doesn’t look the same for everyone. ​​
      • Use positive language.  Avoid negative labels, and if needed, look for ways to improve health (through exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep) rather than “diet.”  Don’t even jokingly use negative name calling.  Those words, even with the “just kidding” disclaimer, hurt. 
      • Discuss media messages and whether or not they are positive or negative.  Get her opinions on the media messages that she is exposed to and have open discussions.  Expose her to positive messages of accomplishments of strong women.  I loved being able to share the Women’s World Cup with my girls!
      • Encourage participation in extracurricular activities and in hobbies.  These activities can build self-esteem and positive body image through giving her a chance to express herself.
        • Encourage questions.  Be open for questions at any and all times, and if she asks a question at an inopportune moment (like when you are in the middle of reading a book to a younger sibling), make sure you get back to her with your undivided attention.
        • Partner with your child’s doctor.  If needed, your child’s doctor can be a wonderful resource for both you and your daughter.

        There is no one map that shows the course for cruising through the tween years.  But having the tools that you need is crucial for successfully navigating the detours to help you and your daughter reach your destination:  a self-confident young lady.

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