Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.

Raising body confident kids: Four myths to stop believing

BY Amy Lilly

Two dads sitting on the floor with their daughter, playing with LEGO.

Raising kids is a tough gig, there’s no doubt about it. Amidst the chaos of bedtime battles and ever-changing food preferences, kids are constantly growing and developing, and parents play a significant role in this process. One particularly important responsibility for parents is to help their kids feel good about and confident in their bodies, which has a lasting effect and can minimise their lifetime risk of issues like eating disorders, depression and anxiety. 

There’s no one set path to fostering body confidence in kids, however there are some common myths that can get in the way of understanding how to properly help your kids build better body image.

Myth #1: Only girls struggle with body image


Young people of all genders can and do struggle with body image – it’s certainly not an issue reserved for girls. Research shows that boys are generally just as dissatisfied with their bodies and appearance as girls are – they just show it differently, and do different things as a result. ⁠(1) Body dissatisfaction can manifest in different ways, with some boys wanting to be larger (or more muscular) and some wanting to be thinner.
 

Knowing this, it’s really important for parents to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes and support their kids – regardless of gender – to feel confident and comfortable in their bodies.

Myth #2: Body image concerns don’t start until adolescence/teen years


Body image issues are so often assumed (and reinforced in the media) to affect young people in their teen and adolescent years, however they are impacting our children at a younger and younger age. In fact, children as young as 3 are affected by negative body image. According to the
Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, 24% of childcare professionals have seen body confidence issues in children aged 3-5 years old and 31% of childcare professionals have heard a child label themselves as ‘fat’.

It’s never too early to start helping your child to build a strong and positive body image. Even if you’re not having direct discussions with them about body image until they’re older, being mindful of the way you speak about food, movement and bodies with young kids goes a long way.

Myth #3: Encouraging positive body image means ignoring health


A big misconception when it comes to body image is that promoting positive body image “makes people fat” or takes the focus away from health. This is a very outdated way of thinking and has been proven wrong by the past two decades of research in this space.

We now know that people with positive body image are more likely to engage in positive health behaviours (such as eating fruits and vegetables, engaging in regular movement and seeking out preventative health care), and those who feel ashamed of their bodies engage less in these health behaviours. (2,3,4) This proves that encouraging your kids to be accepting and appreciative of their bodies will in turn improve their health, not the opposite.

Another way to ensure we don’t teach our kids to conflate weight and health is to talk about food and movement in a way that doesn’t insinuate that we eat or exercise a certain way to change our bodies. Focus on talking about how food fuels us for activities, and movement helps to keep our bodies strong and our minds happy.

Myth #4: Peers and social media are to blame for poor body image in kids


It’s easy to blame social media and peers at school when our kids express concerns about their appearance. While there is some merit to this, there are so many complex factors that can play a role in the development of poor body image. Parents can’t forget the role that they play in how young people see themselves — parents’ thoughts about and behaviours towards their own bodies have a significant impact on their child’s body image. The phrase ‘monkey see, monkey do’ illustrates the power of parental influence and just how easy it is for kids to replicate their parents’ behaviours. Whether it’s opting for spaghetti bolognese without the pasta because there’s “too many carbs” or openly talking about going to the gym to “burn off” food, kids pick up on what their parents are doing and learn to imitate their behaviour.

Teaching your kids to be body confident (and modelling this too) is an invaluable responsibility for any parent. If you’re not sure where to start with role modelling body confidence for your kids, check out this blog.

If you are struggling with your body image, don’t hesitate to seek out the support and guidance of a professional. The Butterfly Foundation Helpline (1800 334 673) is a great place to start.

References

  1. Adamidou, E., Zisi, V., Hassandra, M., & Chroni, S. “. (2013). Body Image in 13-17 Years Old Adolescents: Gender and Physical Activity Effects. Inquiries in Sport & Physical Education, 11(1), 65-75. http://www.pe.uth.gr/emag/index.php/inquiries/article/view/96/75 
  2. Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne & Paxton, Susan & Hannan, Peter & Rd, Jess & Story, Mary. (2006). Does Body Satisfaction Matter? Five-year Longitudinal Associations between Body Satisfaction and Health Behaviors in Adolescent Females and Males. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. 39. 244-51. 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2005.12.001  
  3. Bucchianeri, M. M., Arikian, A. J., Hannan, P. J., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Body dissatisfaction from adolescence to young adulthood: findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. Body image, 10(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.09.001
  4. Zhu, X., Smith, R. A., & Buteau, E. (2022). A meta-analysis of weight stigma and health behaviors. Stigma and Health, 7(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1037/sah0000352  

Meet The Author,
Amy Lilly

Amy is the social media coordinator at The Embrace Collective, a health promotion charity on a mission to help young people build better body image. Amy has a background in dietetics with a focus on the non-diet approach, through which she supported clients to improve their relationships with food and their bodies.
Scroll to Top

Take The Pledge and Join our Community