This article was contributed by Dove Self-Esteem Project

The Dove Self-Esteem Project provides teachers, family workers and parents with free school resources to help raise young people's body confidence and self-esteem. Teachers and professionals can download free resources to deliver self-esteem workshops to young people. These articles contain advice suitable for secondary school-age children. 

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Building your child’s self-esteem through physical activity

Person walking up stairs with trainers

Exercise is a great way to stay healthy, improve mental wellbeing and learn new skills. Whether it’s a simple jog or being on the school netball team, it’s all worth it. Research has shown that taking up a sport or exercising regularly can help boost self-esteem, relieve stress and prevent mood swings. 

According to the NHS, it can have a very positive impact on mental wellbeing in general and lowers the chances of developing depression and anxiety by up to 30 per cent. With the free ‘Uniquely Me’ guide from the Dove Self-Esteem Project, you can nurture your child’s self-esteem by inspiring them to take up an activity they will enjoy. Here are a few tips on how to boost your child’s self-esteem through physical exercise.

Help them find what works for them

All children are different so help your child find a sport or activity which connects with their interests and suits their personality. If they enjoy lots of interaction with others, a team-based sport such as football or netball might be right for them — or if they prefer more individual activities, tennis or swimming might hit the spot.

Finding an activity which they are good at and enjoy can help boost your child’s self-esteem as it will give a sense of achievement. 

Chapter nine of the free ‘Uniquely Me’ guide has lots of advice on how you can get your child moving and improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

Shift the conversation away from body talk

Keep your child focused on how they feel, not how they look — if they start criticising their body, you can shift the conversation towards health and overall performance. 

Talking about children’s bodies can have a negative impact on their self-esteem — even if it’s well-meant. Comments like ‘You’ve lost so much weight!’ can make children feel insecure about the way they look although it’s generally intended as a compliment.

If your child hears you say that you’re not happy about your appearance, need to lose weight or describe certain foods as ‘off limits’, it can start to make them judge their own body and affect the way they see themselves. 

You can read more about how to avoid body talk in chapter two of the ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide.

Remind children to be active for themselves, not for others

Sometimes too much focus is put on how others will perceive us when, in reality, what matters the most is how we see ourselves. Remind your child that what is important is that they’re happy with the way they feel and they shouldn’t feel pressured into looking a certain way just to please others.


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‘Uniquely Me’ is packed with much more advice and practical activities to help nurture children’s body confidence and self-esteem. It contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action.

Download your free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

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