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Family banter and self-esteem: drawing the line on what is OK

Christmas is a time when the family, both immediate and extended, get to spend a lot of time together. With everyone gathered around, it is a great opportunity to catch up and it is common for family members to tease each other or crack a joke. 

As your child starts to get older and go through changes, they may become more sensitive to comments about their appearance and they may draw negative meaning from comments even where no harm was intended.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid hurtful comments during the holidays and to ensure that your child’s self-esteem is not affected.

Stay clear of ‘body talk’

You may find it helpful to tell family members ahead of gatherings to avoid focusing the conversation on your child’s appearance. ‘Body talk’ refers to all kinds of comments related to appearance. Even when children hear seemingly positive comments such as ‘Wow, you have lost weight!’ or ‘You’re almost as big as your parents’, these kinds of comments about the way they look could have a negative impact on their self-esteem and make them overly conscious about their looks. Also, if your child faces jokes from family members about the way they look or dress they could become self-conscious and upset.

Shift the focus of the conversation

It is not always easy to predict who will say what but if you can see that your child is starting to feel uncomfortable during a family conversation, there is nothing wrong with trying to steer the conversation in another direction. Change the topic to something that doesn’t involve appearances. If your child has something that they are proud of such as a recent sporting achievement at school, then it is nice for them to have the opportunity to share this with the extended family that they may not see as often. Safer topics like this can help your child feel engaged in the conversation whilst avoiding any awkward or uncomfortable moments.

Draw the line on what is OK and what isn’t

Try to have a private word with the family member or person who is making the jokes and comments and explain to them that you would rather avoid these kinds of conversations going forward. Reassure your child that it is OK to feel upset or hurt by comments and that sometimes jokes can go too far.

The free Uniquely Me parent guide from the Dove Self-Esteem Project is a 40-page downloadable booklet packed with advice and practical activities to help support you with boosting your child’s body confidence and self-esteem.

Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

Uniquely Me 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.

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on

These pages are brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP

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