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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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Strong, not skinny: encouraging a healthier relationship with food

mum and daughter chatting with a cup of tea

Image: Dove UK

Children and young people will often come across a one-dimensional definition of beauty on social media. 

Unrealistic physical ideals, body shaming, stereotyping, ‘miraculous’ weight-loss journeys and narrow messages about the ‘perfect’ lifestyle can not only affect their self-esteem, but also put their relationship with food at risk. 

The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s ‘Uniquely Me’ parent’s guide is full of ways that parents and carers can help children and young people look more positively at food and nutrition through open communication and support. 

Here are a few tips:

Words are powerful!

Words can go a long way. We are used to talking about ourselves negatively – a study published by the Psychology of Women Quarterly showed that 93% of people put themselves down and talk negatively about their looks.

But words don’t have to be negative. You can encourage your child to introduce positive body talk into their lives through compliments and comments designed to boost their self-worth. Focus on helping them to embrace their wonderful qualities and uniqueness. By doing that,  you will challenge beauty stereotypes together, and that will lead to a healthier state of mind.

Chapter 2 of the ‘Uniquely Me’ parent’s guide is packed with advice and checklists to help kickstart the body-confidence conversation. 

Show them that food isn’t the enemy

Social media is a wonderful resource, but your child might come across disinformation, fad diets, and unrealistic body standards. These can reinforce the idea that food is the enemy, and as a result, some children might develop an unhealthy relationship with eating. 

Here are some pointers to help encourage your child to practise better eating:

  • Dieting doesn’t just affect weight, it can also affect mood. Opening up a conversation about mental health can help your child understand that poor diets can lead to depression and low energy. Healthy body, healthy mind!
  • Lead by example. Everyone has their own insecurities, and being open and honest about these while making sure you always express positive attitudes towards food will help your child understand that they are not in this alone.
  • Cooking can be a fun, exciting and engaging activity. Pick some healthy, balanced and nutritious meals that both of you would like to try and cook them together. This will give your child a better understanding of the ingredients and why they are vital for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Chapter 8 of the ‘Uniquely Me’ parent’s guide is packed with advice and checklists to help encourage a healthier balanced diet. 

Be supportive

Some children might hide their feelings and try to deal with them on their own. Let your child know that you are there for them if they want to talk – but try to avoid putting pressure on them. Even something as simple as having a giggle over Photoshop fails or images that look particularly fake can be a great starting point for discussing body confidence and self worth.

Chapter 3 of the ‘Uniquely Me’ Parent’s Guide has lots of resources on the distortion of beauty, as well as action checklists on how to help your child identify unrealistic images and media manipulation.

(For teachers and professionals, the Dove Self-Esteem Project also offers a series of workshops and resources with practical activities to help boost children’s self-esteem. Download them for free here)

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‘Uniquely Me’ is packed with advice and practical activities for parents to help nurture their children's body confidence and self-esteem. It contains advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts on 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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