Raising Body Confident Children

I think every parent wants to raise a happy, healthy and confident child. The problem is that we are programed by well paid marketing companies to misunderstand what health means and what it looks like. The Health and Fitness industry is telling us what you and our kids should “be” to succeed. Our kids on the other hand simply want to find the balance between being their true selves and trying to fit in with their peers.

We know that dieting is starting as early as 8 years old and that 80% of girls admit to avoiding life's activities (being with family, going to birthday parties, trying out for a team) when they have low body esteem [1]. We are also concerned about the rising childhood obesity rates and we want to help our children grow into healthy adults. It's important to know that research shows that our 'war on obesity' isn't working out as planned. In fact, drawing attention to your child's weight may only contribute to weight gain [2]. 

There are a lot of ways that your child may develop poor body image however three major factors today are media, weight focussed conversation and what you model for your children.

Media and social media

As a culture, we are starting to understand that the media’s representation of how people look doesn't reflect what 'real' people look like. Even some celebrities are starting to share what they look like 'au natural' on their social media feeds - taking their make-up off, getting rid of the lighting. It's a great start.

Sadly, it's not enough. Studies continue to show that social media use is associated with poor body image and eating disorders [3]. This is true for both boys and girls. Even though we are aware that it's not real, that isn't enough to stop the pressure we feel to look like them.

A great way to deal with this is to talk to our kids about how media doesn't reflect reality. Let’s show them body positive feeds and show them successful people of all sizes and shapes. Most importantly, and I know it is hard, but let’s try to keep social media to a minimum.

Have conversations about health, not weight

Did you know that when parents talk to their kids about their weight/size, they put their kids at increased risk of disordered eating and weight gain later in life? [4]. So how can we change this conversation?

The answer might lie in changing the conversation with our children to be about health, not weight. The real goal from my perspective is to raise healthy children, and there is no ideal weight associated with being healthy.

What I focus on is to create a healthy lifestyle for my little guy. I try not to suggest that some food is “bad”, and other food is "clean" because it is a spectrum that has to be understood. I read that both restriction and pressure to eat in childhood is linked to disordered eating and weight gain in adolescents [5]. So, I really try and take any pressure off of food and focus my efforts on living a healthy lifestyle.

In terms of exercise, I take the same balanced approach. Sports and activities are way more likely to remain in your life long term if we are having fun. When it's enjoyable, our children are likely to continue with the activity. Fitness is congruent with health regardless of weight and that should be the focus. So, let’s do our best to keep our kids in wonder of what their bodies can do instead of how they look!

How you talk to yourself

Many research articles have been published about what kids learn from what their parents say about themselves [6]. This is the most challenging issue with many of the women who I work with. They want to teach their kids to be confident and to have a healthy relationship with food, but since they don't have that for themselves, they feel lost and don't know how to help their kids.

Unfortunately, most women feel that they would be happier if they could only change the way they look. And their kids watch how that plays out. By avoiding being photographed, avoiding bathing suits, and taking on gruelling diet and exercise regimes our children learn that how they look is directly connected with happiness and success.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I know it is not easy but I have coached countless “Rebels” who have transformed their lives and now have confidence and a healthy relationship with their food. You deserve that life and your kids will thank you for putting in the work! That is because the best way to help them develop confidence and to have a healthy relationship with food is for you to model it for them. I know you have what it takes to be a “Rebel.”


1 The Dove Global Beauty And Confidence Report – 2016

2 October 2015 Volume 25, Issue 10, Pages 753–759 Annals of Epidemiology

Int J Eat Disord. 2016 Jan;49(1):5-18. doi: 10.1002/eat.22480. Epub 2015 Nov 26.

Int J Eat Disord. 2014 Apr;47(3):310-4. doi: 10.1002/eat.22189. Epub 2013 Sep 18.

Appetite. 2016 Jun 1;101:192-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.03.008. Epub 2016 Mar 4.

Appetite. 2015 Nov 21. pii: S0195-6663(15)30097-0. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.11.020