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A mom asked me on Facebook the other day for recommendations on how to foster a positive self-concept for her kids.  I thought it was such a great question that I’m sharing my answer here.  I ended up with a long list, but the good thing about that is that you will probably find some strategies that you are already doing, some that surprise you, and some that you’ll be excited to try.  So, in no particular order, here are 10 things parents can do to help their children to develop (or strengthen) a positive self-concept.

  1. The first place that children begin to form their self-concept is within the parent-child relationship.  Within that relationship, we teach children that they matter: their needs, opinions, experiences, feelings, and preferences are an important part of the family culture and decision-making.  Children aren’t the only voice in the family, but they need to know that they do have a voice.
  2. Let them have experiences that include: working really hard, succeeding, and failing.  All three things are a normal part of a healthy adult life, and for children to feel good about themselves, they need age-appropriate experiences of these things, too.
  3. Feel good about yourself, and let your words reflect this.  When you speak about your actions, your habits, your body, your brain, your hair, your clothes, your life—try to speak to and from your best self.  Of course, no one is perfect, which leads to:
  4. Acknowledge that you are not perfect.  We are ALL learning and growing, and we are healthiest when we can acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, and practice self-compassion.  (Self-compassion is critical to health, as mistakes are inevitable and frequent, in both childhood and adulthood.)
  5. Be careful how you word your judgments of others, especially your children.  Try to criticize actions, not the people who take those actions.  In other words, come from the perspective that for the most part, people do the best they can with what they have.  Having compassion for others makes it easier to have compassion for oneself.
  6. Give your children power and control over age-appropriate decisions.  Let them flex their muscles both literally and figuratively.
  7. Make sure your child gets enough good sleep, healthy foods, and exercise.  The mind cannot be healthy when the body is not.  (And make sure you do it for you, too, parents are usually deficient in this.)
  8. Assertiveness.  People feel better about themselves when they feel empowered—assertiveness skills are a key component of feeling empowered.  Teach good communication, and validate that your child has a right to ask for what they want!  (which also then leads to the useful learning opportunities of dealing with it when you don’t get what you wanted.)
  9. Give your children permission to have their feelings.  Even when feelings are uncomfortable, send the message that all feelings are okay.
  10. Cultivate a sense of humor.  A sense of humor is another key component of resiliency—the ability to bounce back from problems, setbacks, frustrations, failures.

So there ya go!  10 ways to help a child’s growing positive self-concept.

Our body shape and size is predominantly determined by genetics. Look at mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, great-grandma and great grandpa, and you will get an idea of what you are going to look like, in part. Your body frame, the way you carry your weight, be it in the hips, thighs, or the tummy, and your predisposition to illness, like cardiac disease, high blood pressure, or cancer, largely come from your genes.

Outside of genetics, our environment plays an impressive role in our body shape and size. Our environment includes the food we eat, how we eat, when and how much we move our bodies, our behaviors around food and eating, and our priorities and methods of taking care of ourselves.

Many people want to change the way they look, especially teenagers. Research indicates that by age 13, about 85% of girls have attempted dieting. The age of dieting onset is getting younger, with 15% of girls trying a diet by age eleven. Even five and six year olds are aware of dieting.

Additionally, research indicates that dieting among teens of all weights (underweight, normal weight, and overweight) corresponds with unhealthy behaviors around food and may be associated with a depressed mood. Furthermore, the risk for eating disorders and weight gain is higher when dieting is involved.

What can we do? We need to help our teens re-align their beliefs and attitudes about their bodies. As parents, we need to play up the positive, including health, physical activity, natural beauty, intelligence, and individuality. We need to filter out the negative messages and the unrealistic images.

How much power do we have to change our body? Sure, we can build muscle and reduce fat stores with exercise and what we choose to eat. But, can we really change our genetic shape and size? Can we really change our fat storage tendencies? Muscle-building capacity? Yes, to the extent our genetic make-up will allow.

So, when your son starts on a rampage to alter his diet or exercise more because they don’t like their body shape or body size, remind them of their genes. Remind them that genes are predetermined and “set in stone.” Remind them that they will be tall, or short, or stocky, or slim, or narrow-hipped or blessed with “birthing hips,” because they come from your family and that’s how your family looks.

Empower your child to make the most of their genetic potential. We all have the genetic potential and the power to be healthy– that comes from eating well and being active. Getting comfortable with your genes is about accepting your body for its natural shape and size, optimizing your genetic health potential through active living and healthy eating.