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Helping adolescents with body image issues

Helping adolescents with body image issues 

We can all agree that being a teen can be tough. So as parents, there are ways we can help our children with complicated and emotional issues – one of them being body image.

Psychotherapist Dr. Erin Leonard shares 6 ways we can do just that: 

1. Validate character over achievement. Affirm a child’s selflessness, thoughtfulness, work ethic, and capacity for empathy. Avoid solely validating looks and achievement. This helps children realize that who they are is more important than how they look or what they achieve. This fortifies the child’s sense of self.

2. Avoid being critical of how other people look in front of your child.

3. Empathize. If your child says something derogatory about his or her body, like: “I have a big tummy,” “I don’t like my smile,” “I’m fat,” honor the feelings with empathic statements such as, “It hurts to not like the way you look. I get it. It stings. When I was your age I hated my front teeth.” Every human being has disliked some part of how they looked at some point, so convey understanding. This prevents your child from feeling alone in the predicament. Also, because the parent understands, the child feels connected and close to the parent. 

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4. Reassure. For example, “You don’t feel pretty, and I get that, but, honey, you are beautiful on the outside and the inside.”  

5. Maintain a developmental perspective. In adolescence, because a child has new independence, they are forced to think about who they are in relationship to the world. This is an overwhelming and daunting task. It is natural for an adolescent to be slightly self-conscious regarding his or her changing body. It may feel foreign to them. It’s important for a parent to go back in time and remember how awkward it felt to be twelve or thirteen. This will help the parent understand and empathize with the child. 

6. Tell your child you love who they are. This affirms the child’s sense of self and strengthens their self-esteem. If the child is exhibiting significant symptomology, like drastic intentional weight loss, restricting eating, calorie counting, or purging, counseling may be necessary.

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