Kid worrying about body image

In college, a couple of girls in my friend group developed eating disorders. When our group discovered evidence of these issues during our sophomore year, we were floored. From the outside, it seemed like our friends were confident, happy, and settled. We had no idea of their pain. Somewhere along the way, these college girls had internalized the message that they weren’t pretty enough. Thin enough. Fit enough. Enough in general. But the truth is . . . they didn’t simply arrive at college and suddenly struggle with body image. Kids’ body image issues often grow into adult body image issues.

Statistics on Body Image in Kids

  • 40–60% of elementary-aged girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat.
  • More than 50% of girls and 30% of boys ages 6 to 8 think their ideal body weight is less than their current weight.
  • Children whose mothers are overly concerned about their weight are at increased risk for repeating those unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.

If self-image and body issues begin this early, it stands to reason that intervention and prevention efforts should begin early as well.

As children’s leaders, we can equip our small group leaders and parents with support on kids’ body image. Here are some tips for how you can partner with families to instill a healthy self-image in the kids in your ministry:

Encourage small group leaders (and parents) to talk about their own bodies in healthy ways.

To grow kids’ body image, train leaders to model positive self-talk in their own conversations. It’s a good idea to give leaders group-appropriate examples. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t like the way my legs look in shorts,” they could say, “I feel more confident when I wear cute pants instead of shorts.”  Instead of saying, “I’ve got to get to the gym and lose some weight,” say, “I need to start working out again because it makes me stronger and healthier.” The point is to encourage leaders to relate physical activity to the overall goal of wellness rather than exclusively to body weight. 

Make sure you’re offering prizes other than candy.

Every kid (and kid at heart) loves candy! This is often a go-to prize for a kids’ ministry environment. However, we might be inadvertently reinforcing the message that anytime you win a game or do something “good,” you deserve an edible treat. Candy can be a great reward for behavior or winning a game. It shouldn’t be the only reward in your environments. Try offering prizes like stickers, pencils, bouncy balls, and other toys,

Pay attention to the people you are putting on the stage.

Those who have a gift for leading on stage may not fit the conventional mold of what is beautiful . . . and that’s okay! In any given month, do you have all body types and sizes represented onstage? What about people of different races and ethnicities? The stage is a natural place of elevation. Truthfully, kids in your ministry look to who’s on stage to guide them through the worship experience. Students need to be able to see someone “like them” in positions of leadership to foster healthy body image in kids. 

Inspire kids to be proud of themselves.

Sadly, our culture often confuses humility with negative self-talk. When we receive a compliment or praise from another person, we’re often tempted to downplay it or make an excuse. But we can grow a positive self-image in our kids when we allow them to be proud of themselves for things like having self-control, learning something new, or doing well in something. This way, we are inspiring kids that it’s okay to feel proud of themselves.

Redirect negative self-talk.

Each Sunday, we should help kids internalize the message that they’re valuable. Sometimes, kids can feel down when they make a mistake or when their craft doesn’t look like the rest of the crafts. Instead of reinforcing this negative self-talk, try to redirect their comments toward something positive. For instance, explain to them that when they make a mistake on their craft, they actually grew today! With this mindset, kids will see their mistakes as learning opportunities instead of shortcomings.

Do you have any small group leaders or other leaders who excel in this area?

It’s likely there are people in your ministry who have positive influence to give in kids body image. Invite them to lead a special event or virtual hangout time where they can talk about kids self-image and the importance of taking care of their bodies. In order to help kids feel comfortable talking about this topic, have a girls-only version and a boys-only version of the event. You could also let them share their own stories with parents and caregivers through a newsletter or as part of a training event.

Our internal thoughts and emotions shape and define how we think of ourselves and how we relate to the world. The ultimate goal is to help kids see themselves the way God sees them. We can do this by equipping leaders and children with the tools to develop a healthy body image in kids. Just imagine what our kids could do if they have confidence in themselves to become the best version of what God wants them to be!

Want more?

Looking for more ways to support kids’ self-image and acceptance of themselves? The Parent Cue team just released What Is Beautiful? This new book by Abbie Sprünger and Ashley Snyder offers a fresh look at what beauty truly is and where it comes from. Read it with your favorite 6-to 12-year-old girls. Find out more here.

Extra Resources

  1. “Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders,” Nationaleatingdisorders.org, accessed October 23, 2020, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.
  2. “Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image,” Commonsensemedia.org, January 20, 2015, accessed October 23, 2020, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/children-teens-body-image-media-infographic. 
  3. “Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders,” Nationaleatingdisorders.org, accessed October 23, 2020, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.