- Describe and define body image.
- Recognize signs of a school-age child with a negative body image and/or low self-esteem.
- Develop methods of encouraging school-age children to have positive body images and healthy self-esteem.
- Apply methods for healthy goal-setting for school-age children.
What is Body Image?
Body image the way we picture our own bodies and the way we believe others may think about our bodies. Sometimes, the mental picture that we create of our bodies is quite different from what we see in the mirror and what others see. It is common to focus on what can be considered a negative aspect to our bodies while overlooking the positives. This is very common in older school-age children and teenagers. Once a child’s body enters puberty and begins to change into an adult body, insecure feelings and negative body images can take shape.
A common insecurity for school-age children is about body weight. During puberty, school-age children will experience growth spurts. Some may leave children feeling lanky and awkward; others leave them with extra weight.
Negative body image affects boys and girls. In today’s society, with easy access to photographs of celebrities and models, school-age children are exposed to images of an “ideal body type” that has been created by the media.
A negative body image can also come from what others say . Teasing and bullying can cause school-age children to develop negative feelings about their bodies and lowers their self-esteem. Not all children will develop at the same time or in the same way, and often the children that develop faster or slower than the majority may be picked on for their appearance.
What to Look For
Part of your role as a school-age staff member will be to make daily observations of the children in your care. You’ve already received information about conducting health and safety checks, but it is also important that you pay attention to the mental health of school-age children. School-age children who have a negative body image or are suffering from low self-esteem may display some of the following behaviors:
|Saying negative things about themselves||If a child talks negatively about himself or herself or uses words like “stupid” or “fat,” try to engage that child in a conversation. Ask why they would say that and try make the conversation more positive by giving compliments and discussing accomplishments.|
|Becoming easily frustrated||Some school-age children may give up quickly when they become frustrated or are given a difficult task. This can sometimes be mistaken for laziness; however, some children do not have enough self-worth to bother trying. For example, a student may give up after the first try at a new sport. When you try to talk to the child about why she or he quit, you might hear something like, “It doesn’t matter, and my mom won’t care anyway.” This may be a sign that this child has low self-esteem and doesn’t think highly enough of himself or herself to try something new.|
|Having a difficult time overcoming change||Experiencing a minor change or setback can sometimes seem like a huge loss or hurdle for children who suffer from low self-esteem. You can help these children by explaining the change and helping them understand how to progress further, while giving them an idea of what the “new normal” may be. For example, if a child is overly upset by a change to your daily schedule or a cancellation of a field trip, try to explain why the change happened and discuss what will happen instead of the original plan.|
|Sudden changes in behavior or personality||Any sudden changes in behavior or personality should be carefully observed. Sometimes these changes are just phases, but other times they can be cries for help from a child with low self-esteem. If you have concerns about a child, discuss them with your administrator.|
|Sudden changes in appearance||A sudden change to clothing, makeup or hairstyle can be a sign that a child is trying to fit in or change. This is simply the way some children behave and it can be completely normal. It can become dangerous when the changes are negative, such as an 11-year-old girl who has suddenly started to dress provocatively or a child who looks unwashed or neglected. You should also observe any drastic weight change in a child as this could be a sign of an eating disorder.|
|Sudden changes in eating habits||Eating disorders often begin when a child enters puberty. It is important to observe the eating habits of the school-age children in your care. If you notice a child not eating, eating less than normal, or eating large amounts of food, talk with your administrator about your observations and concerns.|
|Sudden changes in exercise routines||All children should be exercising and enjoying physical activities daily. Many children participate in organized sports. Exercise can become dangerous when it becomes excessive. If you notice a child seems obsessed with exercising and burning calories —for example, talking about getting up in the middle of the night to do exercises—share your observations with your administrator. This could be a sign of an eating disorder or dangerous negative body image. On the other hand, children who are typically active and suddenly stop playing their favorite games or participating in physical activities may also have low self-esteem. Sometimes, when children become overly sad or depressed, they lack the energy and motivation to keep up with their regular activities. If you notice any sudden changes, talk with your administrator about your observations.|
How to Help
As a school-age staff member, the first way you can help the children in your care is to be a positive role model. Try your best to be healthy, active and positive. Do not make negative comments about yourself or talk about the new diet fad you are trying. Be confident and positive and accepting of who you are both inside and out. The following tips will help children have positive body images and healthy self-esteem.
- Identify and redirect negative or inaccurate thoughts: If you are working with a child who calls himself or herself stupid or makes fun of his or her appearance, help by redirecting the negative comments. Focus on something positive or help the child set goals. For example, if a child is frustrated because he is the only one of his friends that has not experienced a large growth spurt, explain that all children grow at different rates and that his body will also grow in due time. Work through the problems together and provide tutoring help and resources when needed.
- Give appropriate praise: Not all children receive praise at home. Give compliments, encouragement and praise to every child, every day. Having an adult that is proud of them and who believes in them can mean a world of difference to children who have self-esteem issues. Observe your children daily so that you can give compliments on a new pair of glasses or a new haircut. Give encouragement when children are playing a game of soccer or working on a project. Give compliments for a job well done.
- Discuss acceptance: Have open discussions about accepting yourself for who you are. Help children understand the difference between the characteristics and features that they cannot change about themselves, such as their shoe size or ethnicity, and the features they can change, like reaching a healthy weight or improving athletic skills.
Goal setting is a very important aspect of self-esteem and self-improvement. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve something about ourselves, as long as we go about it a healthy way. Work with school-age children to help them set goals for things they want to accomplish. If a children would like to improve their basketball skills, help them figure out time to practice. If a child would like to become more physically fit, help him or her set realistic goals and give opportunities to participate in physical activities within your program. Check on the child’s progress and provide encouragement.
The following are tips for helping school-age children set goals:
- Realistic and specific goals are the easiest to keep. Short-term goals are easier for school-age children to focus on without seeming overwhelming.
- Being organized helps school-age children complete a goal. In the Apply section of this lesson, you will practice helping children organize their goals.
- Patience is required to make a lifestyle change become a habit. It could take several months for changes to such things as diet and exercise to become routine.
- Repetition makes a goal happen. It might be helpful for school-age children to repeat their goal regularly, tell their family and peers, or write it down.
- Setbacks or roadblocks do not mean failure. It may be easy for school-age children to become discouraged if they don’t succeed right away. It is important to remind them that change takes time and dedication.
- Goals are only attainable if they are set for the right reasons. Make sure that school-age children set goals that they want to accomplish for themselves.
Helping school-age children through the stages of development is an important part of your role as a staff member. Remember to always be respectful and to only provide factual information.
- Be supportive. Try to remember what it was like as a school-age child experiencing physical and emotional changes. Be understanding and sympathetic of this stage of development.
- Provide resources. Always have quality factual information on hand to share with the school-age children in your program as well as their families. Body image and self-esteem can be difficult topics to discuss, so having good information at your fingertips will help you know what to say.
- Provide encouragement. If a school-age child is struggling with self-esteem or body image issues, be encouraging and supportive. Help them redirect any negative feelings into positive ones and set goals for themselves.
Complete the Reflection and Critical Thinking: Body Image activity. Complete the questions and then notify your coach, trainer, or administrator.
As you have learned in this lesson, goal setting can be an important tool to help school-age children develop self-esteem. Read through Haley's Goal Setting and think about other ways Haley could reach her goal. Using the Goal Worksheet, think about how you could help a school-age child organize their goals into smaller steps. Share your responses with your coach, trainer, or administrator.
Moss, W. (2011). Being Me: A kid’s guide to boosting confidence and self-esteem. American Psychological Association.
Willett, E. (2007). Negative Body Image. New York: Rosen Pub.
The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2004). Caring for Your School-Age Child. New York: Bantam Books.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). BAM! Body and Mind. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/bam/