Helping Children Build a Healthy Body Image

In a society overflowing with negative messages about physical appearance and personal worth, children’s body image is an urgent issue. Children need to know God made their bodies and made them special. Parents and caregivers have the privilege and opportunity to help children understand that God crafted them with care and intentionality. This is foundational for shaping an accurate, biblical self-image.

Children need to understand that God made them in his image (Genesis 1:27). Every part of their bodies was designed by God and declared good.

We get to encourage children to appreciate their bodies and come alongside them to address questions and shame they may experience as they absorb prevalent cultural messages about beauty and worth. Statistics regarding children and body issues are staggering and sad. Children are dealing with body-image distortion at an increasingly early age. Many young children are dieting or developing dangerous eating habits in pursuit of the culturally-prescribed “perfect” weight or shape. Additionally, many trends in our culture lead to hypersexualizing of children.

Research shows that elementary school age is when children are at risk of developing a poor body-image. By helping to improve their body image at this stage and making them more aware of messages the media is putting out, parents and caregivers can better equip them to be confident about their bodies and their personal worth as children of God.

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Encouraging Children to Have a Healthy Body Image

Encourage children not to compare themsleves to their peers. Isntead, help them give thanks to God for the unique gifts he has given them and to ask God how he wants these gifts to be used to share his love and kindness.

If your child has a physical impairment, remind him or her it does not negate their inherent worth as God’s image bearer, not does it diminish the ways he can shine brightly from their lives.

Encourage your children to invest time into activities and skills they love that are good. Make a list of new things they want to try, learn, or tackle. Spending time on worthwhile activities boosts confidence, builds healthy friendships, and tunes out demeaning messages about ways their size, shape, or other physical features do not fit an artificially prescribed standard. It also reminds them that God gave them their bodies to be used to do good things.

Set a positive example by not criticizing other people’s bodies, clothing, hairstyle, or other features. If children see their parents judging others’ appearances, then they will be much more likely to do the same to others and themselves.

If you have insecurities about your own apperance, don’t make offhand, critical comments about those perceived flaws. Instead, intentionally talk with your children about how God has helped you learn to see your body more like he sees it, even though you still struggle at times. Knowing that you are experiencing the same struggle can help them know what to do with their own pain and insecurities—actively trust the loving Creator who has designed them with care and intentionality.

God Made Me in His Image Frontcover

God Made Me In His Image

Because bodies can be confusing and sometimes embarrassing to children, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb wrote God Made Me in His Image for parents to use in helping their kids understand how God made their bodies in his image. Parents and caregivers can use this powerful book, illustrated by Trish Mahoney, to help children ages four to seven understand their feelings about their bodies and help them accept them by highlighting God’s loving design of our individual physical characteristics.

About the author

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

Justin Holcomb, PhD, is a minister and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Lindsey A. Holcomb, MPH, works in non-profit development and is an advocate for survivors of abuse. Lindsey and Justin, conduct a variety of training seminars on parenting topics such as child sexual abuse prevention, body image, and how to talk about sex. They also provide trainings on how to prevent, recognize, and respond to child, sexual, and domestic abuse. They are the coauthors of God Made Babies, God Made In His Image, God Made All of Me, Is It My Fault?, Rid of My Disgrace, and the minibook, Children and Trauma.

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