‘I look horrible’. Those three little words made my heart sink and sent alarm bells ringing when they came out of the mouth of my five-year-old daughter. She was looking at a photo of herself with a group of friends: a photo in which she looks absolutely gorgeous – cheeky, full of life and with a huge smile lighting up her face.

After exchanging glances with Misery Guts – who’s taken the comment to heart more than I have (after all, something like that was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it?) – we quickly poo-pooed her remark with something along the lines of ‘don’t be silly, you look lovely!’

How can I boost my child's self-esteem?

The thing is this is the second time BB has referred to her appearance in a negative way lately. The first was on bike day at school when they wore their own clothes instead of school uniform, and after carefully choosing her outfit the night before she decided a minute before it was time to leave the house it was ‘wrong’ and she looked ‘silly’.

The question is, what should we do about it? Should we do nothing – perhaps we’re reading too much into it – or should we be a bit more proactive and be taking steps to boost her self-esteem and body image for the future?

I have absolutely no idea, so I did what anyone with absolutely no idea does and took to the internet for inspiration.

Apparently a global study by Dove’s Self-Esteem Project – part of Unilever’s wider #brightFuture campaign aimed at creating a brighter future for our children – reveals that six out of 10 girls opt out of activities because they’re worried about the way they look.

What’s more, the impact of low body confidence can carry into adult life with 17% of women turning down job interviews and 8% missing work days when they feel bad about the way they look. Yikes.

So how can I nip all this in the bud? Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

How can I boost my child’s self-esteem?

1. Give them choices. Apparently giving children choices makes them feel empowered. For example, we always have a selection of five or six different breakfast cereals, and I encourage both BB and Little B to choose their own rather than make the decision for them.

2. Don’t make comparisons between your kids – or not in their earshot, anyway. It’s so easy make throwaway remarks like ‘child A could do xyz by the time they were four, but child B can’t’ to a friend or partner while your child is in the room. Don’t do it!

3. Don’t do everything for them. It might be quicker to get them dressed, make their bed or tidy away the toys, but encouraging them do tasks like this for themselves helps them learn new skills – and build confidence.

4. Only offer sincere praise. For example, if they’ve drawn a picture don’t go mad with the ‘wows’ and insincere praise. Instead, notice the finer details like the eyelashes or fingers they’ve added (or in BB’s case, daddy’s willy – I kid you not) and praise those.

5. Give them age-appropriate chores. Giving them responsibility at home increases feelings of competency and their problem solving skills. For example, BB loves setting the table, even if we do end up with all knives and no forks, while Little B loves helping me hang wet washing on the clothes horse.

6. Don’t body-bash! Children learn from what they see, so don’t teach them the art of self-criticism by making negative comments about your own appearance in front of them. (So no standing on a dining room chair in front of the mirror and scrutinising your appearance). Be positive!

7. Smile and the whole world smiles with you. If you feel happy and confident, this will rub off on your kids. Do things that make you feel good about yourself, and let the kids join in. For example, I always moisturise after a bath and BB and Little B always ask for some of my cream in their hands and copy me by rubbing it onto their skin. BB always asks me why I put it on so as well as telling her I do it to moisturise, I’m also going to tell her I do it because it makes me feel nice.

How can I boost my child's self-esteem?

8. Celebrate their individuality. What are their unique qualities, talents and gifts? If they like baking, bake. If they love dancing, take them dancing. If they love history, feed their imagination. BB has been fascinated by the crown jewels for several months now so we recently took her to the Tower of London to see them for herself – she loved it!

How can I boost my child's self-esteem?

9. Support their personal style. When BB was choosing what to wear for the aforementioned bike day, she insisted on wearing long socks pulled up over a pair of leggings. ‘Are you sure?’ I queried, thinking this is not a good look. Was it me who planted that seed of doubt in her mind causing her to have a sudden meltdown as it was time to leave the house?

10. Make time for one-on-one time. Try to schedule some time alone with each of your children at least once a week to chat and cement the bond you share.

The parents’ section of the Dove Self-Esteem Project website has a wealth of information with lots of useful advice and tips for parents about negative body image and promoting body confidence.

I’d been aware of the Dove Self-Esteem Project from adverts on TV but had no idea the initiative has so far helped 19 million young people in 112 countries, with teachers delivering workshops and parents like me using the website for advice and tips.

Have you faced body confidence issues with your children? What did you do?

This post is an entry for BritMums #brightFuture Challenge, sponsored by Unilever.

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