Is your child struggling with puberty? here are 7 ways you can help

Written by Pragya Lodha
Published: March 10, 2022

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The Mumbai Program Director & Clinical Psychologist at The MINDS Foundation. Honorary Associate Editor for the Indian Journal of Mental Health with over 100 National and International publications

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For many children across the country, it has been a long time since they have seen their classmates in person due to COVID lockdowns and online schooling. In childhood and puberty, this is enough time for many physical changes to occur, making them look different than how their peers may remember. When they return to school, some children will be taller, some will have facial hair, and some will have deeper voices. While this is a very normal part of growing up, these changes will seem more sudden due to the lack of contact they have had with each other. 

Additionally, the less-active lifestyle many children have had due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions might mean that some have gained extra weight that they are uncomfortable with, and overexposure to edited images on social media could reinforce concerns about their appearance. Mental health experts at MINDS Foundation are concerned that this anxiety is heightened for children as they return to school and face socializing with their peers. 

Body image issues can affect our children’s physical and mental health if not addressed properly. Here are 7 ways to help your child accept their body while going back-to-school! 

  1. Understand the context. Child psychologists note that when external circumstances are out of our control, such as with the pandemic, a very natural response is to attempt to control what we can, which is often our appearance and weight. Try to make them feel like they have more control in their life by letting them make some of their own decisions. 
  2. Be a role model. Parents should model healthy behaviour such as eating well-balanced and full meals, using positive words to talk about all bodies including their own, and exercising regularly but focusing on the health and strength improvements instead of weight loss and toning. You can also share your experiences with puberty and body image. 
  3. Teach values. Amul Joshi, Program Director of MINDS Foundation, also suggests that parents can teach children what to value in themselves and others by simply using praise and encouragement. He suggests complimenting your child on things they can control: how well they treat others, how much effort they put into their schoolwork, or how well they take care of themselves instead of factors outside of their control, such as their appearance. 
  4. Have open conversations. It’s important to have honest and supportive conversations with your kids from an early age where you listen to your child without judgment. Ask them how they are feeling and if they need support. Explain to them what to expect during puberty, that it is okay to look different than their friends, and that their body will keep changing but it does not determine their value as a person. 
  5. Address the role of social media. Since COVID began, children are spending an average of 8-10 hours a day on their devices, and see many photoshopped bodies and faces on social media. This can easily distort their self-image and affect their confidence. Explain to them that these images aren’t real, and monitor their technology use if necessary. You can learn more about this in our article about technology dependence *here*. 
  6. Learn the warning signs. Some signs your child is developing an unhealthy body image include controlling their food intake, expressing feelings about not liking or wanting to change their body, and sensitivity to comments about appearance, weight, diet, and exercise. Body image issues are common, but if unaddressed can be serious, leading to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or other mental health issues.
  7. Get support if you need it. If you are worried about your child’s preoccupation with their appearance, we recommend making an appointment with a professional such as a pediatrician or child psychologist. They will be able to assess the situation and determine the best ways to help your child. Help is always available.

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  • Ganesan, S., Ravishankar, S., & Ramalingam, S. (2018). Are body image issues affecting our adolescents? A cross-sectional study among college going adolescent girls. Indian Journal Of Community Medicine43(5), 42. doi: 10.4103/ijcm.ijcm_62_18
  • Mensah, F., Bayer, J., Wake, M., Carlin, J., Allen, N., & Patton, G. (2013). Early Puberty and Childhood Social and Behavioral Adjustment. Journal Of Adolescent Health53(1), 118-124. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.12.018
  • Reel, J., Voelker, D., & Greenleaf, C. (2015). Weight status and body image perceptions in adolescents: current perspectives. Adolescent Health, Medicine And Therapeutics, 149. doi: 10.2147/ahmt.s68344
  • Riboli, G., Borlimi, R., & Caselli, G. (2022). A qualitative approach – delineates changes on pubertal body image after menarche. International Journal Of Adolescence And Youth27(1), 111-124. doi: 10.1080/02673843.2022.2032219
  • Richburg, A. (2021). Depression, Anxiety, and Pubertal Timing: Current Research and Future Directions. University Of Michigan Undergraduate Research Journal15(0). doi: 10.3998/umurj.1383

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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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