Conversation Starters

Self-Esteem & Body Image Conversation Starters

Starting the Conversation

Developing or promoting a youth’s self-esteem and self-confidence is important, as young people with positive self-esteem feel capable and confident. According to Cvencek et al. (2018), children with positive self-esteem value themselves, along with their abilities, take pride in what they want and can do, and attempt their level best. 

When children are secure and confident about who they are, they are more likely to inspire themselves to face new challenges and to learn from their mistakes. They are also more likely to defend themselves and seek assistance when they require it. Children who are aware that they are valuable are not likely to feel valueless when they experience disappointment or fail. Promoting self-esteem and self-confidence is a pivotal inner asset for young people because it supports them in building a strong foundation of beliefs and perceptions about their abilities, significance, and sense of self. 

Developing self-esteem ensures that youth understand their value and know that they ARE valuable. This sense of self-worth will make them more able to deal with the discouragements and disappointments which come with developing and growing up. 

Special Considerations

If you have a young person with learning differences, consider that their emotional and learning developmental age may differ from their physical developmental age. As they develop, their body will change and they will likely have the same experiences and needs as their peers, but if they have certain learning challenges, they may need more support to understand some of the concepts.  

If needed, talk with your young person’s medical and educational team about their individualized needs and how best to explain these concepts to them. Typically, it is best to start simple to create safe, open communication. Add in more details as your young person demonstrates their understanding. It is important to normalize these conversations with them — at their comprehension level.

Where to Start the Conversation

Choose a place where both of you feel safe, comfortable, and have privacy away from others. Sometimes a 1:1 car ride can be a good opportunity. Consider starting the conversation when both of you have ample time to give and attitudes are more relaxed and open. For example, starting a conversation when your young person has a lot of homework, is stressed, tired, or hungry may not work in your favor. Look for teachable moments that give you an opportunity to talk. This can include seeing something on TV that sparks a conversation or hearing about something that someone else is going through. 

When & How to Start the Conversation

Self-esteem and self-confidence start to develop when you are a child: as you try new things, solve problems, take risks, accept failure, and develop a sense of belonging. As we grow, our self-esteem and confidence can also be influenced by many other factors. Start the conversation early about your young person’s value to your family and the world around them so that they know that they ARE valuable.

As a child grows through the stages of puberty, the changes can feel awkward and confusing to a developing adolescent. They may compare themselves to their peers and feel insecure about certain aspects of the way they look, how they are developing, and the many changes that are happening to their body (such as acne, weight gain, breasts, hair, etc.)  

As a caregiver, it is important to communicate with and educate young people about the normal changes that they are experiencing during puberty. Encourage them to appreciate and identify the strengths and abilities that make them unique. Use this time to let go and promote some independence in decision making and responsibilities. 

The overall goal for a caregiver is to cultivate an environment that promotes self-value and self-worth and removes criticism, guilt, and shame. Promoting self-value and worth will translate to self-confidence, body positivity, and increased motivation in your young person as they navigate their way through the adolescent years into adulthood.  

We can do this by:

  • Removing our own self-doubt and fear
  • Empowering and encouraging our young people to try something new
  • Encouraging our young people to set achievable goals for themselves
  • Encouraging youth to learn from their mistakes by also acknowledging how a different path may change the outcome, and also take pride in what went right
  • Cultivating their strengths and supporting the growth of their interests and passions
  • Teaching them to see their body as a whole and not individual pieces that they may or may not like and encouraging them to admire their inner beauty and what their body can do and accomplish versus how it looks
  • Doing our best to model and practice these skills, behaviors, and attitudes within ourselves 

For example, spilled milk can result in learning how to clean up a mess.  

Conversation Starters 

It is important to teach your young person about positive self-talk, acknowledging their efforts vs. performing tasks perfectly, and self-acceptance. 

  • “Are there any new activities you would like to try but are hesitant to do so? If so, let’s set some small, measurable goals that will allow you to achieve them.” 
  • “I see you enjoy soccer, but don’t want to join a team. Can you give me your top fears about joining?” 
  • “You are a very valuable member of this family. Can you tell me some things about you that make you valuable?” 
  • “What are some things you do that make you feel purposeful?” 
  • “What are some things you like about yourself or things you feel you are good at?”
  • Teach about the effects media can have on self-esteem. Films, TV, magazines, and social media like Tik Tok and Instagram have distorted how many of us view our bodies and ourselves. “Can you spot any examples on social media that give a distorted sense of reality?”
  • “What do you think other people would say about you if they had to describe you?” 
  • “What are you most proud of?” 
When to Reach Out for Support 

When someone has low self-esteem, they do not have a strong sense of self-worth or value. You may see some of the following behaviors and characteristics.

  • Easily offended
  • Insecurity in trying new things – fear of failure and decreased confidence they will be successful
  • Negative self-talk and doubt, or they talk negatively and try to instill doubt about others
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Blame others for their mistakes or have a hard time admitting to their mistakes
  • Decreased motivation and interests
  • Find it hard to be acknowledged or take a compliment/compliments may cause them anxiety or stress
  • Uncomfortable being around others, especially those they do not know, may appear socially isolated or withdrawn
  • Compare themselves to others, thinking others are better
  • Sensitive to criticism or suggestions
  • Become agitated or hostile if they feel criticized, exposed, or attacked

Ask for support by seeking professional guidance when feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or when you are concerned your young person is having experiences that are not healthy.

A professional can help to facilitate a productive conversation and suggest effective strategies for having a discussion with your young person.

To learn more about self-esteem, self-confidence, and body image and ways to develop strategic tools on how to help your teen build on these visit


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