Beat children’s body image issues through play, says new report

July 9th, 2013
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Active play gives less sporty children the confidence to beat anxieties, claims Make Time 2 Play ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos

Make Time 2 PlayWith children as young as five expressing concerns about the way they look, parents, schools and policy makers must work together to improve children’s body image issues, says counselling psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos in a new report written by the Make Time 2 Play campaign ( A year on from the Olympics the sporting legacy promised will no doubt be examined across the country. However with body confidence issues on the increase Dr Linda Papadopoulos examines how play can be just as important as sport in getting children to participate in physical activity.

The report, entitled Physical Activity and Body Image in Children, says that children who have body confidence concerns are more likely to be anxious about taking part in formal sports. However, parents who engage their children in regular physical activity, such as active play, from an early age, help them to develop increased self-esteem and emotional resilience. Both of these are important factors in developing a better body image and making children better able to cope with external messages about body image as they grow up.

An integral part of the Make Time 2 Play campaign is its belief that play is vitally important not just to children’s physical development but to their emotional well-being as well. In taking pride in what their bodies can achieve, children see their bodies as functional rather than aesthetic, allaying anxieties about the way their bodies look.

Children who are resistant to organised sporting activities should not forgo exercise, says Dr Papadopoulos. Active play provides the same benefits of sports in a less structured, more enjoyable setting, giving less sporty children a chance to participate.

The report examines the rise in negative body image among children, citing recent studies that found one in four 7 year old girls have tried to lose weight at least once and that one third of young boys aged 8-12 are dieting to lose weight. Dr Papadopoulos suggests ways in which children’s body image issues can be resolved through active play, with some tips for introducing active play at an early age, to help prevent body image issues from arising: “It’s important to model appropriate behaviour. If your children see you being active, and having fun, then they are more likely to develop a positive outlook on physical activity.”

“For those that shy away from sport there are lots of other activities that can get children active without engaging in traditional team sports. Building a den, going on a nature trail or treasure hunt, play tag or ‘it’,” Dr Papadopoulos continues. “These can be great starter activities to get children active before leading on to more gentle sports style activity like rounders or playing with a ball. The key thing is to keep it fun.”

Dr Papadopoulos has written extensively on how to transform negative body image into positive self-esteem. For a copy of the report, Physical Activity and Body Image in Children, visit

To help parents to understand the benefits of play and to provide ideas to engage children in play, visit the Make Time 2 Play campaign Facebook page at and download the free Make Time 2 Play app with hundreds of play ideas.



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