5 Unique Ways To Foster Body Positivity In Tweens & Teens — That Work For ADHD Kids, Too

It's not as simple as telling your child "You're perfect just how you are!"

Young girls with ADHD looking into the mirror reminding themselves of their beauty RapidEye, Dmitriy Zub, Iuliia Zavalishina,  Kichigin | Canva 

It’s heartbreaking when children share that they don’t like their bodies. They may dislike their shape, height, hair color, skin tone, nose, feet, or any body part causing them distress. All too often, kids (and adults too!) compare themselves to an unattainable ideal of beauty put forth by the media and popular culture.

They see actors, models and influencers who look polished and seemingly perfect. It is virtually impossible for our children to measure up because those images are carefully crafted and maintained with the help of lots of money and support staff. However, with magical thinking and an untrained eye for touch-ups, many kids don’t fully understand the difference between the images they see online, and how those same people appear in real life.


Kids, teens and young adults with ADHD often struggle with body image

Like many typical kids, our children with ADHD may perceive other kids as prettier, stronger, and more popular. Sometimes, family members may criticize youngsters in particularly cruel and painful ways which makes it even more difficult for them to love who they are.

For kids with ADHD who often get caught up in negative thinking and may already feel diminished academically or socially, it can be especially tough to stop the repetitive, critical thoughts in their heads about how they look.

Shifting their views about their body means accepting who they are, what they look like, and appreciating all our differences. We need to remind kids that yes, they’re not perfect but no one is.


Of course, the work is really about what’s inside, as much as what’s on the outside. We all have to learn to fill our own approval cups instead of holding them out for others to fill with compliments and reassurance.

This is especially true for kids with ADHD who want to fit in and be accepted by their peers.

Kids and teens with ADHD often want something about themselves to be “normal” since their learning styles are different. Outer appearance may give them some relief, but it won’t mend their insecurities. You can’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.

We have to teach our kids and teens about how people may look one way externally and have something entirely unexpected going on inside of them.


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Here's how to foster body positivity in ADHD kids.

To change distorted or negative perceptions about body image, start by helping your child or teen create a supportive team of caring friends, teachers, mentors and family who accept them as they are. Here are some steps of self-reflection you can do together to improve their ability to like themselves.

1. Make a list of what you like

Ask your child to make a list of what they like about themselves and post it in their room (or keep it in a journal).


2. Make another list of action items

Make a second list of things they don’t like and what, if any, action they could take to change those characteristics. Maybe it’s time for a cool new haircut or a new pair of sneakers they’ve been eyeing at the mall.

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3. Flip the script

Identify a positive aspect of each negative trait they listed. For instance, if they may not like their feet, but those same feet do a great job of holding them up and getting them where they want to go. Your daughter might not care her your straight hair, but it’s healthy, shiny and looks good in a ponytail. Your son may feel overweight but is very strong and his size is useful on the football field, or perhaps his body type reminds him of this father or grandfather who had the same shape, and whom he adored.

4. Update their fashion and style appropriately

Go through their clothes and keep the items that they love and in which they feel confident. Encourage them to dress in something that makes them feel good or boosts their mood. I had one nine year old client who told me: “I dress in the color I feel that day. Like, if I’m feeling purple, then it’s a purple day.” Go with it.


Perhaps ask a caring friend or relative to help your child or teen purge unwanted items or shop for some new, fun stuff you can afford.

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5. Brainstorm comebacks

If people around your youngster are critical of their appearance, brainstorm ways they can deal with these comments appropriately. In a calm moment, create one or two comebacks that are witty and easy to remember and then practice using them. If you need to intervene with teachers or school administrators to set limits because of suspected bullying, talk this over with your son or daughter to protect their safety.

It’s not okay for someone to criticize their body and kids need tools to convey that it has to stop. Saying it was a joke, or they were just being sarcastic, is also unacceptable. These are passive aggressive ways to put someone down. If necessary, encourage your son or daughter to take a break from interacting with anyone who is mean or exhibits bullying behaviors.


Sadly, it’s typical for many kids, especially tweens and teens, to dislike some parts of their body. Sometimes dissatisfaction with one’s appearance can have serious and disturbing consequences.

Body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia and anorexia are serious mental health conditions which require immediate attention. There’s a difference between casually disliking how your arms look in a certain top, wanting a smaller nose or wishing your torso was more muscular, and actively trying to change your appearance.

Some youngsters with ADHD try to manage these uncomfortable feelings with obsessive thinking and self-harming behaviors. If you notice your child is seeing bodily defects or malformations that do not exist, if your child is showing changes in how, when and what they eat, or if they tell you they are throwing up on purpose, consult their pediatrician or primary care provider immediately.


In the meantime, focus on healthy living and model self-acceptance and body positivity. Offer body-affirming comments and monitor how you talk about your own physique. Our kids notice everything and take in what we say and do. Accepting ourselves is a process that benefits everybody.

Empathize with their feelings and also remember to, as the song says, “Accentuate the positive!”.

Eating disorders are very common — and very can be very serious 

According to the ANAD (Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders), eating disorders affect 9 percent of the population worldwide, and 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders disproportionately affect BIOPC, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities. Second to only opioid overdose, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses with 10,200 deaths each year as the direct result of an eating disorder — that’s one death every 52 minutes. If you or a loved one are struggling with disordered eating, contact the National Eating Disorder Helpline’s toll-free phone number: 1-800-931-2237.

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator. She has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on the school and family dynamics for more than 30 years.