08/27/2013 08:06 EDT | Updated 10/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Help Your Kids Start the School Year With a Healthy Body Image

Heading back to school after summer vacation can be stressful for kids of any age. Some kids worry about which teachers they'll get, how much homework they'll have or if they're prepared enough to handle the next level of their education.

But for other kids, the anxiety comes from the fear that they might be too fat, or too thin, or too short, or too tall to fit in with the other kids. A lot can happen to a young person's body over summer vacation. Some kids will experience a growth spurt, while others will need a little time to catch up and since kids grow at differences paces, it's important for our kids to understand that our bodies are amazing things that come in many different sizes and shapes and that wherever they are right now, is exactly where they're supposed to be.

Here are a few things you can do to help your kids start the school year off with confidence:

1. Let them discover their own personal sense of style

While you may not love or even understand some of the fashion choices your kids are making, let them make them anyway. With so much pressure to be just like everybody else, it's important that kids be encouraged to express themselves and their individuality. If what they want to wear is within their school's dress code policy, it should be fine for you as well.

If your child wears a uniform to school, let them choose how they want to style their hair and consider picking up some fun accessories. It's really important that we encourage our kids to find their own voice and be proud of who they are as unique individuals.

2. Go out for an end of summer vacation lunch date and talk about whatever concerns they may have for the new year.

Let them know that they have a solid support system; including yourself and their teachers to help them have a successful year and make sure they know that they can come to you with any problems that might come up.

Many people don't realize that kids can develop body image issues as a result of feeling a lack of control over other aspects of their life. Sometimes it's easier to focus on what's wrong with their bodies than why they keep falling behind in their grades. Letting them know you'll be there to help them anytime they need it, will relieve some of the stress and pressure they might be putting on themselves.

3. Encourage extracurricular activities

Having somewhere to go and something do outside of the school atmosphere where your child can either develop a new skill or improve on one they already have can hugely increase their self-esteem. It's also a great way for them to expand their circle of friends and meet new teachers/instructors who will nurture their interests and help build their confidence.

4. Discuss body diversity

Kids grow at their own pace and whether you're an early bloomer or a late one, It's important to explain to our kids that there is no right time or wrong time to go through the physical changes that come from things like puberty and that the changes should be celebrated not stressed over. Feel free to dig up old pictures of yourself and your friends to show how different you may have looked from each other and to reinforce the idea that trying to look like everybody else is a complete waste of time when just being yourself is awesome enough.

5. Talk about his/her day as soon as he/she gets home

My mother always used to say that if she waited too long to ask my siblings and me how our days went and what kinds of things we did, she wouldn't get much more than an, "It was fine" or "nothing much." But if she asked us right away, there would be a lot more to discuss and it's necessary for us to know what's going on at school since it's where our kids spend most of their time during the school year. Also, if anything is bothering them, they'll be more likely to share it while it's still fresh in their minds.

I understand that this can be difficult for working parents, or when kids get home late from extracurricular activities, so just make sure to set aside even just a few minutes to touch base before bedtime to stay on top of any situation that may be going on and that your child might want to share with you.

6. Communicate with their teacher

Have a quick chat with their teacher at the beginning of the year and let him/her know that you want to be informed if they notice any changes in behaviour that is concerning. Sometimes, teachers won't want to bother parents until they're sure there's a problem, but the sooner you get the information, the sooner you can deal with it if you need to.

7. Be excited!

You may have your own concerns when it comes to the new school year, but you need to keep those worries to yourself. If you're a little anxious because your child is going to a new school or you're worried about some issues that haven't been resolved at the one they're already at, don't let them see you sweat. If you seem overly concerned, they'll feel it and will take on some of that worry. Instead, be optimistic and excited about all the great things that new year can bring.

Body image issues are starting much younger now than they ever have before and we need to understand that any kid can be vulnerable to them. Our responsibility as parents isn't to tell our kids who they should be, but to encourage them to discover that for themselves and then support them when they do.