Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK is running from 13th until 19th in 2019 and this year the theme is Body Image, focusing on how we think and feel about our bodies. There are many things that can influence how children see their bodies, but one thing for sure is that Parents can play a critical role in helping children develop a healthy body image and we have put together some ways to help you do this.
Did you know that a child’s opinion of their body forms at a very young age, with research actually suggesting that children as young as 3 years old can have body image issues!
Children are like Sponges, as they soak in information from everything surrounding them and nowadays it can be hard to escape the “Ideal” body image that is portrayed on TV, in books, magazines, on the internet, across social media and of course within our kids schools and playgrounds.
So as parents its vital that we help our kids pick up positive messages about our bodies no matter what they look like and that we help them get savvy to all these mixed media messages.
Here are some Handy Do’s and Don’ts for Parents to help their Child Build a healthy Body Image:
Don’t Wait to be Positive
Its scary to think that pre-schoolers are worrying themselves over being fat or looking different, but that is becoming more common. So, don’t wait until your child is older, thinking that body image only affected older kids, use these ideas on little kids as well
Do Be Positive about your Own Body
Leading by example is the best way to build healthy attitudes about body images. For example, if you’re constantly complaining about your own body or standing on the scales checking on your weight, pulling faces at yourself in the mirror or trying on 9 different outfits to find the one you don’t look ugly in, then all these actions will send your child a powerful message, in how to judge your our body and whether you realise it or not your indirectly teaching your child to constantly judge theirs.
Be kinder to yourself and become more positive about yourself, after all how can you teach your child to be accepting of their own body if you don’t accept yours?
Don’t forget your Body Language
Don’t think for a second that kids can’t pick up on body language. That face you make at yourself in the mirror when you don’t look like you see, or the constant tugging at your clothes to cover an area of your body you’re not over the moon with, is all totally noted by your little one.
Remember what your wishing your child to understand is that no body needs to be perfect and by you showing confidence in your own body, shows happiness with your differences, acceptance of differences and proves perfection is not defined by a number on the scale or a size on a clothes tag.
Don’t Obsess over Food
If a child sees their parent obsessively counting calories it teaches them that self-worth is measured by the weighing scales.
If a child sees their parent constantly dieting it can teach an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.
We all know that when you restricted something it often makes you want it more, so if a parent restricts certain types of food then it can inadvertently teach their child to crave it and in turn make their child obsess over food.
Food is an essential part of keeping alive and mealtimes is an important family time together. It can be so productive to enjoy food as a family, from making it together, sitting and eating the same foods with no special diets and even eating desserts as everything in moderation is still healthy.
This set up will then allow a natural bridge for when your child gets older to discuss which foods are healthy whilst building a fab emotional relationship with food by linking it to memories of happy family mealtimes.
Do Listen and Do Talk
In our busy lives dashing from place to place, we sometimes forget to listen to every single sentence our kids come out with and by doing this is lowers our chance on picking up on signals that not everything is ok. For example, if you child tells you a negative thing about themselves, such as they feel fat or they don’t like their hair colour then don’t just brush it off.
Take time to listen to their stresses. Don’t nip it in the bud with a flash statement like “no you’re not” or “don’t be daft” To them this is a real feeling and possibly one that’s consuming most of their daily thoughts. Listen and then Talk. Talk out the reasoning, has someone said something, or is this a thought they have developed them self after watching a certain TV programme maybe.
Ask them why they feel like this, as this type of conversation will give you the chance to talk about what makes them special. You can steer the conversation back to having a healthy body and how our healthy bodies sometimes look different than what we see on TV and in magazines.
By understanding where these feeling have come from can help you help them. For example if these thoughts have come from a picture they have seen then by talking to them you can explain that even though it’s not right reality is that many images are edited to make skin looking smoother, hair look less frizzy or make people look thinner and that there is no reason to compare themselves against something that doesn’t actually exist.
Do Trust your Instinct
You know your child best, and if you can see that they are getting or could get affected by a certain programme on TV or Music Video, go with your gut and protect your child from it. There is no harm in not letting them watch something and obviously if they are older and can understand, then explain to them why you have made that decision.
Do Close your Eyes
Funny as it sounds, getting older kids to close their eyes and tell you the image they have of someone is a good way to make them think more about the person without looking at them.
So, if you can’t see someone what image do you get about them? The first thing to mind won’t be what they look like or the latest trendy clothes they are wearing but maybe that they have a funny personality or a pretty sounding voice.
This can also be a good opportunity to talk about how people can get portrayed by the way they look and how their character traits and morals can be completely different to how people judge them based on their looks.
This is a fab way to discuss how being a good person on the inside is way more important than outward appearances as every single person’s body will change throughout life, but their character traits will not.
Don’t Obsess about Weight Loss
If as a parent, you are seen to constantly want to lose weight your teaching your child that they must be a certain weight. Be mindful that you could be creating an unhealthy obsession within your child for them to feel the need to stick to a certain weight, which sadly could lead to them taking drastic measures to achieve it, such as developing an eating disorder.
As a family you can of course focus on eating healthy and exercise, but don’t make weight loss the ultimate goal
Do Focus on Self-esteem
Changing how we look can be easy for some people and a lot easier than changing how they feel, but this doesn’t mean that by changing how you look will make everything awesome.
Learning to value yourself and your child more will. Make a point of each day telling your child they look beautiful, praise them for something they have done well or point out when they have done something kind. This will all make them happier at the same time as praising them for something that’s not based on how they look.
Most importantly keep your criticisms to yourself when it comes to your child’s body.
Do Celebrate all Body Types
Remember you’re the biggest role model for your child, so make it count. Get the whole family to embrace their bodies and be happy with how they look.
All keep physically active and eat well. Highlight the benefits of being strong and fit, no matter what shape your bodies are.
Focus on how you feel on the inside not how you look on the outside. Perfect example is if you don’t like how your arms looks, then talk about the strength they have instead, it’s all about putting a spin on things by making you think differently about them, with a view to building body confidence in your kids.
DO change your Phraseology
We are all guilty of blurting out the negative before the positive, but let’s just not make it a habit. By changing how you phrase things will proper influence your child and how they view their body, for example:-
- Don’t talk about dieting - Talk about eating healthy.
- Don’t talk about exercising to lose weight - Talk about exercising to be stronger.
- Don’t talk about wanting to improve your body to be more attractive - Talk about improving your body to be ready for whatever life has to offer.
- Don’t make faces whilst looking at yourself in the mirror - Smile back at yourself and remind yourself you are helping your child succeed.
- Don’t force your child to eat all the food on their plate – Teach your child to work out if they are full or satisfied.
- Don’t focus only on outer appearance – Focus on what it means to be a good person. Praise your child on their inside characteristics.
- Don’t shy away from being photographed - Take every opportunity to capture your life with your child. In years to come it will mean so much to you that you were present in their history.
- Don’t skip meals - Show your children that it’s important to eat three healthy meals a day.
- Don’t make every food decision for your child - Give them a say in what they eat. Allow your child to help you pick food at the supermarket. Educate them on what’s a good food choice. Emphasise that eating a variety of food is vital to grow and to be strong. Help them understand about your body’s need for vitamins and minerals.
- Don’t eat only diet foods or fat-free foods - Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and proteins.
- Don’t say, “I wish I looked like them.” – If you have to have a role model, base it on someone you admire because of their attitude, their kindness, or their good work. Then say something like “I want to do more good like them.”
It Doesn’t Exist
BREAKING NEWS the Perfect Body does not exist….. What this isn’t New News, we all know this already, we just Forget!
Our minds are constantly flooded by the next social media post and edited photos to make tummies thinners and other things bigger; it can become easy, even normal to chase the perfect body… You know that thing we all know doesn’t exist lol!
Reality Check 101 - Longing for the perfect body will only end in disappointment, leads to poor self-esteem and impact all other aspects of your life…… all because it doesn’t exist.
Another media illusion is that poor body image is mainly associated with girls. Nope poor body image is not gender specific, feelings of wanting to be thinner, taller have enough muscles or six-pack abs are all out there and research has found that underweight boys are more likely to suffer from depression than are overweight girls, but girls are more likely to suffer with an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. - So, it for sure affects everyone.
Can Last a Lifetime
A poor body image can massively affect a child’s self-esteem, their life choices, ability to meet people and make friends. It can hinder them from trying new things, moving onto higher education and affect their social skills.
It can also affect their health as people with low self-esteem are more likely to be depressed and have anxiety. Depression can lead to weight gain making low self esteem worse and possibly even develop into an eating disorder.
Don’t forget how your pre-schooler to teen views their body can have a lasting effect on them, its not just a fad.
Top Tips for Parents to Look for
Let’s not go OTT here, children being preoccupied with body image to some extent is normal, especially during the ages of 10 and 20 years old, so as parents we need to keep our worries in check to some degree.
Simply keep an eye out for if your child’s body image interfers with their normal activities, friendships, or willingness to attend social gatherings. Continue to encourage them and build their self-esteem by praising them.
Some Signs of Depression to Look our For
This is not a hard-fast list, but simply a few examples that you can look for and if concerned seek medical advice from your GP
- Lack of energy or low energy.
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities.
- Irritability / gets mad easily.
- Not able to control emotions, such as crying or yelling.
- Changes in sleep, for example sleeping more than usual or less than usual.
- Changes in diet, not eating or eating more than usual.
- Not talking as much at home.
- Wanting to spend time alone.
Some Signs of Eating Disorders to Look out for
The most common eating disorders are:
- Anorexia, which is when someone severely limits their food intake
- Bulimia, which is when someone eats a large quantity of food and then makes them self sick to get the food out of them again, or by exercising or fasting to make up for overeating
- Binge Eating, which is when someone eats a large quantity of food then fasts, rather than an equal routine to meals a day
Again, this is not a hard-fast list of signs of eating disorders, but simply a few examples that you can look for and if concerned seek medical advice from your GP
- Excessive weight loss.
- Exercising excessively.
- Eating very small portions or skipping meals entirely.
- Eating large amounts of food without gaining weight.
- Using diuretic pills and laxatives.
- Being secretive about eating.
- Finding excuses to go to the bathroom right after eating.
- Sneaking large quantities of food to eat alone.
Don’t forget there are many things that can influence how children see their bodies, as Parents the most important thing we can do for our kids is make sure we make ours a Positive Influence no matter of our own personal journey.
Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK is organised by the Mental Health Foundation and aims to spread awareness and understanding around mental health. It’s a time to be positive and look out for others, if you want to find out more about this awareness campaign or the charity behind it you can Visit their Website Here