A positive body image?  How to help our children to love their bodies.

I don’t know about you, but during lockdown my dress size definitely went up and my fitness levels absolutely went down.  Some people embraced the opportunity to stay at home by expanding their skill set, learning a new language, challenging themselves to ride hundreds of kilometres from the safety of their own living room, whilst others of us found solace in packets of crisps, a glass of wine here and there and Netflix on demand.  For many children, it was the same (minus the wine of course)! Whilst Joe Wicks certainly stepped up to the mark becoming the UK’s personal PE teacher, not all children had access or inclination to attend his virtual sessions.

The serious decline in opportunity and access to physical education has had a truly detrimental effect on many children, from physical to mental wellbeing.

The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children complete and average of 60 minutes of activity everyday, and even before lockdown only 47% of school aged children were achieving this.  During lockdown the level of children during 60 mins of daily activity ranged from between 14-22%. 

Inactivity was reported to be higher amongst girls, children from poorer backgrounds and BAME children.  Around 1 in 10 children in the UK reported no daily activity at all during lockdown. 

These worrying statistics have led to an increase in weight for many parents and children, and with this an adverse effect on body image. Many children going through puberty and the changes that growing up brings are already aware of their bodies evolving into something new, but how we react around them, and how we present our own body image, has a deep rooted and lasting effect.

Can we help our children love their bodies and develop a positive body image?

According to Mentally Healthy Schools:

“Body image is how a child feels about and sees their body. It can relate to body size or shape, skin colour, appearance, facial features or physical disabilities/differences.

A positive body image supports physical and mental health. It can boost confidence and help children develop a healthy image of themselves. A negative body image or body dissatisfaction can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and poor self-perception. It can also affect learning, participation and school achievement, lead to unhealthy eating practices and increase the risk of developing eating disorders in later life.”

Sadly, recent research by the Be Real Campaign states that more than half (52%) of 11 to 16 year olds regularly worry about how they look and almost a third (30%) are isolating themselves because of body image anxiety.

As parents we may not all have a healthy relationship with our bodies, with many of us constantly dieting and exercising in an effort to achieve the body we aspire to have.  However, as parents, we need to teach our children to love their bodies, appreciate what they have been blessed with (hopefully happiness and health) and to make healthy choices.

So, how do we help those young people around us?

The best, and often most personally challenging, is to lead by example.

  • Do not body shame yourself or others;
  • Don’t get stuck on what you are unhappy with when you look in the mirror;
  • Focus on what is great and remember it doesn’t have to be about the way you look.

All this is easier said than done when you are an adult, but harder still when you are a tween or teen who is in the throes of puberty.

Their bodies and brains are changing due to the release of hormones which, cruelly at such a challenging time of life, make them more aware of how they look, how their body is changing and what is happening to other bodies around them.  While everyone goes through these changes, it can feel frightening, isolating and lead to anxiety.

We’ve looked into what the experts are suggesting can be done to help those you love, love their bodies, which in turn will lead to improved self-esteem and overall happiness.

The charity Young Minds has some great advice:

  • Be kind to yourself and try not to compare yourself to the many images you see online and in magazines, which are often digitally changed to make them look ‘perfect’ – they don’t reflect how people look in real life.
  • Focus on the things you like about yourself, and the parts of your body that you like.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel positive about yourself. It might help you to write down the nice things people say to you, and not just about how you look. Remember, people value you for many reasons.
  • Think about what advice you would give a friend if they told you they were struggling with the way they look and remember that advice whenever you start having negative thoughts.
  • Talk to someone you trust. It could be your parents or wider family members, like older cousins, aunts or uncles. Outside home, it could be a teacher, a neighbour, close family friend or someone from a club you attend.

The Children’s Society has similar advice:

  • Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself: Things that are not related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often.
  • Remind yourself that true beauty is not skin-deep: Look at yourself as a whole person, beauty is a state of mind and not a state of body.
  • Surround yourself with positive people: It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognise the importance of liking yourself just as you are.
  • Clothes: Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body.
  • Body image and the media: Reduce your amount of social and media access. Be aware of images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body and remember that these images may have been edited by Photoshop.
  • Do something nice for yourself: Do something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap or find a peaceful place outside to relax.

 

So, parents, let’s get positive, make healthy life choices and highlight what is great about our kids.

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