“MUMMY, AM I FAT?" HOW TO HELP YOUR KIDS HAVE A GOOD BODY IMAGE...
The more we develop The Chachi Power Project, the more we see our focus going in two distinct directions:
1. We want to focus on helping you get happy and recognise that negative body image isn’t a predestined way of being which you HAVE TO abide by. There is another way…
2. Kids. How do we help them have good body image? Rock hard self esteem and the bounciest resilience to deal with whatever toxicity they are gonna experience as they grow?
And for today’s blog I’m gonna focus on the kiddies…
Shocking figures. Infogram seen on @_hersociety’s Instagram
We all know kids are gonna have it hard, probably way harder than we ever did, right? And because kids are coming into contact with media at a younger age and there is more and more pressure, we have to address things much earlier than ever before. Just check out the chat in this article about the launch of more diverse Barbies. It’s so upsetting to think that kids feel like this is the way you are supposed to act already. Here's what the researcher's observed when they asked some young girls to play with the new diverse Barbie range which included a 'curvier' Barbie:
“For her Time cover story, Dockterman watched unattended little girls playing with the doll, presumably through some kind of two-way mirror. In one session, for the pleasure of her peers, a 6-year-old speaks as if she’s the curvy doll. Here’s what she says: “Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat.” Later, when an adult arrives, she calls the doll “a little chubbier.” Another child says she doesn’t want to hurt that Barbie’s feelings, so she spells it: “F-A-T.” A Mattel research head told Dockterman that, when adults weren’t in the room, focus-group girls often undressed the curvy dolls and laughed at them.”
And when reading this article about an Australian research publication it actually scared the beejesus outta me (I may have caps locked and bolded a couple of the words which shook me to my core):
“We now ASSUME that body image problems will be the norm for girls and women, and will be commonly found among boys and men starting by about age 8 or 9 years,” Zimmer-Gembeck explained. “Our research shows that these problems are not minor and, for about 30% of the girls and 15% of the boys between the ages of 10 and 15, this can become an OBSESSION— with frequent checking of appearance, social comparisons, anxiety about not looking right, and trying to cover up or hide when concerned about how they look.”
Recently we held two meet-ups in Glasgow and Edinburgh (click here if you wan to join the group) with different people each time. Teachers, headteachers, parents, charity representatives, Rainbow leaders, grandparents, aunts and uncles all came together to discuss concerns around kids body image.
And please don’t think I only mean weight when I say body image. Yes it seems to be the normal go-to when ‘body image’ is brought up but we discussed body hair, skin colour, shape of features, disabilities, gender etc. We shared some sweet, and some, frightening anecdotes and chatted through thoughts about how to battle against all the body image demons which threaten our sprogs.
This is what we came up with… Some of these tips below don’t necessarily scream: ‘FIGHTING NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE’ but what came up in our sessions was more diverse than your kid thinking they are fat….
We discussed how to deal with the destructive forces of shame and guilt, how to create environments where children can feel safe and seek help, how to encourage children to have self esteem and internal motivation rather than constantly seeking validation through the eyes of others. These all seem to be integral to setting your child up for whatever ‘trauma’s’ they are going to experience as they move into adolescence. These tips below are suggested so your child knows they always have someone to talk to, can share their emotions and they don’t feel like everything they do is to please someone else.
Most of these suggestions are specifically helpful for people who have or who work with kids between 0 and 13 years of age.
Here we go:
Guilt | Shame | Expectations | Communication | Parenting
Create an environment where a child can always be honest with you with no repercussions. Let them know that if they tell you the truth there will be no consequences and you will work through a resolution together.
Converse through frustrations. Explain reasons why you do things (you are keeping them safe, helping them understand etc.), don’t expect them to blindly accept being asked to do something when they have no idea why. It can be unfair. Explain yourself so you have an ally, not a subject.
Re-enforce that it is your job as an adult to keep them safe.
Remind kids that no matter what, even when you aren’t there, that you still love them. This helps them realise they are loveable and are deserving of love.
Kids need a rock to bounce off (sounds sore), so be strong yet vulnerable and flexible.
Consistency is key. Kids need to know what to expect from each environment or person they come into contact with: a parent/ a school/ a teacher. It’s terribly confusing when a parent is inconsistent from one day to the next with discipline or interactions. It can lead to external motivation (constantly wanting to please someone) or that child shutting down their communication because they don’t know how you will react.
Having aims to strive towards is great, but disappointing a parent is devastating. Setting expectations continually as a parent, and being disappointed when these aren’t met, encourages children to seek external motivation. External motivation can lead a child into a lifetime of doing things only because other people expect it from them, being submissive and not meaning to sound too scary but… sexualising their bodies too early for the praise of others.
Praise wisely: Giving continual praise over the smallest of acts again encourages children to seek external motivation. This will lead children to constantly need to prove themselves to others, rather than doing something solely for the achievement, or learning for the sake of learning. Praise them when something they did was truly difficult and they worked hard or they figured something out themselves. And change your praise from: “You are so clever!” to “You must’ve worked really hard to figure that out/ complete that?” Also, don’t only say: “Good job!” ask them about their work: Why did they use the colours they did? What does it mean to them?
Be aware of controlling or containing children. Allow them to explore and educate themselves. They have a natural inner drive to learn, explore and understand. Do not do things for them if they can do it themselves otherwise your life will be spent trying to entertain them and their life will be filled with needing to be entertained.
Encourage them to try, and when they fail, to try again. What did they learn from that last attempt? Encourage them and find ways to instil resilience. This can help kids deal with comments said to them when you aren’t there, as well as helping them become patient. (I found this great book for my nephews about resilience when you think something is broken/ ruined)
Be aware of your actions around children: The human brain automatically imitates so take notice of your actions towards yourself and others. People talk over kids heads thinking they aren’t interested, we talk about them as if they weren’t there, we even talk about inappropriate things thinking they aren’t picking up on them. Be aware of this. Especially when it comes to your own body and how you talk about other people’s bodies. (More about this below)
How are you showing your child what ‘love’ is? Your parents’ relationship helps you understand what ‘love’ is. If they see a father who is nice to their mother: that is what ‘love’ is to them. A mother understanding and supporting a father: that is what ‘love’ is.
Did you know Bill Gates didn’t let his kids have smart phones till they were 14 and Steve Jobs never gave his kids the iPad?
You MUST be aware of what they are consuming. Kids are bombarded by our consumer, and gender stereotyping, society. Switch off the TV, speak to your kids and ask their perspective on important subjects. I recommend you watch the documentary film: Miss Representation to understand the full extent of the impact of the media on our toddlers. It is terrifying.
Ban cell phones/ screen time at dinner, during family time and before bed for parents AND kids.
Repeat messaging to counteract toxic messages they may receive from the media. Try these: ‘Everyone is beautiful.’ ‘Truth is important.’ ‘All genders are equal.’
Education | Activity
Encourage Creativity: Silicon Valley and progressive education go hand in hand because techy geniuses realise that mainstream education stifles creativity. If your kid is in mainstream education allow them to flex their specific brand of creativity outside of school time.
Encourage sports and other activities like singing or learning a musical instrument. This has been found to encourage an understanding about their bodies so they know what will help them be capable, have good health, be agile and how to use their bodies effectively.
Don’t force ‘competition’ on them. If they want to compete that can occur naturally but taking part is the main goal. And taking part is their choice.
Show them how you enjoy exercise because of what it does for your mind and body. Explain how wonderful it is to move your body. Exercise was not designed to counteract calories, the benefits of exercise should not be equated that way.
Learning about bodies and the way they work should be a matter of science and nature. It’s a good way to make them aware and connected to their own bodies whilst not feeling like their bodies are shameful or anything to be embarrassed about.
Don’t hush something they are upset about: If a child is upset about the way they look or someone has pointed out something about their body, don’t hush them or counteract the remark which they have taken as a negative. Ask a question: Do they feel sad about that? Why? Explore the situation, explain about different body types and how everyone looks different and that’s normal. Explain how bodies work, how food is digested, how muscles and bones work.
If the word ‘fat’ starts being thrown around as an insult then read this post from Allison Kimmey about how she handled it with her daughter: https://www.instagram.com/p/BVNHKuUFXFC/?hl=en. It’s amazing!
Do not consistently focus on their looks. You can call your child beautiful, of course, but don’t let that be the only thing they are praised for. Aside: If a parent is posting pictures of kids online and all comments are about what they look like, then that will affect the child’s idea of worth.
Do not be negative about your own body or other people’s bodies (in general and in front of your child). No more “I’m fat”, “I look disgusting”. No poking or squishing bits of your body you don’t like. And do not judge other’s appearances either (tattoos, piercings, hair colour, clothing, shape, size) in front of them (or ever, really) as these differences say nothing about what a person can be like. As mentioned above, imitation is the main way children pick up bad habits but you have no idea how much of an affect body shaming an individual in front of your child might be on their life choices, self acceptance as they grow up.
No negativity about other bodies: If your child does say something negative about someone else’s body remind them that it is not their business to comment on anyone else’s body unless they are talking positively about it or giving someone a compliment. Lead by example and remember that compliments shouldn’t be based on someone’s size: congratulating someone on looking thinner shouldn’t be the compliment we give, or hope to receive. Thin does not = good, fat does not = bad.
Encourage conversation and curiosity about bodies. Their own bodies and other people’s. Isn’t it interesting that people look different? It makes the world a more interesting place. Talk about others in TV/ media/ real life who look different from the mainstream and explain how wonderful it is that everyone looks different.
Introduce your children to people of all diversities. Shapes, sizes, ages, races, abilities so they are comfortable as they grow older to see past what people look like and are less likely to pre-judge people based on their differences.
Actively encourage uniqueness. Show them that it’s great to express yourself the way you would like to, through your clothes or hair or activities. Encourage them to choose their own clothes.
Do not continually focus on their bodies or your own body. Your body helps you be a great human being. It does not define you.
Encourage children to be relaxed around food. Don’t force them to eat if they don’t want to, as controlling their food intake is the only way for them to exert control when they are young. Encourage them to listen to their bodies and determine when they are full or hungry and they don’t have to finish everything on the plate. If you are concerned about their intake then discreetly review what they eat over a 2 week period and you may notice that they are actually getting enough/ the right amount of nutrition. If you are still concerned then speak to a doctor.
Do not encourage the idea that food has to be ‘earned’: Hearing you say: “I can’t eat that because I haven’t been to the gym/ don’t ‘deserve’ it”. Think about it: has your kid been to the gym? Does that mean they don’t ‘deserve’ a snack?
Sometimes there is dessert and sometimes there isn’t. If there is dessert then sometimes it is an apple, sometimes it’s ice cream. And they get it whether they have finished their main meal or not. Again, food isn’t about being earned. This can potentially lead to binging and disordered eating in the future. Food is about helping your kids live and keeping their bodies working effectively whilst also bringing joy.
Don’t restrict food or make it ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Don’t use it as a reward or a punishment. Show them that you have a healthy relationship towards food and show your kid what balance looks like. Carbs, veg, fruit, protein, sugars, fats. Explain we need all of these in a balanced way to keep our bodies working well.
Introduce variety. Maybe they get to choose something new in the supermarket every time you go, something new which they haven’t seen before? Cook it together so they can see what’s involved in preparation.
Here is a great infographic created by Common Sense Media who did a research study (in the USA) into issues facing children and their body image. It gives great tips and scary facts to remind you how important this issue is:
Let’s keep our children as oblivious to body differences for as long as possible.
Check out this videos from CBeebies to understand what I mean:
If you have experienced any interesting predicaments with your little ones and want to share then email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
Meetup: #ChachiCollective Body Positive Advocates in Scotland
Flipboard: Body Image Magazines
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