Help kids feel BRIGHT in their body this holiday season
Our young people have had a tough year (or nearly 2)! The multiple lockdowns in many states and territories across the country, increase in social isolation, and missing friends, school, family and hobbies have all had a significant impact on the body image, eating and general mental health of our young people. And unfortunately some body-related worries and anxieties have increased as life moves back to a new sort of ‘normal’.
For children, their bodies are always growing and changing, and during lockdowns some children have had a growth spurt, started their journey through puberty or had their body change due to different eating or physical activity habits during lockdown. Such changes can have a significant impact on young people at the best of times (and we unfortunately live in a society that likes to comment and draw attention to changing bodies) – but throw a global pandemic in the mix and things can get even harder to deal with.
We also know that the holiday season can be particularly rife with really unhelpful comments and conversations around changing bodies, what we are/aren’t eating and the impact that eating certain foods or amounts of food is having on our bodies.
So, we are encouraging everyone to share some ‘body brightness’ with the children in their lives this holiday season. Using the themes from our recently launched primary school program, here are some tips for promoting positive body image and healthy behaviours in and around children this holiday season, from Butterfly Body Bright’s Manager Dr Stephanie Damiano.
We know that negative comments about appearance, even those that are well-intentioned, can have a really negative impact on how a child feels about themselves. It might be a comment about how tall they’ve grown, weight they’ve gained or lost, their lack of muscles or any change to their body shape. Often comments about appearance can be meant with affection (e.g., “you’re a giant now”) or can just be family banter (e.g., “hey shorty!”), but they can affect a child in unexpected ways. Particularly when the people in children’s lives haven’t seen them for a while, these comments seem to happen more frequently and can make a child feel quite self-conscious and affect their body image.
This holiday season try to avoid commenting on the appearance of the young people in your life. Instead, tell them how happy you are to see them, ask them about what they’ve been up to, and ask about activities/hobbies they’re enjoying at the moment.
And help children be BRAVE in their body by brushing off comments about their appearance and speaking up by saying things like “my body is changing in lots of ways right now”, “all bodies are different and that’s OK” and “there are more interesting things to talk about than how our bodies look”. For more tips see our ‘Help your child be BRAVE against appearance teasing’ tip sheet.
Some young people are likely to spend more time on screens over the holiday period. We know that media has an important impact on how young people can feel about their bodies. But there are ways to help their screentime be more positive.
This holiday season try to swap selfies and playing around with social media filters, for photos of things you and the young people in your life are doing/sharing together. Focus on connecting and fun experiences where possible.
And help children be RESILIENT to the unhelpful messages they may come across in books, online and on TV by encouraging age-appropriate media and building media literacy skills (see our ‘Help your child be RESILIENT to media messages’ tip sheet for more info on how).
Other important influences that can make children feel negative about their bodies are societal attitudes around the ‘ideal’ body and judgement/stigma towards bodies of certain shapes and sizes. Research has shown that children are picking up on these messages very early in childhood.
This holiday season avoid making negative comments about the appearance or size of others’ bodies and avoid passing judgement on a person’s body size based on their lifestyle or eating and exercise habits. Instead, role model positive/neutral attitudes towards bodies of different shapes and be inclusive and kind to people of all body shapes and sizes.
And help children be INCLUSIVE of all bodies by encouraging them to celebrate that people and bodies are all different. For more tips see our ‘Help your child be INCLUSIVE of all bodies’ tip sheet.
Many of us have experienced many ups and downs this year, but research tells us that if we can practice gratitude for what we have it can promote a more positive mindset. The same applies to our bodies. The more we can be thankful for our bodies and what they allow us to do, the more positive our body image.
This holiday season try to practice body gratitude and role model what that is to the children in your life. Focus on speaking kindly about your body and focusing on what it allows you to do, rather than how it looks (and how it may/may not have changed over lockdowns). When you’re catching up with people you haven’t seen for a while, including children, offer non-appearance compliments.
And help children be GRATEFUL for their bodies by helping them to thank their body for something they enjoy. Focus on a favourite hobby/activity and how thankful they are for their body to allow them to do that (it could be one of their senses, or activities like reading, sports, making jewellery, riding their bike, giving a hug, gaming). Bodies are amazing and allow us to do so many amazing things! For more tips see our ‘Help your child be more GRATEFUL for their body’ tip sheet.
During the holiday season many people experience a shift in their regular activities, which may include more screentime and less/more regular physical activity. There is also often a lot of commentary around our movement, or lack thereof, which is often associated with feelings of guilt.
This holiday season avoid the urge to ‘work off’ what you have eaten around celebrations and catch-ups and avoid feeling the need to change your body in time for summer or the beach. Instead, move your body in ways that are fun and make you feel good in mind and body.
And help children feel HAPPY in their body by moving in ways that make them feel good. Regular fun family activities are usually a helpful way to achieve this. Also, empower children to focus on the many amazing things their body allows them to do (no matter their skill or ability level, focus on the fun). For more tips see our ‘Help your child to be HAPPY with joyful movement’ tip sheet.
The holiday season can be a tricky time for people given the enormous focus on food and eating and the many different feelings that can bring up.
This holiday season try to let go of food rules and diet-culture that makes you feel guilty for enjoying a celebratory meal with family and/or friends. In front of children, avoid any conversations about the effects of certain foods on your body, or the need to start a diet next week. If you feel triggered during this time, be sure to speak to your support network or reach out to the Butterfly National Helpline.
And help children be THOUGHTFUL with their eating by promoting mindful eating (i.e., eating when they’re hungry and stopping when they’re full) and eating without judgement. Try to create fun family experiences with food. This might be trying a new recipe together that you wouldn’t have time for during the school year or experiencing a new cuisine from a different culture. For more tips see our ‘Help your child to be THOUGHTUL with eating’ tip sheet.
Wishing you a BODY BRIGHT holiday season!
More tips just like these can be found on our Body Bright Families page.
Want your child to receive messages like these at school? Use our email template to tell your primary school all about it.