18 Sep 2021

Tips for parents as children/young people go back to school post-lockdown


Over the coming weeks, students returning to school from post-lockdown periods are likely to be experiencing all sorts of feelings – as will their families and parents who support them.

COVID-19 and lockdown can impact on our children and young people’s mental health, body image, eating and exercise behaviours in many ways. Each child and young person will have had their own set of unique circumstances to navigate during this time.  They have shown strong resilience and ability to adapt to their new normal in many ways which has been inspiring and a sign that we should never underestimate just how amazing our young people are and can be.

As students and families prepare for the return to school post-lockdown, here are some tips and strategies for parents and caregivers to support their children and young people transitioning back to face to face learning. First, some helpful reminders:

  • It is natural and necessary for bodies of children and young people to grow, develop and change over the course of learning from home period.
  • It is natural and common for bodies to change in shape and weight where there has been sudden changes to routine and physical activity levels.
  • In times of stress, emotional eating may be adopted as coping strategy. This may include over-eating or under-eating.
  • Children and young people can experience a variety of stressors at this time. Supporting your child’s mental health and general wellbeing is most important. Remember connection is the key.

Here are some tips and strategies that parents and carers can do to support their child and their body image:

  • With an increase of unhelpful language used during this pandemic in relation to weight gain and body shape, such as ‘COVID kilos’, it is important to reflect and reframe language when discussing or describing all bodies in ways that is non-judgmental, positive and non-shaming for everyone, including bodies of parents and caregivers. For example, using the term ‘growth’ rather than ‘gain’ is helpful, but it is also important to be mindful of language should a child/young person have lost weight over this time. Modeling body positivity or body neutrality language is important for everyone.
  • Connect with your child/young person’s school to explore flexibility with school uniform standards as we return back to school following a lockdown period. For example, allowing sports uniforms/shoes to be worn, which may be more comfortably fitted . This can also make allowance for the fact that physical lockdown can make purchasing or a change of uniforms a challenge at this time.
  • With physical restrictions on hairdressers and barbers, many young people may be feeling self-conscious about their hair. Young people’s hair is often important to them, so listen, acknowledge and remind them that they are not alone with this and to do what they can at this time to feel comfortable (and neat!).
  • Our body is our own business and not open for comments. If comments are made by friends or peers (or comments have been made about other people’s bodies), remind them that their body is not the problem but comments that are unkind and puts one’s body down is. Discourage comments made about others’ bodies and as parent/caregiver, ensure that you are making effort to role model body positivity and not commenting on other children’s bodies and appearances.
  • As your child/young person is easing back into participating in their favourite sports and activities, focus on their confidence, enjoyment, the participation, being with their friends, re-learning some skills and slowly building their fitness and strength. It is not helpful focusing on what hasn’t been developed or skills, fitness, strength ‘lost’ over this time. Rather, it would be helpful is to acknowledge your child/young person for their sports and sportsmanship.
  • If you do have concerns about your child’s development over this time, speaking to a professional is preferred. It is not recommended that children or young person be put on restrictive diets or following strict food rules. Instead, focusing on health promoting behaviours for all members of the family can be most helpful. Find ways to connect with your child/young person that does not centre around food. A family trivia night or a gentle family stroll around the park are just few ideas.

Concerned about your child/young person?

If you are worried about your child/young person; if their eating and exercise behaviours are concerning you, if their language and attitudes about themselves, their body, weight or shape and/or their mental health is struggling, it is always helpful to seek support sooner than later.

  • Seek professional support. (In many cases it is most helpful for parents to speak to a health professional on their own first).
  • Contact the Butterfly National Helpline butterflynationalhelpline.org.au
  • Speak to the school wellbeing team early (if you haven’t already). Additional support has been offered to schools to support student’s mental health and wellbeing as a result of the pandemic.

Butterfly offers a range of education programs for secondary school, late primary, school staff and parents/caregivers that explores body image, early intervention and also include a range of positive strategies to support the development of a healthy body image in children/young people.  You can let your child’s school know there are programs that can be offered at school to help your whole community.

All prevention sessions can be offered to schools, virtually and Australia-wide. To find out more contact education@butterfly.org.au

Concerned about yourself?

As parents/caregivers, this can be a challenging time for many reasons. We know eating disorder/disordered eating and body image concerns can happen to anyone. These issues do not discriminate and your needs are as important as your child/young person.

If you are struggling with your eating, exercise, body image and/or mental health, we encourage you to seek support for yourself also. You are not alone and support is available. Seeking professional support and/or contact the Butterfly National Helpline can be a helpful step to get started