13 Oct 2020

Tips for parents as kids go back to school


Students returning to school in Victoria (and their parents), over the coming weeks, will be experiencing all sorts of feelings!

Each child/teen will have had their own set of unique circumstances to navigate during this time.  Our children and teens have shown, in many cases their resilience and ability to adapt to their new normal which has been inspiring and a sign that we should never underestimate just how amazing our young people are and can be.

COVID-19 and the abrupt restrictions enforced upon children/teens has impacted their mental health, their body image and eating and exercise behaviours in many ways. As students return to school over the coming week(s), here are some things that may support parents to help with this transition back to face to face learning. Firstly, some reminders:

  • It is natural and normal for children and teens bodies to grow and change over the course of a year. It is natural and necessary for bodies to change, grow and develop.
  • It is also natural for bodies to change in shape and weight when abrupt changes to routine and physical activity levels occur.
  • In times of stress, emotional eating may be adopted as coping strategy. This may include over-eating or under-eating.
  • Young people have endured a variety of stressors at this time, supporting your child’s mental health and general wellbeing is most important.

Here are some things that parents can do to help their child and their body image:

  • With an increased use of unhelpful language used during this pandemic (i.e. COVID kilos) in relation to weight gain and body shape, it is important to reflect and reframe language when discussing or describing bodies (children’s and parents/caregivers own as well) so that words are positive and non-shaming. Using the term ‘growth’ rather than ‘gain’ is helpful but it is important to be mindful of language should a child have lost weight over this time.
  • Write to your child/teens school and encourage/suggest that the school be flexible with the uniform standards for Term 4, if they are not already. For example, allowing sports uniforms/shoes to be worn, which may be more comfortable (fit better). This respects the fact that current restrictions have made purchasing new/second-hand uniforms a challenge at this time.
  • With 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!).
  • If comments are made by friends or peers (or if they are making comments about others), remind them that their body is not the problem – the rude/mean comment is. Our bodies are not open for comment, our bodies are our own business! Discourage comments made about others’ bodies as well and ensure that as a parent/caregiver you are not commenting on other children’s bodies and appearances.
  • As your child/teen is slowly allowed to participate 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. There is no point focusing on what hasn’t been developed or skills, fitness, strength ‘lost’ over this time.
  • 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 teens be put on restrictive diets. Instead, focusing on health promoting behaviours for all members of the family is helpful.

Concerned about your child/teen?

If you are worried about your child/teen; 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, seeking support sooner than later is recommended.

  • 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 as a result of the pandemic.

Butterfly offers a range of education programs for secondary school, late primary, school staff and also parents that explores, body image, early intervention and also include a range of positive strategies to support the development of a healthy body image in 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?

This has not been an easy time for parents/care-givers either and all of the concerns outlined above, may also be occurring in adults.  These issues do not discriminate and your needs are as important as your child’s/teens.

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.