In a world obsessed with visuals and which seems to have devalued the importance of character, personality and inner strength, are we equipping our children with the tools they need to flourish and be self confident adults or are we instead going with the image conscious flow?
Recent figures show that 98 children between 5 and 7 years old were treated by the NHS in 2011 because they were suffering from an eating disorder and 4% of young people (under 16 years old) are clinically depressed or anxious. These are staggering statistics. In an ideal world these sorts of numbers wouldn’t be true of the adult population but with increased pressure on children to grow up too quickly and images of super skinny models and air brushed celebrities bombarding our children it’s not surprising.
Can we help our children see their true value and turn the tide on these statistics before the situation spirals out of control? The first thing we need to do is to have a long look at ourselves. Sadly most behaviour is learned from parents. If we are constantly complaining about our weight, worrying what we eat and asking “does my bum look big in this?” our children are going to start to analyse their own bodies and what is in reality puppy fat, then becomes something undesirable. Likewise, if we are constantly putting ourselves down our children will then believe that they too must be useless, after all, they are our children.
What can you do to improve the situation? We need to turn their attention to their inner beauty. Even if you have good self esteem and mental health yourself, doing any activity where you can complement them and let them know that they are special will have an impact on their self image. It doesn’t have to be something you are both good at, it is good for children to see that no one is good at everything, but be careful you don’t choose something you will flourish at while your child feels inadequate, that will have the opposite effect. The important thing is to enjoy yourself and congratulate them on doing their best.
Why not get a big piece of paper and make a poster about them? Find pictures and words which you associate with your child; identify activities they enjoy, personality traits you’re proud of, achievements, musical taste, places you like spending time etc and then sit and talk about the poster. Often as parents we have a very limited understanding of our child’s inner world and there may be things on there that you had no idea they were interested in. Children are very adept at only showing you what they believe you will approve of so encourage them to make the poster a true representation of themselves as they, not as the rest of the world sees them.
With older children maybe they could write a poem, short piece of prose or a letter to themself about what makes them unique. Maybe take the time to write about each other so that they can see what you see, their special qualities. With very young children why not read “Elmer” the story of the patchwork elephant who wants to be like all the other elephants but realises that it is his individuality that makes him so well loved. You can make milk bottle Elmers (katebeddow.co.uk) with toddlers to remind them of the story and give you more opportunity for praise and for them to express themselves.