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BODIES AND BODY IMAGE
Making babies, puberty before it hits and teenage development

The facts

  • Puberty starts between 8 and 13 for girls, and 9 and 14 for boys, says Childline

  • 52% of 11- to 16-year-olds regularly worry about how they look, according to Be Real’s Somebody Like Me report

  • A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image found that 75% of people hold the media, advertising and celebrity culture primarily responsible for body-image attitudes – but that supportive family and friends were fundamental to enhancing self-esteem

I WANT TO… promote positive body image in a young child

What?

Model positive body attitudes yourself. Emphasise being healthy over staying slim and looking a certain way

Why?

Young children are naturally body confident, but media and social norms can quickly undo their self-acceptance

How?

Challenge critical body imagery and language. Refer to body parts with as little embarrassment as possible

  • You might have noticed that your very young child seems naturally happy with their body, happily exploring and learning how to use it. There is mounting evidence to suggest that this may not last long. To maintain your child’s body comfort, avoid shaming them during any nappy, potty and toilet experiences. Stick to showing pride and awe for what your child’s body can do

 

  • “Because you’ll get fat” isn’t a wise answer to the question “Why can’t I have another ice cream?” To stave off body issues, emphasise strong bodies, healthy teeth etc over weight as motivation for eating well

  • Use correct names for body parts to help your children not feel shame. Accurately naming body parts is also a safeguarding issue because it shows other people that they can talk openly and gives children the vocabulary to explain if something has happened to them. Lexx Brown-James’ book These Are My Eyes, This Is My Nose, This Is My Vulva, These Are My Toes can help with this!

  • Monitor toys and media for unrealistic representations of bodies. Point them out! Counter them with critical thinking. Cartoons are a good place to start. See #GenderStereotypes for more on this

 
I WANT TO… promote positive body image in an older child

What?

Take body image concerns seriously, even if you disagree. If they say it matters to them, then it does matter

Why?

Body-image issues can get out of hand in the social and hormonal hothouse of school and friendship groups

How?

Mix sympathy with challenge. Target their underlying assumptions rather than their specific body complaints

  • Discuss media manipulation as it comes up. Ads can often be a way in – famously, in 2002 this Dove advert began to change minds. Plenty have joined in since – see Libresse’s Blood Normal and H&M’s She’s A Lady

If they’re going to watch this stuff which their friends are watching, you should watch it with them and let them know how silly – if not sad – it is: “Gosh, this woman is really obsessed with her behind, or her hair, or whatever. Isn’t that sad? What about her brain?”

Gail Saltz – How to Help Your Daughter Have a Healthy Body Image (Child Mind Institute)

  • Natasha Devon’s Naked Beach programme on Channel 4 teaches us that being surrounded by body-confident people has a big impact, so model body comfort yourself as far as possible: this means avoiding conversation about dieting and “ugly” or “fat” bodies. Be aware that even seemingly affectionate nicknames – or a judgmental throwaway comment – can hurt a sensitive teen or pre-teen 

  • If your child is struggling with body image, a helpful tone to strike falls somewhere between sympathy and encouraging realism. Something like: “I remember having a real problem with my tummy when I was becoming an adult. It’s tough but a lot of people struggle with how they look then find new ways of looking at it. You will too”

Being active in other areas – such as clubs, sports or hobbies – where your young person can excel is a good way to ensure that their body image is not so central to their identity

How To Help Your Child with their Body Image Parenting NI

  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) describes the condition of having often distorted body-image anxiety. If you feel things are getting serious, the BDD Foundation can help. Likewise, Beat for eating disorders

I WANT TO… help my child understand their changing body

What?

Be there for them. Have a supportive (and not intrusive) approach

Why?

Questions about puberty may not come thick and fast. Being there through motional ups and downs might be a way into conversation

How?

Stay matter-of-fact – but be understanding. Brush up on those facts in advance

  • If there’s one thing that school sex and health education does pretty well it’s puberty, so your children should be equipped with the facts, but in case they do come to you with questions, it’s worth reading KidsHealth’s Understanding Puberty guide for parents or this more technical (and very useful) guide from Hey Sigmund. We guarantee you didn’t already know it all!

  • Be factual and matter-of-fact: puberty is a normal developmental phase, and making it sound everyday and commonplace can neutralise what can turn into a playground idea of fear, foreboding and mystique

  • Don’t expect a barrage of questions, but there are roundabout routes to opening up conversations. School might be abuzz with who’s got what so far – so ask your child if any talk about bodies is troubling them. Your key messages: “Puberty happens to everyone at different times” and “We all end up looking different and unique – isn’t that great though?” 

Kids who are prepared for puberty are more likely to find it a breeze than a hurricane. And that includes you too. By knowing what to expect from puberty, you can support your child as they go through this major stage of change

Cath Hakanson – Kids and Puberty (Hey Sigmund)

 
 
I WANT TO… prepare my child for having their period

What?

Choose your tone consciously in the moment – humour? Empowerment? Loving pride? But above all be relaxed

Why?

Handling a child’s first periods can be your chance to shine as a supportive parent. Being comfortable about it helps

How?

Use the internet: there are fantastic videos, websites and apps out there. Talk it over with a partner, family, friends 

  • Light-touch period references from an early age will help limit what can come as a bit of a shock even in the best-case scenario. The excellent article How To Talk to Your Tween About Periods recommends a dose of laughter, giving her “permission to diffuse the embarrassment she may feel with healing humour”
     

  • Celebrate this rite of passage! Plan ahead by buying a special gift to give her when her period starts (a red bracelet or something they like). If she’s OK about it, tell her other parent and siblings. Go out to dinner! It’s something to be proud of
     

  • Give her the down-to-earth graphic novel Period. The book From Daughter to Woman: Parenting Girls Safely Through Their Teens prepares mothers ahead of time

Take her on a tour of the feminine hygiene aisle and answer any questions she might have. Let her buy a variety of products so she can take them on a test run and see what she likes best. The last thing you want is for her to be scared of what will help her

Lissa Rankin – How to Talk to Your Tween About Periods (Psychology Today)

  • “First moon” or “red tent” parties – yes or no? Test the waters with this comedy video (totally age appropriate for a 10-year-old) and use it as a way in to discuss whether and how she’d like to celebrate
     

  • With your child, check out PeriodPositive, Pink Protest and Bloody Good Period – they’re validation of women’s experiences, they’re raising awareness and their activism is normalising the conversation

 
More help with #Bodies&BodyImage
Be Real body confidence logo.png
Follow Natasha Devon’s Be Real campaign for the latest body-image resources and stories  Go to Be Real >

Be Real Campaign | NATASHA DEVON

Hey sigmund.jpg

A great guide that doesn’t ignore emotional and psychological as well as physical developments. (See also Preparing For (And Surviving) Puberty, aimed at parents of children with a learning disability)  Go to Hey Sigmund >

Puberty for Parents | HEY SIGMUND

Hannah witton.jpg

Young sex and relationships YouTuber Hannah Witton has a series called The Hormone Diaries – including “Things You Should Learn About Periods in School”. Point your daughter or son this way  Watch Hannah >

The Hormone Diaries | HANNAH WITTON

Remember: every child is different. Adjust these suggestions for the age and stage of your child. Children with special educational needs and disabilities, looked-after children and children who have experienced abuse may all need different support.

If you’re in doubt about your child’s development, you should seek the advice of a professional

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