Pressure to be ‘perfect’ gives children body-image issues

anima children body imageAnxiety about body shape is starting among children as young as four – and increasingly boys as well as girls have low confidence in their body image.

Four-fifths (78%) of teachers, lectures, support staff and leaders who responded to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) say that girls suffer from low self-esteem because of societal pressure to be ‘perfect’, and half (51%) believe boys have low confidence about their bodies. Anxiety levels are also growing: 59% of staff say that female pupils feel anxious about their bodies, and 30% say the pressures affect boys too. And comments about their bodies can be sensitive and easily taken to heart by 55% of girls and 27% of boys.

Girls are more likely to go on diets, and boys are more likely to turn to extreme exercise to get the body they think they want. Girls as young as four are conscious of what they’re eating, and girls aged 10 have been known to go on diets. Teachers have also noted obsession with hair  among boys and girls.

Teachers believe airbrushed and unattainable images in the media are mainly to blame. Two-thirds think there is more pressure on children’s body image than 10 years ago – and 84% think  girls are under pressure to maintain a particular body image, compared with 66% for boys. The issue is that the children then make themselves miserable once they have fixated on a particular body and realise they probably won’t be able to achieve it.

ATL is calling for more education and awareness in schools about healthy eating and exercise, as well as the practices of airbrushing so that children understand what is real and what is fake. ATL general secretary Mary Bousted says: “Young people want to fit in and it’s a hard part of growing up, but the pressure to have the “perfect” body should not be at the detriment to children’s wellbeing and happiness.”

Feeling unloved as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult

Lack of love as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult. (pic:

Lack of love as a child can lead to anxiety as an adult. (pic:

Adults who perceive a lack of parental love as a child could be more likely to suffer anxiety-related issues.

That was the main finding from a study by the Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy (SICH), which looked at 100 clients with social phobia or agoraphobic-type anxiety over a three-year period. There were 81 out of the 100 who believed their parents never loved them, or removed their love (through divorce, death or working away) before the child was 13.

When parental love was removed the child had feelings of low self-worth, and felt ‘not good enough’ when they grew up. This can lead to anxieties such as fear of driving on motorways, or fear of crowded places. Where parental love never existed (through not showing affection, for example, or where one of the parents was never around) the child lacked confidence, particularly in social situations. This can carry on to adulthood and manifest as fear of public speaking or fear of being the centre of attention.

The sample of clients analysed by SICH is obviously self-selecting, as they all chose to come for hypnotherapy to alleviate their anxiety. But the survey does give some idea of how lack of love can affect the development of a child. SICH says parents should listen to their children, show affection, play with them every day, and stick to boundaries.

Praise kids for what they do – not who they are – to build self-esteem

'Person praise' can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic:

‘Person praise’ can make a child feel shame when she does something wrong. (pic:

You might think that praising a child with low self-esteem for his or her personal qualities might build their confidence and self-worth. But a study shows that giving this type of praise can backfire, and children can feel shame when they don’t succeed at something.

It’s better to praise the behaviour rather than the person. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Instead of saying ‘you’re great’, tell a child ‘you did a good job’. Being specific about what exactly they did well also helps to build self-esteem. And when they do fail at something, it feels like a temporary setback rather than an utter failure for which they are to blame. The study distinguishes between ‘person praise’ and ‘process praise’. Person praise puts the focus on the self, and therefore the child will blame himself if something goes wrong.

“Adults may feel that praising children for their inherent qualities helps combat low self-esteem, but it might convey to children that they are valued as a person only when they succeed,” says Eddie Brummelman, lead researcher at Utrecht University. “When children subsequently fail, they may infer they are unworthy.”

Shame is an incredibly difficult emotion to come to terms with as an adult coming to therapy. This study gives an interesting insight into the seeds of some of that shame in adulthood. And may spur parents to give a different sort of praise in future.

Supporting Self-Injury Awareness Day 2013

siad-wristbands-200Self-harm happens in secret. It’s a coping mechanism to relieve emotional pain and stress.  A person who self harms may cut, bruise, pick, bite or stab. They may abuse alcohol or drugs, or by inhaling or swallowing substances that are toxic to the body.

Self-harm brings a physical sensation that temporarily relieves the numbness a person feels because of their trauma, their depression, their low self-esteem, or perhaps because of the pressure they feel to be perfect. There can be any number of reasons why people self harm.

People from all walks of life can find themselves self-harming and sometimes don’t know how to stop. That’s why I’m supporting Self-Injury Awareness Day 2013 (SIAD). Because there is a way out and there is a way to stop. Self-harm doesn’t have to stay in the shadows. It’s a cry for help. And SIAD is helping to break that silence.

Check out LifeSigns for more information and ways to get help that don’t involve hurting yourself.

Why offering a helping hand is good for your health

anima helping hand

Volunteering can boost your physical and mental health. (pic:

They say that self-esteem comes from doing esteemable things. And now scientists have proven that doing something ‘esteemable’ – like volunteering for charity – is good for your heart as well as your soul.

In a study, a group of students who volunteered for an hour a week over 10 weeks helping younger children with craft activities and homework were found to have improvements in their heart health. The results of the study showed that those who took part had lower levels of the risk factors for heart disease, such as inflammation and cholesterol.

“The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behaviour and mental health, and a lessening of their negative moods, were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,” says Dr Hannah Schreier, a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who led the study.

So, it looks like getting out into the community and helping others not only boosts your mood, but has some physical and health benefits too.