He stood in front of the mirror, proudly protruding his stomach- ‘is my tummy very big?’ he asked. He, my son, is three. I of course immediately replied in true mummy-style ‘no darling, your tummy is just perfect’. He smiled and went back to his game- no biggie. But it got me thinking- how do I talk about my own body around my children? I’m sure I’ve been guilty of the odd ‘mummy’s fat bottom’ type comments… are these already being filtered into my child’s psyche? At three? Even at this young age children are beginning to notice differences, and then to compare. But this needn’t be a bad thing.
‘Body image’ is a term we hear a lot these days, often in the context of women, and usually younger women or teenagers. We know that a negative body image can impact negatively on self-esteem, and is associated with numerous mental health conditions.
But body confidence is not something we can instill in our children overnight, and is unlikely to be the result of a one-off conversation akin to ‘the period talk’ or ‘the where babies come from speech’ that many of us experienced during our childhood.
Later that day I catch myself muttering about my jeans being tight and needing to eat less cake. “But cake is yummy, mummy!” Oh, yes it is. Right, time to buck up my ideas- “but cake makes mummy feel tired sometimes- if I had a banana instead I could maybe beat you at football”. Challenge accepted.
Talking positively about our own bodies may not be something that comes naturally. Shifting our focus from the physical to alternative attributes when talking about others could be a positive place to start.
From a young age children can pick up on associations and stereotypes portrayed in books, on television, pretty much everywhere. Without realising it, we describe people based on their physical attributes rather than other characteristics and achievements almost instinctively. But we can’t ignore that there are physical, observable differences between us all. Ultimately we need to be accepting of and celebrate our differences rather than ignoring them, be they physical or otherwise. Children are genuinely curious little creatures, often asking toe-curlingly embarrassing questions at the most inopportune of moments. But these are often prime opportunities for developing acceptance. It can be hard to know the right thing to say, especially if you get a curveball question in a crowded public place- in these cases my go to phrase is “the world is a big place- not everyone looks like you and me” until I’ve had time to process things! I would love to hear how you handle these questions of difference from your little ones…
Mindfulness- the practice of quiet, thoughtful contemplation and relaxation. Hardly sounds like a match made in heaven for your rampaging toddler, right? And that’s exactly how I felt before I began these exercises with my three year old. In today’s society more than ever children are under pressure to succeed from teachers, social media, and sometimes us. Teaching them how to relax and enjoy the moment might just be one of the greatest gifts you ever give them. Here are some simple exercises that can fit into your existing routines.
If your children are anything like mine, mealtimes resemble a scene from Alien. Getting my son to slow down and not inhale his food has taken time and practice, and isn’t something we manage every day but is something I now enjoy too. Start by talking about how the food feels in your mouth- slimy? Squidgy? He was quick to offer his own ‘creative’ suggestions- like slugs? Like dog poo? And this was just his morning porridge! You can then begin including the other senses too. Slowing down also gives us chance to feel full, so is great for combating overeating.
Strike a pose
Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and focusing on our bodily sensations. Holding a pose, such as ‘superman’ or ‘wonder woman’ means concentrating on feeling strong and can be very empowering (I quite enjoy it too!).
We’ve added this little into our little bedtime routine. We each take it turns to say something we’re thankful for (Me: ‘for having a nice warm house’; Him: ‘for Chase from Paw Patrol’). I want my children to know that they are fortunate and that not every child has the things they do. But, they are still so little and burdening them with details of this harsh world feels unnecessary. This feels like a step in the right direction.
What child doesn’t like bubbles? And fortunately they provide a great focus for slowing down breathing and guiding relaxation as you try to blow the biggest bubble possible and watch it float away. Pretending there’s a balloon in their tummy that they need to inflate can be a fun game too.
This simply means tensing and relaxing each part of the body in turn to aid relaxation. Ideally your child is lying down for this, so bedtime provides the ideal opportunity- we have lots of giggles when doing this too! Start by ‘squishing your toes’, then move up the body making each area hard like a stone then soft like jelly.
So there we have it- actual mindfulness for toddlers! Admit it, you were sceptical weren’t you? Which activity would you choose to try out with your littles? Or do you have other ways of just slowing down and enjoying the moment with your children? I’d love to hear your suggestions.