At PACEY we recognise the vital role childcare professionals play in helping children become body confident. The research conducted by PACEY last year showed that nearly a quarter of childcare professionals have witnessed anxieties with body image and/or weight in children aged between 3-5 years old, with 37% of practitioners having heard statements such as 'she/he is fat' in their setting.
Read more about the survey here.
Early years practitioners are trained individuals who are well placed to provide support and advice to parents if they are seeing signs of body anxieties in the children they care for.
We all strive for children to have healthy bodies, a healthy body image and develop the high self-esteem and emotional wellbeing that will help them to reach their full potential.
PACEY has a range of resources for professionals and parents and to help support young children and promote positive body image. Parents can work in partnership with their childcarer to instil positive attitudes in young children, heightening body confidence.
Please note this guide does not reflect the requirements under the new curriculum for Wales so should be used with caution by those working in Wales.
What is body image?
Body image is defined as the way we feel about our body: how it functions, and our appearance (for example, our size, shape, skin colour and weight).
Research shows that if we feel good about our body we are more likely to take care of it and having a healthy body image has a positive influence on emotional, social and physical wellbeing
Read more from clinical psychologist, Dr Virginia Lumsden on what you can do to promote healthy body image in the early years.
Body confidence issues start early
According to Dr Jacqueline Harding, PACEY advisor and child development expert:
"By the age of 3 or 4 some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds (and even hold strong views) about how bodies should look. There is also research evidence to suggest that some 4 year olds are aware of strategies as to how to lose weight.
"Of course, there is now mounting concern that the formation of these views (so early on in life) may develop into later eating disturbances or depression. We know for sure that early experiences matter and we need to be very careful about how (even inadvertently) we signal to children that they should think negatively about their bodies and how they look.
"More research is needed in this area but contributing factors are likely to include: images on TV; images in story books and animations, and the general chat by adults about surgical improvements - face lifts etc. But there is little doubt that low levels of self-esteem appear to contribute significantly to negative perceptions of body image."
Jacqueline has offered the following advice to parents and childcare professionals to support children to be body confident:
- Be aware that your child is watching you and listening – take care to talk about your own body in a positive way, even if you don’t feel like it!
- Build children's self-confidence and self-image by focusing on who they are as a person – not what they look like. For example, praise them for acts of kindness to others and not for looking pretty/handsome.
- Gradually, in an age appropriate way, begin to point out how photographs and images are changed to be improved.
Following the findings of our survey, we are dedicated to promoting positive views of body image within the Early Years. To show our support we have taken a stand against unhealthy representations of body image by becoming the Early Years partner in the Be Real Campaign. You are able to further support this campagin further through their Be Real Body Image Pledge.
Being a positive role model
Parents, carers and educatiors have a great responsibility. Who we are and what we do can shape our children's development and progress. Therefore, we are all role models as our children are constantly learning from our actions.
Children in the early years learn more from those around them than manufactured stimuli, like TV. In fact children, of this age, learn through the imitation of the adults around them.
Positive self talk creates a model for children that can develop their emotional resilience and help shape their self esteem. Read more in Amanda Baxter's blog on how self-talk develops and affects our self-esteem.
Promoting positive mental wellbeing
PACEY has linked up with MindED to provide free online training courses designed specifically to help you develop your understanding of child mental health, and to provide tips and advice on how to support mental health and wellbeing in the early years. Below are just a few of the courses will help you understand more about child development:
- Introducing child development: Describes the organisation and development of the young brain. It covers cognitive development and emotional development.
- Emotional development: Covers the fundamentals of social and emotional development, and how it links to mental health in children and young people.
- How environment affects children's mental health: Looks at the social and environmental factors associated with children and young people’s mental health.
- What goes wrong?: Children and adolescents may present with mental health difficulties in a wide variety of ways that differ according to their age and developmental stages. This session give a broad view of some of the influences that bring about these difficulties.
Promoting Healthy Eating
Nutrition, encouraging healthy eating habits, and learning about food is important, particularly in the early years.
Helping build children's awareness and supporting their development with a healthy balanced diet not only helps improve their health but also lays a foundation for their future wellbeing too.
PACEY has pulled together a range of nutritional resources to help support childcare professionals:
This yummy selection of products should whet your appetite for all things nutrition. All available from the PACEY shop with up to 50% OFF for members!
Get set to cook
PACEY's colourful book offers a practical guide to delivering nutritious food in all childcare settings. Get set to cook introduces practitioners to ideas for how to:
- create healthy, balanced menus
- foster children's interest in food
- embrace different cultural experiences through food
- and be aware of food allergies and intolerances.
It also offers ideas and tips from childcare workers on how to inspire children through food. Links are provided throughout the book to show where activities support delivery of the EYFS and Foundation Phase so you can connnect your activites back to the frameworks in England and Wales. Please note this book has not been updated to reflect the requirements of the new curriculum for Wales.
Included are 15 easy, tasty recipes that can be used for menus in all childcare settings.
Best practice hints and tips
Children need to gain a high sense of self esteem and to learn to be resilient. Helping young children build their brains and mental health as well as their bodies and physical development supports the foundations for their future. Read more about health and self care in our practice bulletin.