Tag

mental health

Browsing

As Australia’s cosmetic surgery rates surpass America’s, our obsession with social media and the current COVID-19 pandemic creates a minefield for those who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues.

 So far, 2020 has been a lot to process. In what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the world has been totally affected by COVID-19 – a virus which has so far killed more than 264,000 people.

As Australia combats this, most of us have found ourselves on leave, unemployed or working from home. As the lockdowns have progressed many businesses have shut down and the nation’s gyms have not been immune.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of content online focused on exercising from home, especially on Instagram, which has become flooded with posts about ‘body goals’, losing weight and becoming ‘healthier’ in quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic offers numerous triggers for those who are struggling with an eating disorder or those with distorted body image and low self-esteem.

“We understand that the prevalent discussions around stock-piling food, increased hygiene measures, food shortages and lock-ins can be incredibly distressing and triggering for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder,” states The Butterfly Foundation in relation to COVID-19. 

When you combine these triggers with an increase in spare time to spend scrolling social media, such as Instagram, this can create the Perfect Storm.

Instagram and its tribe of entrepreneurs and models is no stranger to criticism from body positivity advocates, largely because the app is focused on images, a majority of which are highly edited. The concept of Instagram is the ideal social media app- share images and see images of your family and friends – plus your favourite celebrities, bridging the gap between fan and friend.

Instagram launched in 2010 and had 1 million users within two months, it has since been purchased by Facebook and become one of the largest social media platforms in the world.

The New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino has talked extensively concerning the phenomenon of Instagram models, and their strikingly similar looks in ‘The Age of the Instagram Face’. 

She writes, “The gradual emergence, among professionally beautiful women, of a single, cyborgian face. It’s a young face, of course, with pore-less skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips.”

The commodification of women was once selling the products to make us beautiful, but as ‘Instagram Face’ rises and social media continues to excel, cosmetic surgery becomes more commonplace than it ever has been before.

Presently Australia’s cosmetic surgery numbers have surpassed America’s; in 2017 Australian’s spent more than 1 billion dollars on plastic surgery, surpassing America’s procedures per capita numbers, a feat considering America is often considered the ground zero for enhanced beauty.

Since when did this new prototype of a woman, a mish-mashed version, a high light reel built to bend over; a tiny waist, big lips, no blemishes- become the new standard of beauty, and how achievable is this?

Claire Finkelstein has been a clinical psychologist for fifteen years and is co-founder and co-director at Nourish.Nurture.Thrive, a multidisciplinary practise based in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula that specialises in helping young people who struggle with eating disorders and body image.

Claire and fellow clinical psychologist, Ainsley Hudgson, started Nourish.Nurture.Thrive after years working in the public health system and seeing how overwhelmed it had become with a “growing population with eating disorder concerns,” says Claire.

Isolation, quarantine and an increase in social media can be very triggering for not only those who struggle with eating disorders but anyone who finds themselves feeling out of control in this stressful time.

“Everybody is showing their exercise routines at the moment, everybody is making those jokes about putting on weight during lockdown and I think it’s just incredibly triggering even for people with a fairly robust sense of self-confidence and body image but particularly for people who are in the eating disorder space,” says Claire.

The showing of exercise routines is found on Instagram amongst other social media, promoting diet culture.

Diet culture is defined as a system of beliefs that worship thinness and oppress people who don’t meet this beauty standard and idea of health. The one underlying fact for nearly all diets and wellbeing programs is that thin is best, demonizing certain food groups and body types, all while promoting the most important idea of them all; if you weren’t so lazy you’d have the body of your dreams.

“It feels like you can control your weight, so in a time when you feel out of control you try and control your weight and what we know is that your weight is biologically determined within a set point and that’s one of the difficulties – all these messages around ‘this is something we can do’ and if you’re not doing it successfully you’re inadequate and that is such a damaging, damaging story that is part of diet culture,” says Claire.

The infamous ‘beauty is pain’ mantra handed down to young girls from their mothers has a whole new meaning, the pain having grown from a waxing strip full of pubic hair to a surgery scar or a vigorous training regime.

Earlier this year glamour magazine Girls Girls Girls collaborated with Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon to create a video titled ‘Be a Lady they said’. The piece included various clips from movies, news, and glamour shots to tell the story of the myriad of requests and expectations women are meant to be adhering to, ironically the women featured in the video are beautiful, thin and passive.

One of the most impactful lines reads,

‘Be a size zero, be a double zero, be nothing, be less than nothing.’

Cynthia Nixon spits these words at the screen as it turns dark and the sound of someone’s heart flatlining takes up the darkness. It is powerful commentary on the notions behind our desires for female perfection and the gruesome control it creates.

As Naomi Wolf states in her classic, The Beauty Myth, published in 1990, obsession with beauty and thinness is a form of control and oppression.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one,” says Wolf.

The US health and weight loss industry is worth an estimated $72 billion and Australians are estimated to spend $452.5 million on weight-loss counselling services (and the low-calorie foods and dietary supplements that go with it) in 2019-2020.

These figures show what has been in the shadows all along – this business is big money built off the back of diet culture. A truth hid underneath the bright lights of Instagram, the ‘life updates’ and the relatable posts – the influencers who make you feel like a family, like you could look like them if you had the grit – when you’re just a customer.

 Resources and coping mechanisms

For those who are spending a lot of time online and feel triggered by the change in routine, there are ways to seek help, guidance and support.

The Butterfly Foundation suggests that stretching, light exercise, talking to a loved one, drawing, being creative and mindfulness techniques can help you support your health and wellbeing during this crisis and stop negative body thoughts.

Their Helpline is also open on webchat, email or phone from 8am-midnight, 7 days a week.

Claire Finkelstein from Nourish.Nurture.Thrive admits boycotting social media is unrealistic, especially as it is one of our main sources for communicating with the outside world, however, she does recommend an ‘audit’ of who you follow.

“Use social media to connect rather than compare, use it to engage with people who are important to you, who you feel supported by, who give you a laugh who make you smile, who make you more connected and less alone and try to engage less with social media that leaves you feeling terrible afterwards,” says Claire.

Unfollowing accounts that make you feel inadequate or leave you feeling unhappy and starting to follow body positive accounts instead can stop that downward spiral of self-loathing many of us find triggered by social media.

“Research shows if you have a diverse imagery, diverse bodies, diverse beauty, or other images like architecture, animals or whatever makes you feel good – that that can really dilute the impact, the negative impact of imagery that doesn’t make you feel good,” says Claire.

Below are resources for those who need help.

The Butterfly Foundation:

T: 1800 33 4673

W: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/

Beyond Blue:

T: 1300 22 4636

W: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/national-help-lines-and-websites

“People really underestimate what goes on in boarding. There was a girl a few years above me who kept drugs under her mattress. Girls with eating disorders because they could get away with not eating anything because no one monitored it. A few were cutting themselves. And the housemothers had no idea. It’s so easy to hide things.” – Former boarder of 6 years.

These destructive events, such as eating disorders, drug use and self-harm, are sadly too common in Australian boarding schools, and are incredibly alarming. I too was a boarder for five years, and whilst I graduated a happy, healthy and strong individual, it’s the events during that time that shaped the experience.

It’s the fragile minds, the happenings behind closed doors, the unspoken occurrences in the dark of the night throughout the boarding house that are far, far from home.

Someone I know who found boarding very damaging, and got to the point of being suicidal, shares:

“I was in year ten. I’d been there a couple of years. And I hated it, still. I wasn’t really friends with anyone, so I kept to myself a lot. I felt like Mum and Dad didn’t care about me, and I remember waking up one morning and just wanting to end it all. So, I got several packets of Panadol and Nurofen and just ate them all.”

This is an example of the personal battles that can be faced by a child in boarding school. And this isn’t a once off occurrence. Whilst these examples are extreme, they offer a disturbing insight into the troubled nature of some boarders. As someone who has been through boarding, I know how tough it is.

I remember my first day in boarding, whisked away from my weeping mother before we even had a proper chance to say goodbye. At the tender age of twelve, I had been told what I was to expect. But, as I walked the winding staircase that would lead me to the place that was to be my home for the next five years, I was led away from everything I had ever known. Alone in the affluence of Perth’s western suburbs, a far cry from the town where I grew up, every ounce of familiarity I had of the world had been left downstairs with Mum.

Don’t get me wrong, boarding school comes with a large base of staff members whose sole role is to make students feel as comfortable and ‘at home’ as possible. The websites and endless pamphlets that you receive in the mail make sure you are aware of this.

Smiling students in immaculate uniform are portrayed to be having the time of their lives in a spotless, almost too perfect environment.

In many instances, boarders create close bonds with those they live with, establishing a close network of sibling-like relationships that thrive in the absence of actual family members.

But there is, and always will be, a difference between your own mother and a boarding house mother.

A glossy pamphlet can’t describe the pangs of homesickness that sweep through your body in unpredictable waves. A newsletter won’t detail the feeling of not fitting in and being out of your depth in such an unfamiliar place.

And a website certainly won’t display the reality that a child will often hide these feelings from their parents.

High school is a time of mental and physical development, a period of self-exploration and realisation.

The trials and tribulations that come with becoming a teenager are arguably amplified when those who you would usually turn to are no longer present.

Living in the country presents its fair share of problems. The hardships of farming, fuel prices, the distance from simple necessities. Whilst the value of establishing a life and raising a family on a farm or in a small rural community should not be underrated, there comes a time when tough decisions are vital for the future of your children.

Parents must decide the best possible way to equip their children for the ever-intensifying whirlwind that is life.

Education for children is an investment that is vital for their future, but often the options close by are not feasible for such a critical role. Education is vital, but also a choice.

For some, this decision is far more than a financial choice or contemplation of proximity. For some, looking further than the shires of our neighbouring communities is the only option.

For some, babies are enrolled in prestigious institutions before they are old enough to walk, not unlike the generations before them.

Either way, the decision to send your child to boarding school is hardly ever an easy one, nor is the experience of boarding school itself.

Home is a powerful word. Home is the familiarity of the place that you spend a majority of your existence. Home can be a person, place or thing, but ultimately home is somewhere that you exist in your own sense of self. Somewhere that you can be truly comfortable and feel safe. Can boarding school ever really be home?

It is incredibly naïve to assume that all children will take to boarding like a duck to water. As parents, it is imperative that you make informed decisions regarding the education of your children. Communication is key, between you, your child, and the school itself. Find out if they’re struggling, because let me tell you that many suffer in silence.

Boarding is like a sport; some people just aren’t good at it. Try as you may, you can’t force a twelve year old to be able to live away from home without a hiccup or two. Sure, they can get used to it one day at a time…and most do. But we cannot be assuming that everything we choose for our kids is in their best interest. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it doesn’t always make a child grow stronger.

Working from home is a perk of modern-day employment but what happens when you are forced to work at home for a prolonged period? How do you actually get anything done amid the chaos and detritus of everyday home life? Offspring shares some tried and tested tips.

In these strange and uncertain times, many parents find themselves working from home. In an effort to help stop the spread of the current outbreak of Coronavirus, some employers have closed offices or set up a roster for employees to work from home whilst others are choosing to self-isolate over health concerns.

It’s tempting to think that this will mean you can chill out in your pyjamas all day because really, what’s the point in getting dressed if no one will see you? However, the novelty is likely to wear off quickly.

Boost your productivity and mental health by following this advice:

 

  • Schedule time in your day for work – ideally when the kids are being cared for by someone else, and stick to your schedule.

 

  • Dress appropriately for work – you’ll feel more prepared for challenges and it will help you separate work from play.

 

  • Set up a work space – maybe a desk in your lounge room, or an office in the garage (or shed!) but make it practical and attractive so you’re happy to be there.

  • Start early – your morning can set the tone for the day. Getting up an hour early helps you to get ahead and be ready for when the kids get up.

 

  • Divide the chores between family members – this will help you to concentrate on work rather than using your time on household chores.

 

  • Sort out childcare – sharing childcare with your partner means you can still be there for your children but you can both get work done as well.

  • Equip yourself  – you probably need wireless internet, a laptop and a smartphone to allow you to work flexibly.

 

  • Use chat platforms such as Messenger or email rather than phone calls – that way no-one can hear your toddler yelling in the background!

 

  • Have a box of toys that’s available only when you’re working – pull it out when you need that extra half an hour. The novelty should keep little hands and minds busy!

And most importantly:

  • Take time to rest and reset.

If you are spending more time than usual at home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always being available. It’s not selfish to take time out to recharge­ – maybe have a bath, curl up on your bed with a book or watch rubbish on TV. The housework can just wait.

Melbourne mother of four and body positive artist, Tania Sutton (44), shares how she escaped the shackles of the destructive eating disorder that took over her life. She recovered for the sake of her family.

*Please be aware some readers may find this content triggering.

“Ed, this was the name I gave to my eating disorder,” Tania recalls, “and for a long time Ed was my confidant, my best friend, or so I thought.”

Eating disorders creep into your life without realising it. Tania remembers the promises Ed made to her in the beginning: “It starts out like a new friend, teaching you ways to make you happier, ways to cope and a promise to you that as long as you follow all the rules, you will reach some sort of enlightenment.”

Eating disorders occur for various reasons, including genetic vulnerability, psychological factors and social-cultural influences. Figures show the prevalence of eating disorders is rising rapidly; Beyond Blue reports one in four Australians know someone who has experienced an eating disorder.

Tania struggles to pinpoint the exact cause of her eating disorder, but believes her need for perfectionism and sensitivity about her physical appearance were predisposing factors.

Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender, body size, age and socio-economic factors.

From a young age, Tania felt a constant sense of anxiety; if she was unable to do something exactly right, this fed her belief something was fundamentally wrong with her.

Tania describes an intense need to be accepted by others. “Anytime someone else was complimented on their physical appearance, it reinforced the idea I wasn’t good enough.” Yet, when she received compliments, especially in relation to her body size, it fuelled her desire to continue the behaviours that led to the compliment.

As time went on, Tania struggled to separate herself from her eating disorder. The voice of Ed grew stronger, convincing Tania to punish herself through under-eating in order to equal out all of the perceived faults in life.

“If I was thin, then I would be happy, people would like me and possibly love me.” The truth was, Tania was loved, but her eating disorder made her believe those around her were only pretending, “I felt like I didn’t belong in society, I was a failure, disgusting and unlovable.”

Tania describes how weak she became, both mentally and physically. “Starvation has horrible consequences on the brain, I didn’t have the energy to fight and my ability to think logically had gone out of the window”. She believes this is part of what makes seeking help so difficult, “My thought process was really obscure to everyone else, but to me it made perfect sense. I was convinced I could never get better, I believed everyone was out to see me fail and therefore if I gave up Ed and followed a treatment plan, I would have failed and I couldn’t do that.”

“Ed, this was the name I gave to my eating disorder,” Tana recalls, “and for a long time Ed was my confidant, my best friend, or so I thought.”

Becoming a mother and seeing her body grow and change only emphasised Tania’s preoccupation with her appearance. Feeling incompetent as a parent reinforced to Tania that she needed to keep punishing herself. The use of restrictive behaviours and keeping herself busy became a form of self-punishment she believed would somehow cancel out her perceived inadequacy as a parent.

Tania remembers trying to be there for her children and doing the best she could, but never being able to feel fully present. Tania describes her head as a “battle ground” which led to her being distracted and irritable.

Tania greatly resisted treatment for a long time, deleting her therapist’s number on several occasion. She would lash out verbally at her treatment team and remembers one incident where her GP refused to allow her to see her weight. “I was furious because in my eyes this meant I was not allowed to see what kind of a day I was going to have; at that time the number on the scale would define a good or a bad day.”

Tania’s eating disorder behaviours continued until something convinced her to make a change. Tania recalls driving home from an appointment; her daughter was going through a particularly difficult time, and despite Tania’s best efforts she felt she could not be fully there for her daughter. The eating disorder voice grew louder and louder until it was screaming in her ear, blaming her for everything that was wrong. Tania knew her daughter needed her, but she was chained to her eating disorder. It was at this point she decided to seek help.

“I couldn’t continue the same behaviours and be a mother at the same time anymore, I was exhausted and so was my family.”

“I couldn’t continue the same behaviours and be a mother at the same time anymore, I was exhausted and so was my family.”  Although she could never find the strength to recover for her own sake, her family became the motivation she needed.

Tania was fortunate enough to be referred to a psychologist and a dietitian, who each had a special interest in eating disorders and with whom Tania instantly connected.

Recovery was tough, Tania recalls. “I had to relearn to trust my body and myself. I had to let those close to me, my husband and treatment team, be in charge of what I needed.”

Tania credits her family’s support for helping her to recover; “They helped me fight when I didn’t want to anymore, they loved me at my worst and stood by my side.”

Tania says recovering from her eating disorder has enabled her to be a better mum, “we had our fourth child after I had decided to not engage with Ed and I am able to play with him much more; I played with my other kids, but mentally I wasn’t there, now I am.”

“The first time I went out in public after deciding to no longer engage in Ed’s demands, I was in a shopping centre with one of my daughters and I turned to her said ‘wow, it’s so bright and colourful in here’, the eating disorder made my world so dark and dull. The world is literally more colourful without Ed.”

Tania now has four children aged between five and 22 and uses her own experience to teach her children “to question what they see and hear when it comes to societal beauty standards in the hope they will adopt a healthy attitude.”

“Starvation has horrible consequences on the brain, I didn’t have the energy to fight and my ability to think logically had gone out of the window.”

Tania no longer engages in eating disorder behaviours. She enjoys food and appreciates her body; she no longer weighs herself, as it no longer bothers her what size she is. “I have realised my weight does not equal my worth.”

In choosing Recovery, Tania simultaneously unleashed her creative side. “Art became such an outlet for me and a communication tool, it allowed me to transfer the nightmare in my head into a two dimensional surface. Not only was that therapeutic, it allowed others to understand what I was thinking and struggling with.”

Tania uses her talent and love of painting, drawing and printmaking to create figurative and portraiture art work, t-shirt prints and bag designs that spread mental health awareness. Tania recently had the pleasure of designing the logo for the ‘Body Positive Expo’ that was held in Melbourne; an event which united hundreds of people, sharing their own experiences of disordered eating and negative body image. Tania’s eye-catching logo depicted the individuality of all body shapes and sizes to celebrate their uniqueness.

Recovery is something Tania is still working on. She makes sure she does something every day to support her mental health and reaches out when she is struggling.

“Sure I have days where I don’t feel so confident in my skin or in myself but that’s because I’m human. Now though, my thoughts aren’t taken over by self-hate.” She also describes her relationship with food as being healthier than it has ever been: “I honour my cravings and listen to my body. I trust my body and I treat it with love as it is my closest friend.”

http://www.offspringmagazine.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/yF2VFW-Q.jpg

“Art became such an outlet for me and a communication tool, it allowed me to transfer the nightmare in my head into a two dimensional surface. Not only was that therapeutic, it allowed others to understand what I was thinking and struggling with.”

 

Figures show fewer than 25 per cent of people with an eating disorder receive the care they need. Tania hopes her recovery journey and the messages she conveys through her art will reduce the stigma and encourage others to seek help.

“Mental illness is not a choice, but Recovery is. It’s not always easy to work through our struggles but if we push ourselves in a gentle and nurturing way we can come through the other side.”

You can check out Tania’s incredible and inspiring art work on her Facebook page, Tania Sutton Artworks, or follow her on Instagram, @tania_sutton_artist

If you have been affected by any information in this article, please reach out to your GP, health professional or contact an organisation such as the ones listed below:

www.thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

www.au.reachout.com

www.beyondblue.org.au

Poem – written by Tania Sutton

She stands there beaming smile
There is laughter and cheer
She is so content and happy
Friends all around her

She stands there panic stricken
There is turmoil and torture
She is drowning in poison
All alone in a crowd

She stands there as the same
There are two people in one
She is only known as one
The other is a secret.

LOCKED IN A BUBBLE
You have me locked in a bubble
I can see what you are doing
Yelling out for you to stop
My efforts going unheard

You have locked me in a bubble
Sometimes I see a faint glow
Mostly just darkness
Trying desperately to find the light

You have me locked in a bubble
I want to trade places
But I can’t find the key
Please let me out.

Gender reveal videos are the latest social media craze for expectant parents looking for a fun way to disclose the gender of their baby-to-be. However, an increasing number of couples, including many celebrities, are opting to forgo this trend in order to raise their children gender neutrally.

In 2019, the leading children’s entertainment company, <a href=”https://news.mattel.com/news/mattel-launches-gender-inclusive-doll-line-inviting-all-kids-to-play”>Mattel</a>, launched ‘The Creative World’ doll range, enabling children to choose from a range of skin tones, hairstyles, clothes and styling options.

“Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” says <a href=”http://www.barbiemedia.com/bios/executive.html”>Kim Culmone, Senior Vice President of Mattel Fashion Doll Design.</a>

Is now the time to embrace the progressive initiative of gender-neutral parenting?

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>So, what does ‘gender-neutral’ actually mean?</em></strong></span>

The term ‘gender neutral’ relates to avoiding the assignment of roles and expectations based on someone’s gender.

The goal is to move away from stereotypical assumptions and encourage increased creativity and freedom for individuals to choose who they want to be.

Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>Why should we encourage gender-neutral parenting?</em></strong></span>

Encouraging boys to only play with trucks when they really want to play with dolls, for example, conveys a message that their true desires are not valid. Growing up in an environment where a child feels they need to hide their true self could lead to problems later in life as the child faces an ongoing internal emotional battle.

Many feel growing up in a gender-neutral environment increases one’s tolerance of others.An understanding that people can choose how to dress and which sports they enjoy, regardless of gender, can mean they meet  with acceptance rather than judgement.

Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests – girls dressing up as nurses and a boy dressing up as a builder, for example – conveying a message these jobs are gender specific. Increased exposure to the possibility of male nurses and female builders could enhance a child’s freedom when choosing a career.

The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes<em>. </em>When boys cry, some parents feel they need to show less compassion to encourage resilience, whereas girls are often shown more affection. Perhaps if we removed these gender specific responses, we may encourage our sons to grow up unafraid of expressing emotions.

Supporting children to express themselves authentically and make choices based on what feels good to them could help nurture increased creativity and strong self esteem.

Some argue that a lack of diversity in the workplace begins in childhood when gender is often assigned to certain hobbies and interests.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>How can we create a gender-neutral environment?</em></strong></span>

For many, creating a gender-neutral environment means no longer buying blue for boys and pink for girls and choosing colours and images that do not enforce a particular gender stereotype.

It may mean ensuring household chores are gender-neutral, encouraging children to learn it is not just their mother who cooks the meals and it is not just their father who takes the rubbish out.

We could encourage children to play with all kinds of toys, have various hobbies, play a variety of sports and read an assortment of books. Enabling children to see that girls also play football, boys can practice ballet, girls play with trucks and boys play with dolls, for example, helps children develop a mixture of interests and skills.

For some, raising children in a gender neutral environment can take a more extreme approach. In 2010, a Swedish couple opted to keep the sex of their baby, ‘Pop,’ a secret to discourage stereotypes being placed on their child. Many are following this example and choosing to not use the pronouns ‘him’ or ‘her’ at home, opting for ‘they’, which is deemed more gender inclusive.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>Could gender-neutral parenting cause harm?</em></strong></span>

<a href=”http://lindablair.co.uk/?LMCL=uvrFql”>Clinical Psychologist, Linda Blair</a>, feels parents may be doing a disservice to their children. Linda argues that ‘between the ages of three and seven, children are searching for their identity, a part of which, is their gender.’ Children want to feel a sense of belonging and ‘fitting in’. Avoiding the assignment of a gender may make a child feel confused about who they are and where they fit in a society where gender roles remain prominent.

There is a concern that once a child starts school, their gender-neutrality may open them up to ridicule and bullying. Most children grow up in traditional households where gender is assigned at birth, which could make school years incredibly difficult for those who do not identify with a specific gender.

Many worry that children will grow up without a strong sense of their own identity and will never truly feel they belong. This may impact on their emotional wellbeing as they grow into adulthood.

The way in which we respond to our children when they are scared or upset can reinforce gender stereotypes.

<span style=”color: #33cccc;”><strong><em>What does the future hold?</em></strong><em> </em></span>

Many feel it will not be long before gender-neutral education systems are introduced. A preschool in <a href=”https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14038419″>Sweden</a> has taken the lead on this, being the first of its kind to create a gender neutral environment, offering a variety of gender inclusive books, toys and sports; the use of pronouns that assign gender is also not allowed, opting instead for the term ‘friends’, ‘they’ or the genderless pronoun ‘hen.’

While some feel raising children in a gender-neutral environment will support their emotional wellbeing, others still worry it will create a childhood of confusion. When one of the largest doll making companies in the world introduces a more inclusive doll range, it is reflective of our ever evolving society in which gender identities are becoming more fluid.

The Resilience Project holds speaking events and is a curriculum that is aimed at using gratitude, empathy and mindfulness to fight mental illness, with the program implemented in hundreds of schools Australia wide.

“If this book wasn’t written, my sister and I would have never actually sat down and had a conversation about our relationship,” says Hugh Van Cuylenburg, creator of The Resilience Project.

At three years of age, Georgia Van Cuylenburg had been playing alongside her brother, Hugh, when a man picked her up, took her out of sight, and sexually assaulted her.
Her innocence of childhood taken in one fell swoop, and a wound that bleed into many facets of her life for decades, was brought to life. This trauma explaining why the darkness of anorexia had chosen her as it’s host, stripping her down to skin and bones.
“I remembered it happening and when my sister told us as a family I went ‘oh right really’ I didn’t even say I remembered it, she continued to feel alone through that trauma, we never talked about it,” says her brother, Hugh.
Hugh was inspired to create The Resilience Project and write The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness.   
During his time researching his book, Hugh read a lot about vulnerability and shame. “Shame is what locks us up, and really makes it hard for us to be happy and feel well.”
“My shame lied in my relationship with my sister,” said Hugh.
As Hugh showed his family the first copies of his book, he eagerly awaited their opinions and critiques. Georgia was devastated at what her brother had written about her. “She said, ‘when am I going to get that vulnerable side of you?.'”

For Hugh, his book became much more than helping millions of Australians who struggle with mental illness, it became a tool for healing his broken relationship with his sister, a shame he had carried for many years.

Hugh changed his book last minute and worked on his relationship with his sister, deciding that his novel was to focus on human connection and the people that have moved him.
Today mental illness has become an epidemic, taking our youth one by one – an insidious disease that has crept into our society and been given the freedom to flourish, due to stigma, lack of resources and communication. Even today mental illness is not treated the same way that other life threatening illnesses are.
Mental illness is very common in Australia, with one in five Australians experiencing mental illness in a year, meaning that 20 per cent of the population is battling a disease that their family, partner and employer cannot see and might not even believe.

Further statistics show indicates that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage in their life.

In 2008, educator Hugh had been teaching young teens in Melbourne when his then girlfriend asked him to accompany her on a trip to India. In India, Hugh taught at an under-privileged school in the Himalayan desert area and with approximately 150 children enrolled, his job was to teach English.
As he began to know his students better, many of whom were living in extreme poverty, Hugh became inspired by his student’s happiness, gratitude and lack of mental health issues that had become so prevalent in the Australian schools where Hugh taught. Returning to Australia, Hugh took with him the local children’s insights, practices and wisdom, and he slowly created The Resilience Project.
The Resilience Project began as a talk that outlined Hugh’s research and experiences with mental illness. Today, it is a school program and curriculum that reaches schools, sporting clubs and workplaces all over Australia and now New Zealand.
In The Resilience Project curriculum and speaking events, Hugh explains how incorporating gratitude, empathy and mindfulness (shortened to GEM in his book) can prevent mental illness and provide happiness.
As many parents know, the most influential years of a person’s life is their childhood,with studies showing that 50 per cent of all mental health conditions a person experiences in their life will have started by age 14.

During his time in India, Hugh noticed how the children were very grateful to be at school and practiced mindfulness every morning before their classes began, incorporating all this into his program for schools and youth, with the feedback having been phenomenally positive so far.
After years of implementing this program, Hugh wrote The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness,releasing the book in November 2019.
Since the book’s release Hugh has had an influx of positive feedback, and is still as humble as ever; with a warm energy and healing nature, it is easy to see why thousands flock to hear him speak and line up afterwards, telling Hugh their troubles and how his words have helped them to heal.
“We have had incredible feedback, I just saw this morning that it is Number One on audio books, which I can’t believe.”
“I’ve had a few really beautiful personal messages from people.”
Hugh recalls one recent message he’d received from a reader who had been feeling suicidal and after reading the book felt so grateful and positive about his life, telling Hugh how his words had saved his life.

“Honestly if he is the only person that reads this book and that’s the only feedback I get, that’s a worthwhile six months writing,” Hugh says.

On a mission to promote gratitude, empathy and mindfulness, Hugh tackles the tricky topic of social media and parenting in his book, describing the rise of social media as only showing ‘the greatest hits’ of life, and how damaging this can be for young minds.
The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude empathy & mindfulness includes a lot of tips and ideas for parents, who have found themselves with children inundated with technology and social media that teaches them validation is found through a screen.

“The best way to help your kids is to start modelling better behaviour, you can’t say to your kids ‘stop being on your phone all the time’ then turn around and check your emails,” he says.

The book is full of strategies to help parents put their phone down with one of the easiest to grasp, yet hardest to implement, simply being to leave their phone at home.
Hugh states that this simple task can leave us more focused on others around us, increasing feelings of connection and togetherness, which are two big ways to fight loneliness and mental illness in this increasingly busy and digital world.
Hugh believes that the less a child is on a device the more aware they are to their surroundings and community, leaving more time to be grateful for the society we are lucky enough to have in Australia.
As for fostering GEM into daily life, Hugh says it’s all down to practice and implementing these small practises into your families every day.
For mindfulness, Hugh suggests going for a walk around the block and focusing on what you can hear, an exercise parents can easily make into family time. Hugh also suggests at the dinner table to reflect on the good in each family member’s day and to share what they are grateful for and looking forward to.
“Look out for opportunities to be kind to people, you watch how happy that makes you and if you do it in front of your kids, that’s the most powerful thing of all,” says Hugh.
“You will have an enormous impact on them because they’ll start to copy you, they will start to be someone who is kind to other people.”

Does a woman of privilege and power ever have the right to complain?

 

The world has growing consciousness over the difficulties mental health presents, and yet, it appears there is still progress to be made before everyone is permitted to speak up and say how they truly feel.

Meghan Markle was at the centre of a social media storm following the controversial documentary ‘Harry & Meghan: An African Journey.’

Many were outraged, remarking the Duchess was audacious in complaining about her privileged position within the British Royal Family, while on a tour of Africa, around those who are, arguably, some of the world’s poorest.

In contrast, many were impressed with Meghan’s honesty and for highlighting the fact many new parents find it difficult to cope even with a privileged social and financial position.

Some felt this statement was ill timed, given their documentary was to highlight their tour of Africa; however Meghan raises an important point of discussion: regardless of a person’s socio-economic background, hormonal ups and downs caused by pregnancy and life with a newborn can impact on a person’s mental health. Once the initial euphoria subsides, overwhelming emotions can be hard, for anyone, to process.

Statistics for anxiety and depression in parents are alarmingly high, with up to 1 in 10 women experiencing antenatal anxiety and depression and more than 1 in 7 experiencing postnatal depression, as reported by PANDA.

 

Men do not escape unharmed from the effects of pregnancy either, with research from PANDA stating 1 in 20 men will experience antenatal anxiety and depression and up to 1 in 10 new dads are likely to experience postnatal depression.

Having a new baby creates multiple changes, many of which are overwhelming: concern about parenting ‘correctly’; the sleep deprivation; breastfeeding challenges; hormonal changes; relationship changes; financial strain and career concerns, all come into play.

Some assume Meghan has no rights to complain. For instance, she has no money worries, appears to be in a happy, devoted marriage and has a large team of staff supporting her within the prestigious British Royal Family, how can she be struggling?

However, Meghan is talking about mental health, which we are continually reminded, does not discriminate. Mental health affects our favourite movie stars, singers, TV personalities and athletes.

It is easy to assume those in privileged positions are vaccinated against any form of sadness, anxiety or depression. But in reality, could it be the assumption they are coping, which ignites their predisposition to mental health struggles?

 

Whether you love or loathe the Duchess of Sussex, she raises an important point about the internal damage that can be caused by keeping quiet about the state of your mental health.

In conclusion, asking someone if they are ok is a question everyone should be asked. It is a question that could potentially lead to that person asking for the help they desperately need.

If you or someone you know is struggling please reach out, speak to your medical professional or seek support from organisations, such as Beyond Blue and PANDA.

Castelmaine Steiner School is located in Muckleford, VIC and offers education from kindergarten to class 8 and is growing fast.

Commencing as a Kindergarten in 1988 in the home of one of its students, The Castlemaine Steiner School & Kindergarten is now a thriving school of approximately 230 students. In 1995, the school moved to its current location, which at the time was 18 acres of flattened sheep grazing land. Today the site is a stunning sanctuary of indigenous flora and fauna, featuring a bush tucker island, beautiful walking tracks and is home to diverse birdlife. Situated approximately 7 mins drive from Castlemaine, the school has transformed itself with biodynamic practices and permaculture design.

“Steiner education is recognised internationally as a valuable approach to helping young people develop flexible, agile thinking, alongside an ability to collaborate and thrive in a 21st Century world,” said Principal, Brian Dodd.

The school offers programs from Playgroup to Class 8, following which, students can then transfer to the local Steiner Stream at Castlemaine Secondary College for Years 9 & 10. Many families begin learning about Steiner education and philosophy by joining the Playgroup program. It is a much-loved weekly 2-hour session for children aged birth to 4 years. It includes activities such as scone baking, outdoor & indoor play, crafts, and circle time for singing & storytelling.

The Early Childhood program continues into Kindergarten & Prep, where foundations are laid for later learning and healthy development, including life-long physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. They believe an atmosphere of loving warmth and guidance provides the optimal environment for healthy development, and that educators have a vital role in modelling and scaffolding a child’s natural urge to explore and experiment. Young children are given time to play, enjoy childhood and build strong foundations skills before formal academic learning begins.

Acknowledging the Traditional Owners of this country, the school has strong connections to the local Dja Dja Wurrung people. Their culture and story is meaningfully woven throughout the curriculum and Outdoor Education program. The Outdoor Education program is designed to develop the student’s understanding of their place in the natural world, through immersion in it. As children develop their sense of adventure confidence develops, connectedness with the environment and a sense of stewardship toward the natural world.

Music is incorporated through all levels of the school, with formal tuition commencing with a stringed instrument in Class 3. Music tuition is compulsory and continues through to Class 8, with students encouraged by opportunities to play in ensemble groups and learn multiple instruments. The benefits of music are well documented and the school utilises music as further way to develop social learning, fine and gross motor skills, and build on maths concepts.

A new Scholarships program provides a limited number of partly or fully subsidised places for students who meet eligibility criteria, and is open to entry at any year level.  The school is committed to creating a socially inclusive and diverse community and via this new Scholarship program, is pleased to continue promoting and encouraging the benefits of Steiner Education across the region. Principal Brian Dodd says “We want to ensure that that the benefits of this schooling option are more broadly available to children in our regional community. This year we also introduced a 25% fee discount for families with a Health Care Card, and have for many years offered sibling discounts, fee assistance and bursaries to reduce financial barriers to enrolling in the school.”

The school welcomes visitors each week for tours with the Principal and offers free trial sessions within its Playgroup program to anyone interested in witnessing the benefits of Steiner education. Contact the Enrolments Officer, Tracey Robertson on 5479 2000 or Traceyr@cssk.vic.edu.au for further information.

“Those that teach Reading for Sure are rewarded everyday with smiles from students as these students learn that reading and writing well is possible for them.”

Literacy is a fundamental skill that everyone needs in order to access education, work and the community. With modern digital devices being able to read and write is now even more vital, not less as was once thought when computers first arrived.

Literacy is not an intuitive action, unlike walking and talking; it is a human construct that requires the building of new connections in the brain.

There are a variety of reasons why someone does not develop good literacy skills. The most commonly recognised cause of delayed or poor literacy skills is Dyslexia. Other learning difficulties also impact, and these include dysgraphia, dyspraxia, hearing issues, ADHD, Autism, Global Learning delay, short, and long term, memory problems etc.

A lack of good early play and language experiences impact on a child’s ability to cope with literacy, concentrate, sit at a desk and to write.

How a person is taught to read is slowly being recognised as significantly impacting on a person’s literacy development or lack thereof. Like all learning one size does not fit all.

Scientific studies tell us that the best literacy programs will develop a student’s ability to sound out and sound blend a word, ensure the student understands the meaning of all the individual words and derive meaning and information from the sentences formed from these words.

Learning to spell, read and understand words allows us all to communicate with others and to enjoy the wonderful stories and information available in books and other forms of text.

Learning to read and write English does not come easily for everybody as it involves many complex interactions in the brain. When foundation skills are missed it can cause significant difficulties later.

Students struggling with reading become anxious and can turn away from literacy and education as a result.  A student who struggles with literacy often begins to feel that they are dumb because they can’t read. Nothing is further from the truth. Many people with exceptional IQs have struggled with literacy. Unfortunately, without correct instruction to help their brain develop the pathways needed to work with the written word these individuals may not develop their true potential.

With an understanding of how the brain develops and learns to decipher the written word the Reading For Sure program was developed to quickly help the learner build the foundation skills and brain pathways needed for literacy. The Reading for Sure program uses unique teaching tools to continue to develop these skills so that the learner can achieve in all areas of English Literacy.

Our recent study of 180 students, with a broad range of difficulties impacting their literacy acquisition, showed excellent improvement for every hour of tuition. The 180 students included students that were not learning via standard teaching methods, dyslexia, English as a second language etc. and started tuition at ages ranging from 5 to 20 years old. The students were taught by one of four Reading For Sure teachers.

The data showed that not only did every child improve their literacy, but that on average for every hour spent with one of our teachers, the students improved 1.6 months in their reading age. The data for the spelling was not complete for all the 180 students but, using the data available, the average gain in spelling was 0.4 of a month improvement for each hour of tuition.

Within just a few lessons parents and students see the difference. The student’s confidence blossoms, and they begin to enjoy the reading and learning process once more. This reading gain also quickly equates to better outcomes in their education environment. Literacy is the core skill needed for all subjects and students enjoy school so much more when they are not struggling with their literacy.

“Finding the Reading for sure method was a relief. To discover a method that works and makes sense to my dyslexic daughter, has not only greatly improved her reading, it has given her confidence and a sense achievement” says Mrs. Clements.

With the correct program and teaching methods no person young or old needs to struggle with literacy.

Those that teach Reading for Sure are rewarded everyday with smiles from students as these students learn that reading and writing well is possible for them.

Visit the Reading for Sure website and see our new blog series about how parents can help their young children develop the pre literacy skills they need to be able to learn all the literacy skills when they go to school. This free blog series will give parents hints and ideas about the activities that help the brain and body develop ready for literacy and learning and what to look out for if things may not be developing as they should.

Reading For Sure is an Australian program with its office in Perth. www.readingforsure.com.au

In her new book Mind Kind award winning child psychologist, Dr Joanna North, advocates for a new approach to parenting that has kindness and self-compassion at its heart.

The experiences and information discussed in this piece are an edited extract from Mind Kind (Exisle , 2019) by Dr Joanne North, which you can find here.

Over many years of practice with families and my own experience of parenting, I have concluded that love is not, in fact, enough to make you a good parent. I have seen many parents, who without doubt have loved and adored their children, have their children taken out of their care by local authorities.

This is, of course, extremely sad but parents who love their children don’t necessarily help them to develop in a healthy or psychologically coherent way and may take their eye off the task sufficiently that their children are in danger or lose out and are disadvantaged. Conversely, I have met parents who have everything imaginable in their lives in terms of privilege, financial security and status, but this is not the same as offering love and good parenting, and so their children still lose out in terms of feeling secure and loved, despite all these other resources. There are many parents who have very little materially but are able to provide secure and commendable parenting to their children so that they grow up to seek advantageous opportunities.

Many parents, who…loved and adored their children, have their children taken out of their care by local authorities.

So what are the forces at work that guide parents down the right or wrong road and what are the goals we are heading for? Along with commitment, I advocate a more mindful approach to parenting. .

While I don’t want to prescribe a framework, I have put together a set of principles and concepts that I have learnt are of importance to the task. These principles and concepts could be broadly termed as leading to ‘mindful’ or ‘mind-minded’ parenting that is focused on the developing mind of the child and can be corralled under the term ‘Mind Kind’. I want parents to learn the skill of being kind to their child’s mind I intend to make it easy for you to think about these things and have developed the acronym of PATACCAKE, which describes the desirable emotional/feeling states or qualities in parents (rather than a desirable set of prescribed behaviours) that combine to make for Mind Kind parenting. PATACCAKE stands for:

Patience

Acceptance

Tolerance

Attunement

Commitment

Compassion

Awareness

Kindness

Empathy.

We can’t come up with these constructive emotions and states of mind all the time and we are going to have days when we can only just get through living in an accepting way. We all have to live with our reactive emotions and soothe them as best we can, and really, what would life be if we did not have this reactivity to deal with, and how would we teach our children? Polarity is very much part of the world in which we live. But PATACCAKE is a reminder of where we can be, what is hopeful and as an ideal to aim for when we can.

Love is not…enough to make you a good parent.

Sesame seed

I have also built the acronym SESAME SEED. The themes of ‘sesame seed parenting’ form the cornerstones of being a Mind Kind parent and offer the major clues to achieving parenting that makes your children feel good.

Secure

Secure parenting can be achieved by parents who want to know how to support children to feel stable, secure and able to cope with life. This means the child feels good from the inside because they acknowledge their emotional life, including thoughts, feelings and emotions. They will also have some sense of how to organize, manage and regulate these very real forces that flow through their lives for the rest of their lives. Thoughts and feelings affect behaviour and wellbeing, and they represent the workings of our mind. This means that by paying attention to the inner world of children as well as the outer world, parents are offering enduring skills and support through their relationship with their children.

Emotion

The neuroscientific reality is that our emotional lives deeply influence our mind, brain and wellbeing and are a force for survival and contentment rather than an annoying human tendency to be ignored.

Emotions are a communication to us about our sensory response to our environment, our experience of it and our security within that environment. Parents who are mindful of emotion will help their children experience the broad range of their emotional lives and manage these emotions as a flow of energy and information about themselves, their relationships and their environment. Emotions can range from the depths of despair to the heights of joy and we are made to travel through this range, rather than get stuck in one predominant state.

 

If we can help our children to understand that minds can change, and to be patient with moods and tolerate uncomfortable states of mind, we will be truly helping them to successfully survive.

Symbolic behaviour

All behaviour is a communication about life and a set of symptoms of what is going on for a child in their environment, and their thoughts and feelings about this. We have to help our children become aware of and manage their own behaviour and channel into positive outcomes the natural energetic impulses that are part of life.

Most behaviour relates to human need. Therefore, behaviour is likely to be a map of our child’s needs. If we don’t like it we shouldn’t blame them for it. Instead, we should look at why it is happening and what we can do to change that. We could remember the five basic needs; the need to belong, the need to achieve, the need for fun and enjoyment, the need for freedom and independence and the need to have a sense that we will safely survive. If parents are not fulfilling the totality of these needs, their children will act this out. We need to learn the craft of understanding emotion, thought and behaviour.

Five basic needs; the need to belong, the need to achieve, the need for fun and enjoyment, the need for freedom and independence and the need to have a sense that we will safely survive.

Adversity

Life is never going to be without challenge or change. You have to be prepared for periods of adversity and ‘mend the roof while the sun is shining’. This means that parents have a grip on the realities of life and are prepared for how to cope when children need more of their help than usual.

It is a certainty that life is going to happen to you, just as it does to every other parent around the world. The cycle of life, death and birth, growth and regrowth is just about the only reliable cycle that we can be sure of.. So it is not a case of if you will meet something difficult in your life but when. While we face up to how difficult life can be, we also face up to how resourceful we can be as humans and what we can do when the going gets tough. There are few magical solutions, but we can put in imagination and effort to finding real solutions.

Mindfulness and mental health

Mental wellbeing for children could be described as helping them to organize their minds, along with organizing your mind. You will be making that journey to recovery with your child. Your reaction and response to any condition is going to contribute to their recovery. They will need you to feel stable, informed and sure-footed. They don’t need your anxiety about them to be added into the mix. It is hard for loving and committed parents not to feel panicky about their children at times — this is only natural. We need to attend to our fears and then move forward. Parents and carers need to understand what is happening in their own mind so that they can support their children from a position of strength and security.

Errors in parenting

You will make errors in your parenting. It is not so much the error that you make but the way you put it right that will mean something to your child. So after you shout and overreact (which we have all done) try to understand the situation and talk with your child about it, explaining your reaction and setting out a new plan for a better result next time — both in you and in your child.

After you shout and overreact…try to understand the situation and talk with your child about it, explaining your reaction and setting out a new plan for a better result next time.

Sense of self and self-image

Regardless of the society we live in, image is important. Archaeology is constantly proving to us that men and women in ancient civilizations (Egypt, for example, some 4000 years ago) were just as focused on what they looked like, as well as what they felt like, spending time on artefacts for themselves and their environments, using make-up and painting their experiences in their homes and temples. It is our creative and social instincts that make us focus on how we choose to present ourselves, but there are psychological issues in play because our self-image is based on our sense of self and how we feel we are accepted within society. We expect teenagers to experiment with self-image while deciding who they are and how they want to be, and we may be surprised at who they want to be.

 

Eating and self-worth

Ultimately you and your children will become what you eat. You have to decide whether you want to feel like a sugar-coated dough monster or a vibrant vegetable or fruit creature. Or maybe somewhere in between. It is almost certain that you will feel like what you eat and that you will eat in a way that is complementary to how you feel. Food as a source of emotion and love our relationship with food as a metaphor for our relationship with ourselves.

Empathy

Empathy is a tool for understanding your children. Empathy might be the nearest substance to magic fairy dust that we humans have. You will have to decide by practice what you think. Empathic responses, rather than immediate reactions, will tell children that you are at least trying to understand them and willing to work with them. Every child and human needs empathy, from when they are the tiniest one hour-old newborn. It is the base for your parenting and love for your children.

 

Development

Childhood is a journey rather than a destination and children are always travelling in themselves as they grow and develop. It is probably one of the most miraculous things to watch as your children grow, but it is also quite subtle, and some parents find this threatening and don’t want their children to explore new pathways of being themselves as their minds develop. It can be confusing as children change dramatically in their outlook and behaviours or it can be a joyful dance to celebrate life — and in reality will probably be a mixture of both. It helps to inform yourself of some of the expected milestones of development so that you can at least have a map of the journey that is being taken and be prepared.

The most important thing we can be to our children (or anybody else’s children) is kind. The term ‘mind-minded parenting’ tells us to think of the child’s mind as we watch them grow. Always try to think about their developing mind and their developing sense of themselves. Minds grow best in positive emotional environments where children feel understood. If there is one idea to take away it is that whether your children are being really naughty or really perfect, whether they are very settled or quite disturbed, at all times they need your attention and your kind attention to the detail of their lives.

 

You have to learn to be kind to their developing mind — Mind Kind — and to do this you are also going to have to learn to be kinder to yourself. You cannot give to your children what you have not got inside. This includes the principles of sesame seed thinking combined with qualities of that lovely childhood nursery rhyme PATACCAKE. We can bring PATACCAKE qualities to mind any time we choose. Instead of coming at a child with frustration and rage we could stop to think PATACCAKE. Without these innate universally positive qualities flowing in the environment of your child’s life they will not thrive and — in my view — nor will humankind.

This is an edited extract from Mind Kind (Exisle , 2019) by Dr Joanne North, available form www.exislepubishing.com and wherever good books are sold. RRP $32.99