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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

Outspoken body-positivity activist Jameela Jamil calls for change by addressing the harmful behaviours of reality stars and the media on our body image and self-esteem.

The tide is changing when it comes to body positivity. Where low self-esteem once dominated and allowed for the media to spread messages of weight loss, there are now many people challenging these ideas and calling for the removal of body shaming.

British actor and star of The Good Place Jameela Jamil is an increasingly loud and insistent voice when it comes to challenging the standards of physical beauty perpetuated by the media and entertainment industry.

Jamil is outspoken on social media when it comes to body positivity and calling out celebrities who encourage unhealthy body image ideals.

She recently shared an image to Instagram showing off the stretch marks on her breasts, announcing that she would now call them ‘Babe Marks’.

Jamil is outspoken on social media when it comes to body positivity and calling out celebrities who encourage unhealthy body image ideals.

“Boob stretch marks are a normal, beautiful thing,” she captioned her post. “I have stretch marks all over my body and I hereby rename them all Babe Marks. They are a sign my body dared to take up extra space in a society that demands our eternal thinness.”

These comments are a welcome dose of honesty and frankness in a world where women are conditioned to be ashamed of such things.

“[Stretch marks] are a sign my body dared to take up extra space in a society that demands our eternal thinness.”

Her tweets about Photoshop and airbrushing advertising campaigns in the media, calling for them to become illegal also went viral. She banned the use of Photoshop on herself, explaining that the practice is not only harmful for the audience, but also for her own self-image.

She banned the use of Photoshop on herself, explaining that the practice is not only harmful for the audience, but also for her own self-image.

Recently, Jamil called out Khloe Kardashian on social media after the reality star promoted weight loss products to her millions of followers on Instagram.

“It’s incredibly awful that this industry bullied you until you became this fixated on your appearance,” wrote Jamil. “But now please don’t put that back into the world and hurt other girls the way you have been hurt. You’re a smart woman. Be smarter than this.”

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Jamil is adamant in the fight against body shaming, which comes from her own personal experiences of body dysmorphia, eating disorders and incessant bullying she received as a teenager.

Jamil recently launched her “I Weigh” campaign, a social media movement where she encourages women to describe their qualities and accomplishments rather than their appearances.

Jamil is adamant in the fight against body shaming.

Beginning as a single powerful message shared on Instagram, it has since turned into a movement after thousands of other women also began sharing their own powerful messages after becoming sick and tired of their worth being measured by their weight.

Self-regulation is the latest buzz word; it is frequently mentioned in newspapers and across a range of media but what does it really mean? And how do parents foster self-regulation in their children? Kim Johnson and Rosemary Redden, of the Ngala Education team, explain.

Contrary to common belief, self-regulation is more than just self-control. It is self-directional and encompasses the ways we interact appropriately with others, how we use initiative and how we develop the self-motivation to learn.

It encompasses the regulation of emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

CHILD DEVELOPMENT

Babies develop self-regulation through close relations with parents and receiving sensory-stimulating opportunities.

Toddlers view parents as a source of help, using strategies to get adults to respond and assist them to orientate themselves in new or challenging situations. Toddlers begin to put words to their emotions, to learn the concept of emotions and to interact with others. Parents can help their child interpret the actions and emotions of others by putting words to actions and feelings. Children form their own thinking from their experience with others. For example, rough and tumble play can help them learn when to stop when someone has had enough.

Children learn by absorbing information in their surroundings before age three and by their third or fourth year they begin to ask why. They begin to learn cause and effect in social situations and in patterns of behaviour. A child’s impulse control and wilful emotions will become more practiced resulting in thinking before acting. Learning impulse control is critical to brain development at this time; learning this later delays mastery of self-regulation.

By the age of six, children are capable of expressing their feelings, acting deliberately, planning, and controlling aggression both physically and relationally.

PARENTING IMPACTS

The experiences children have through interacting with their parents plays a central role in developing brain systems toward self-regulatory behaviours.

Parenting styles that are warm and responsive allow children to focus their attention and tune in to parents showing control of their own behaviour (first inkling of patience!).

The four main parenting styles are:

  • Indulgent or permissive – less demanding and more responsive, lenient and not requiring mature behaviour. Creating a family dynamic to help children explore their own self-regulation and to avoid conflict.
  • Authoritarian – less responsive and more demanding, expecting compliance without question, providing structured environments and establishing clear rules.
  • Authoritative – demanding and responsive, assertive but not restrictive or intrusive. Providing a supportive environment for learning alongside with clear expectations and allocations of responsibility.
  • Neglectful or uninvolved parents are low in both demands and responsiveness, in extreme cases rejecting and neglecting the essential needs of children.

 

Parenting styles have three primary dimensions:

1) Behavioural control – developing strategies that openly monitor behavioural expectations, establishing rules and limits that provide boundaries for managing behaviour.

2) Warmth – creating a supportive environment for self-expression, encouraging a child to participate in individual, group and community activities, and to form close attachment relationships.

3) Psychological control – being intrusive and overprotective, creating a sense of dependency in a child by implementing constraints, interrupting or ignoring the child, and manipulating a child both emotionally and psychologically.

The main difference between the authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles is the dimension of psychological control, with authoritarian parents expecting children to accept judgments or values without question, and authoritative parents being more open to give and take.

According to researchers, the authoritative parenting style is one of the most consistent predictors of self-regulatory competence from early childhood through adolescence into adulthood. This form of parenting effectively helps a child acquire the self-confidence and esteem necessary to face life’s challenges.

The five important elements across parenting styles that are conducive to developing resilience and self-regulation are:

  1. Availability – the foundation for children to learn to form trust in relationships starts with parents responding to their baby’s needs, as well as providing the security for their child to outgrow the dependency of infancy and confidently explore the wider world and its many challenges.
  2. Sensitivity – being aware as a parent of their child’s individual and unique perspective and encouraging their child to form his or her own feelings and opinions, even if they are different to their own.
  3. Acceptance – being child-centred and valuing the experiences and knowledge unique to their child.
  4. Co-operation – creating opportunities for children to contribute and be effective as children learn to make an impact on their environment. It is possible for parents to be on the child’s ‘team’ to work together solving problems and promoting the various competencies the child has. Success brings confidence to take on challenges and measure risks.
  5. Family membership – promote feelings of belonging and being significant to others.

 

INTERACTIONS – FAMILY ENVIRONMENT OF DISCIPLINE

The environment of the community and family within which a child is raised affects the self-regulation processes the child develops. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity; family and community environments that are resilient have more self-regulatory systems in place from which individuals can learn. Family conflict is inevitable and some dynamics are higher in emotion due to the temperaments of the individuals in the family. Studies have found that it is not the heat of the family conflict, but how it is resolved, that impacts a child’s ability to regulate in conflict.

Discipline of children affects the self-regulatory development of children. While 90 per cent of parents have used smacking at least once, studies find that any kind of physical discipline negatively effects self-regulation.

A parent’s ability to redirect a child’s attention away from the source of distress and re-engage the child in an on which to activity is the most basic, and an important, self-regulatory skill.

Timeout is often given as an alternative disciplinary tool, however time in with the child or staying in the vicinity of an upset child calms them faster than isolation.

 

CONCLUSION

Being able to self-regulate lays the foundation for many complex tasks and ways of thinking. Individuals are unique in a multitude of ways: physically, brain maturity, temperament and personality. Experience of the world from infancy onwards shapes our self-regulatory abilities.

Researchers now suggest that intentional movements assist a child’s brain to work more efficiently. Sport, music, stretching and slow, measured movement assists all bodies to self-regulate better, often by influencing breathing first and foremost, enabling the brain to calm, and thus to better process complex thoughts.

Parents who are skilled at interpreting their child’s signs, building learning upon current strengths and abilities, taking cues from the child’s perspective in play and respecting their rhythm of problem solving enhances their child’s capacity to learn self-regulatory behaviours.

Regardless of gifted ability or disability, circumstance and cultural differences, the best predictor of positive child behaviour is parental confidence in their own knowledge, acceptance of their child and having a warm relationship with them.

Ngala’s motto of ‘parenting with confidence’ aims to assist you parent your children positively and confidently.

Ngala Helpline 9368 9369.

To book into Ngala Understanding Guiding Children’s Behaviour workshop go to www.ngala.com.au

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.”

“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

Parents start to become anxious if their children do not conform to social norms because parents instinctively know that a child’s social survival is very important.

We might be ‘buying’ security for a child by getting the latest and trendiest object available, from designer labels to smartphones, in order to keep them within their social grouping. Then we start to abide by trends — we’re taught, and have it impressed upon us, that our children must have enough exercise, they must not watch too much TV, we must spend time with them, we must not let them eat the wrong thing, we must not let them watch the wrong thing, we must watch for health alerts and so on. Some of these demands are real in certain measure, but are they the real goals of parenting a child or are they just small stops on the way to something much bigger?

My conclusion is that they are secondary goals and that we are not paying enough attention to the primary goals of childhood. The outcome is that parents are very anxious about getting their child the ‘right thing’ rather than attending to the ‘right state of mind’. Are you the kind of parent who gets everything for your child and yet feels dismayed when they still do not appear to be happy? What truly makes children feel secure from the inside out? Once you have that information you can decide for yourself where you think your parenting might need to develop or where you might need to get help if necessary. You will, of course, continue to help your child conform to social norms and trends, but you will do this from a more secure position knowing that you have attended to the real priorities. You will have more choice about the other things and so will your children.

Psychological security

 

The thing that children want to feel most in life is that their parents feel secure and safe when they are with them and that this feeling then transfers to them. This is called a ‘felt sense’ and is also known as psychological security. With a felt sense of security, a child will have a pervasive feeling that their world is going to be held together and managed, in a fashion that keeps them safe and well, and that they can get on with the task of exploring life and relationships. This is what your children really want from you. So many of the children I have met in mental health services are mildly to moderately troubled because they feel they have had no psychological anchor onto which they can hold during their episode of difficulty.

The psychological capabilities of children who live with a felt sense of security might include the following:

They will feel that the world is a good enough place to be

 

Children show us that they feel safe when they can explore their environment and get on with learning. This overriding sense that it’s good to be alive is the richest of human resources, and it is a great achievement if we can raise children who wake each morning with the felt sense that today will be a great day because there are people on whom they can rely.

Children show us that they feel safe when they can explore their environment and get on with learning.

They will be able to distinguish positive from negative

 

Children who have a felt sense of security will feel safe enough to comment on their world and evaluate it in a realistic way. They will be able to evaluate their parents’ state of mind as well as comment on their own, and will be able to say things like ‘My dad’s not very good at mending the car so he couldn’t fix it and we were late for school’, and express frustration and disappointment about this. At the same time, the same child would be able to look at what their father gets right — ‘He helps me with my homework.’ They will be able to comment, ‘Mum is a bit upset today; that makes me feel sad too, but she says she will feel better soon.’

This kind of emotional literacy relating to good and bad gives a child a way to describe their experience and help others understand them. The child feels that their conversation is worthy of attention and they will bother to make a narrative about life because life is full of good and bad things that are interesting.

Children being emotional is to be expected and respected.

They will label and express emotions

 

Essentially, our emotions help us to understand where we are inside ourselves and there are plenty of reasons why we should not ignore these communications. Children being emotional is to be expected and respected, and is worthy of our attention. A child being emotional is as natural as a puppy biting your hand, because that is instinctive — the puppy is not being naughty, it is just behaving instinctively.

They will feel accepted

 

A sense of acceptance is big currency in life. A sense of acceptance and belonging in our primary family of care (or adopted or substitute family or care group) is the deepest gift on offer in this lifetime and nothing can replace the sense of wellbeing or contentment that this will give to children.

They will have a coherent self

 

Coherence is an important word when we are thinking about the care of children. You don’t have to be perfect as a parent, but you do have to try to be as coherent and as organised, functional and meaningful in your behaviours as you can be. The more children have the sense that their small emerging mind and self has the support and attention they need, the more they will enjoy being alive with an inherent sense that all chaos can be restored.

They will be alert to information about relationships

 

Secure children feel a sense of conviction that it matters to notice others and what they might be thinking, and, like anything to which we give our attention, the more we give our focus to it the more we are likely to become an expert at it. The more adept we are at reading social cues through reading people’s faces and body language, the more we are likely to get social cues correct and respond in the right way.

They will be angry and frustrated at times but will be able to manage this and rely on you

 

If you are available to deal with your child’s issues as they arise, it is highly likely that by the time they are adults they will have absorbed the tendency to deal with issues more effectively, having received all of your help.

They will be angry and frustrated at times.

In conclusion

 

Children are primed and programmed to demand more and more from us and you might need help to identify the organic needs of the child that must be met if they are to feel secure from the inside. It is safe to say no to a child if they ask for the latest thing that they feel they need, but it is not safe to take your eye off their need for you to protect them and prioritise their care. As we have seen, secure kids express emotions, talk about negative as well as positive experiences and feel they have the right to comment on their lives. They will have problems and they will bring you those problems if they are secure. There is no way out of having problems in life when you are a child. Your real hope lies in a thoughtful parent who is sensitive to what is worrying you, who takes your issues seriously and realises that what you really need is them and their mind working for you.

Finally

 

» What your child really needs is you and your attention. There is nothing on this planet you can buy that will replace that.

» Emotions are beautiful aspects of our humanity that keep us informed about the state of our children and ourselves.

» If you put effort into anything, put it into helping your child feel loved, safe and accepted.

» Help your child resolve negative emotions. It is a fantastic way to care for their mental health and make them feel secure. It could be said to be the first building block of good mental health.

» Take note of how important the quality of the relationship is with your child. This is demonstrated by being there for them to deal with the small issues they face on a daily basis.

 

Yvette Clarke, an internationally-renowned Wellness Consultant, Empath, Light Worker and Soul Room Specialist, shares how she is able to help break through emotional barriers and explains why the parental word is so important in developing healthy self esteem in our children.

I have been blessed with the unique gift of acute empathic perceptivity, which allows me to feel and hear the subconscious emotions of my clients as though I am them.

I help women suffering from low self-esteem cut through confusion and trauma to create clarity, understanding and best of all personal empowerment, allowing them to take back control of their emotions and their lives.

For over 20 years I have had the privilege of being invited into a sacred place – the inner self – where everything that makes a person who they are is stored; I call this place The Soul Room. In this room, I come to converse with the subconscious emotional layers of the human body. In here I shine a light on the suppressed hidden beliefs and emotional injuries causing conflict and obstruction to my clients’ wellbeing, happiness and success. My job is to give voice to the subconscious self so that it can be heard and not shoved under the proverbial carpet.

I have sat with thousands of emotionally-scarred, disempowered women, who don’t understand why they bring into their lives the same bad experience – or relationship – over, and over, again. These experiences come wrapped in a different package each time and initially appear to be different than before, but once she is caught up in the euphoria of ‘duplicitous nice’ being shown to her, the relationship partner appears to have metamorphosised into someone who becomes unkind, cruel and detrimental to her already delicate self-esteem.

She loses her voice and becomes a doormat to others. This causes her self-esteem to become even more diminished than before, she becomes fearful of making another wrong choice, her anxiety levels reach catastrophic heights and she wonders what it is about her that has this continue to happen… What is wrong with HER?

Her friends don’t understand either. They wonder why such a lovely, caring and kind woman would continue to attract abuse and mistreatment.

I have been asked by numerous women over the years why they can’t break this cycle and here is the reason from a soul room perspective.

It all comes down to the power of the PARENTAL WORD. The words from a parent can make or break a child’s belief in themselves. These parental words will stay with this person for the whole of their life replaying in the background of their subconscious mind and within the emotions of the inner child self. They will replay like bad Christmas music that has become stuck in your head after you’ve done your Chrissy shopping at a major department store.

It’s like that song that just keeps replaying over, and over, again in the background of your mind and no matter what you do, it’s stuck in there.

The parental word has the same effect on your child self as that background music does, the only difference is the Christmas music won’t harm your self-esteem, the negative parental word will.

Without realising it, the parent has the power to subconsciously brainwash their child into feeling inadequate, incapable and downright unlovable.

Without realising it, the parent has the power to subconsciously brainwash their child into feeling inadequate, incapable and downright unlovable.

I have had the most beautiful, healthy women sit in front of me telling me how fat and ugly they are, they can’t even see their actual body shape because all they hear in the back of the mind replaying over and over again is the parent’s criticism of their physique and weight. The continuous jabs at a tiny bit of tummy fat has now created a woman who binge eats and then throws up to keep slim. All she is a distorted image of herself, fed by the niggling of parental criticism. As an adult, it doesn’t matter how much she is told how beautiful she is, the internal child state is stuck, glitched on the relentless parental music telling her she is fat.

As children we are emotional sponges, we absorb into ourselves the emotions and wording repeating itself in the home environment. We are like steaks marinading in criticism sauce.

When a child’s point of view is repeatedly dismissed, or their emotions are conveyed to them as drama, this teaches the child that their feelings have no value and that their emotions are ridiculous. As an adult they are likely to attract a partner who will treat them the same way the parent did.

As children we are emotional sponges, we absorb into ourselves the emotions and wording repeating itself in the home environment. We are like steaks marinading in criticism sauce.

When a child is treated with irritation when they speak, as adults they often attract relationships that treat them with the same tactic of abuse.

When a child is told continuously what is wrong with them and what they didn’t get right, they become excessively self-critical or they become very critical of others.

The parental word is so very, very, important to the innocent child. This child will remain inside your children for their whole lifetime. This child needs to be encouraged to believe in themselves, they need to be reminded how much they are loved – and loved for simply being them – not love earned from behaving in a manner that pleases the parent.

The innocent child needs to hear that they matter to you and that you are willing to listen to their feelings when needed, without prying into everything that is private and personal to them.

The greatest chance our children have of growing into emotionally healthy adults with a healthy self-esteem is from them feeling that no matter how big they mess up, your love for them will not be diminished.