"Mommy, am I fat?" These heart-wrenching words are enough to make any parent cringe. Regardless of your child's age, gender, or weight, they are undoubtedly being exposed to the pervasive societal messages that thinness equals beauty and beauty equals value. In line with you at the grocery store, they see the magazine covers plastered with super model images. Watching television after school, they'll see commercials filled with unrealistically toned and sculpted men and women. At school, they'll hear kids and teachers talking about weight, too. The question is not a matter of if your child will be exposed to unhelpful messages, but how you're going to deal with these messages when they arise. Here are some tips for discussing this tricky topic with your kiddos:
Avoid Making Negative Comments About Your Own Appearance
Your kids are watching and listening. If they hear you complaining about how you don't like your thighs, asking your spouse if a particular outfit makes you look fat, or telling your friend about how you "need" to lose ten pounds, they notice. They hear not only your words, but the underlying message that your weight can make or break your day. They hear that weight contributes to their value as a person. And they're hearing it from the most influential person in their life. That's a big deal! Promoting right thinking about weight and appearance starts with your own example. Even if your body image isn't perfect, you can do your kids a tremendous favor by avoiding making comments like these.
Initiate Honest Conversations With Your Child
Too many parents take the approach of hoping their kids don't notice the weight-obsessed culture that surrounds their children. However, this takes the teaching role out of the hands of the parents and places into the hands of our culture. What a missed opportunity! When your children are exposed to photo-shopped images, explain how unrealistic and fake these images are. If your child expresses concern about his/her weight, don't shut down the conversation by immediately assuring them that their weight is "fine." Instead, ask about where that thought came from. Did someone make a comment at school? Are their clothes too tight? Are they having a growth spurt earlier than their classmates? Finding out this information equips you to better discuss the issue with your child and makes you a safer place for them to share their true feelings.
Focus On Healthy Behaviors, Not The Scale
Whether or not you think your child is overweight, comments about your child's weight should be avoided. Instead, focus on enjoying healthy behaviors as a family! Go on family walks, bike rides, or runs. Expose your child regularly to a variety of nourishing foods to encourage normal eating. Enjoy meals together as a family. Ensure your child is getting adequate sleep for his/her age and activity level. Never single out one child in the family as the one with "weight concerns," or compare his or her appearance to another child's. Don't make a child who is heavier eat completely different foods or follow a more intense exercise regimen. This will only heighten insecurities and increase the likelihood that your child will engage in disordered eating behaviors. Children go through growth spurts at different rates and ages. If the whole family is engaging in health-promoting behaviors, your child will naturally fall into a routine that supports the weight that is best for him/her.
How to Talk to Kids about Weight and Obesity. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/overweight-and-obesity/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-weight-and-obesity