How to talk to your child about their body image

Amanda Martinez Beck was having dinner at home with her husband and four children, ages two to seven, when the f (fat) word was uttered. Brennan, her 5-year-old son, asked, “Mom, what are you eating? Because you are fat. Lily, her 7-year-old daughter, added: “Kids at school said it was wrong to be fat.”

Martinez has struggled with her weight all her life. Many parents in her extensive family used to comment on her taller than average figure when she was a child. She was on a diet at the age of seven and struggled with eating issues throughout her teenage years.

Martinez, who wrote a book about his experience titled Lovely: how I learned to embrace the body God gave me, says she doesn’t want her kids to struggle with body image issues like she has. She teaches her children that people come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But it’s hard to learn that lesson when society, the media, and the extended family often give the opposite message. Like many mothers, she finds it difficult to encourage her children to adopt a healthy lifestyle while accepting their bodies.

Martinez offers some tips for bringing up the F-word with your kids and teaching them healthy body image.

Take small steps

Weight is an important health and social problem. The prevalence of childhood obesity has increased, as has the prevalence of eating disorders and poor body image. Experts believe that it will be up to parents, rather than paediatricians, teachers or sports coaches, to positively shape the body image of their children.

“Children don’t learn to tie their shoes or brush their teeth on their own; we have to teach them,” says clinical psychologist Wayne Fleisig. “With the harder stuff, you can run it in small portions on a regular basis.”

For starters, it’s essential to teach children that some people are naturally rounder or heavier than others, and that’s fine.

“While obesity can pose health challenges, people come in a wide range of body sizes,” says Rebecca Puhl, associate director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “Some overweight people may be fit, while others who are skinny may not be.”

Don’t worry about scale

According to researchers from the University of Minnesota, adolescents whose parents talked to them about food with an emphasis on their weight or height were more likely to be on crash diets or to have eating disorders such as fasting, binge eating or using laxatives. Teenagers whose parents focused entirely on the nutritional value of foods and avoided discussing weight were less likely to have eating disorders. And overweight children whose parents talked to them about food in a calm, health-oriented way had fewer emotional, psychological and eating disorder problems than those whose parents seemed more judgmental.

“I try not to talk specifically about weight with my obese pediatric patients or tell them how many kilograms they need to lose,” says Pediatric Metabolism and Weight Management Specialist Seema Kumar. “I will tell them, ‘We are making these adjustments in your family to ensure your health.’ I commend them for their wise decisions, like riding a bike instead of watching TV.

Of course, there are situations where you cannot escape the ladder. During annual check-ups, pediatricians frequently tell children where they are on the growth and weight charts. However, such weight-related discussions don’t have to be unpleasant or embarrassing. While parents shouldn’t make weight a taboo subject, if your child is already concerned about their weight and you’re not comfortable talking about it in front of them, talk to your pediatrician.

Stop shaming yourself and others

Even if you tell your children that they are perfect just the way they are, what you tell them about yourself and others matters a lot. Avoid making remarks such as “I look huge in these jeans” or “Did you see how obese that woman is?” This can send a negative message to your children, causing them to wonder what you think of their height.

Positive body language, on the other hand, can be harmful. Saying something like “You look beautiful, you’ve lost weight” can be harmful if it falls on the wrong ears or in the wrong frame of mind. A young person who is labeled fat by a family member, peer or teacher is more likely to be obese ten years later than one who is not.

Set strict limits with your loved ones: stop commenting on weight, even if it’s done out of love.

Showing empathy

According to the journal Obesity Research, by the fifth or sixth grade, children have internalized the idea that obese people are bad or inferior. The societal stigma of “fat equals bad” can be seen in children’s movies and stories, such as The little Mermaidwho frequently portrays villains as obese.

If you come across a character in a book or movie who is mocked or stereotyped because of their body, now is a great time to discuss why it’s wrong with your child. Ask your child:

  • Does a person’s body weight have anything to do with whether they are good or bad?
  • How do you suppose the character felt when she was made fun of because of her weight?
  • How could you help someone who is being bullied about their weight like this character was?

Teaching empathy is another technique to combat weight stigma. You can make it a family rule that treating others with respect is non-negotiable.

About Keith Johnson

Check Also

5 Healthy Habits Viola Davis Swears By To Look Amazing At 57

Viola Davis is the embodiment of strength, power and beauty. And at 57, she’s never …