Kids Called My Daughter Fat
Q: My daughter was called fat by another student at school. She is a healthy, normal weight 7-year-old. I’m worried she will feel badly about her body because there is so much pressure for girls to be thin. How do I respond to her telling me this?
A: Unfortunately, weight-based teasing is quite common among school-age children regardless of their actual weight. As parents we often feel hurt and angry on our child’s behalf. It’s tough deciding how best to respond. Although some parents may be tempted to write off teasing as “kids just being kids,” you are wise not to ignore it.
Weight-based teasing is associated with lower self-esteem, depression and body dissatisfaction, a risk factor for eating disorders and obesity. These effects are worsened if children are also teased by family members. Girls who feel badly about their bodies, regardless of their weight, may begin unhealthy dieting that can lead to eating disorders, bingeing and obesity. This may sound surprising for a 7-year-old, but weight concerns can start early – according to The Eating Disorders Alliance, 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner, and 80 percent of all children have been on a diet by fourth grade. Although one mean comment should not cause you to overreact, it is an opportunity to help your daughter build self-esteem, coping skills and body appreciation. When your child tells you she has been teased, take a deep breath and consider the following:
Listen and be curious.
We trust and listen to those who we believe understand our situation. Ask her who is doing the teasing, how often it is happening, how she is responding and what the result is. Try to listen calmly and attentively. This will help you understand how big the problem is to her and what, if any, coping strategies she has already tried.
Offer emotional support and body acceptance.
Ask how teasing makes her feel and acknowledge her feelings. Compliment her on being willing to seek help. This gives her a boost and affirms you are supporting her. Make it a habit to model positive body talk such as pointing out the amazing things a body can do and show acceptance of her (and your own) body regardless of size and shape. Body appreciation promotes self-esteem, proactive coping and optimism.
Help her respond with confidence.
Explain that the real problem is the teasing, not her. It’s a power play and she need not be powerless. Strategies might include ignoring the teaser and walking away. Make sure she knows this may cause it to get worse at first but the teaser will eventually give up. Humor is a great way to cope and can disarm the teaser. Brainstorm short, silly responses that allow her to stand up for herself without further engaging the teaser. She also might try calling out the teaser (i.e. “Wow, that’s harsh!”). This shifts the attention to the teaser, letting his or her bad behavior hang in the air. Finally, help her use self-talk to cope (i.e. she can say to herself, “My body is just the way it is supposed to be,” or “This is a dumb game I don’t need to play.”).
Weight-based teasing is a serious issue. Empower your child by discussing ways she can help lessen teasing at school. Engaging parents, friends and teachers, and initiating programs to reduce teasing can help show her she can move from victim to problem-solver. This is a lesson that can last a lifetime.
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