What To Say When Your Child Questions His Weight
In a culture plagued with weight problems and thin idealism, it’s no wonder kids are asking their parents, “Do you think I’m fat?” According to a 2008 Canadian survey, 37% of ninth grade girls and 40% of tenth grade girls believed they were, in fact, too fat.
Many parents are blind-sided by this question and are stumped into silence or heading to Google, the doctor, or a friend for advice. According to Laura Lewis, a psychotherapist and eating disorder specialist in Nashville, TN, the timing of this question is an important factor in deciding how to respond. “If this is the first time this question has come up, tell them they look fantastic, and make sure to stay away from using words like ‘big’ or ‘small’, ‘thin’ or ‘heavy’,” states Lewis. If this is not the first time the question has been asked, then this is a real concern that needs your time and attention. “Sit down with your child and have a conversation, beginning with, “you have asked me this question a couple of times—what’s this about?” she advises.
Lewis states that kids get these questions from a variety of influences, including their own parents, peers, and the media. Coming up with a thoughtful and meaningful response depends upon the influence your child is concerned about.
The Parent: Without even knowing it, parents pass on their own body image and weight concerns to their children. “If you find yourself asking, “Do I look good?” or “Do I look fat in these jeans?” to your hubby or other family members, you may want to temper those questions in front of the kids,” says Lewis.
The Peers: Children surround themselves with their friends and find themselves in situations where body comparisons come naturally, such as the gym and the locker room. Particularly during pre-adolescence, the child has a developmental urge to find out if they are normal. “Answering the question, “Am I normal?” is developmentally on target and relies, in part, on looking at others and comparing oneself with others,” states Lewis.
The Media: The ‘thin is in’ ideal makes its mark on children, too. And when you combine media power with a general desire to fit in, it’s easy to see how questions about self-worth and inadequacy can surface.
So what can parents do?
Most importantly, your child needs to hear you accept and love them regardless of what they look like. Period.
Here are some other things Lewis encourages parents to keep in mind:
Respect and Honor your own body. No matter what the size or shape it is—it is your body after all–and the body that produced your child, and takes you where you want to go.
Tolerate normal child growth. Pre-pubescent girls and boys gain weight in preparation for the rapid growth of the teen years and this is a normal process.
Focus on your child’s inner qualities. Begin pointing out inner qualities as early as possible to help build self-esteem and worthiness.
Limit media influences. Think twice about buying that fashion magazine for your 11 year old and be sure to scrutinize the TV shows your child is watching.
Attitude is everything! Everybody has value, no matter what it looks like.
When your child asks, “Do you think I’m fat?” she is asking you to discuss your values and ideals about body weight, shape and size. He is also giving you the option to debunk media messages, thin idealism, show your acceptance and assure love. Seems like a golden opportunity to me.