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When Your Child Is Concerned About Their Weight

Did you know your children may begin noticing the shapes and sizes of bodies as young as three years old? They may also equate thinness with the body and beauty ideals at an early age — something they already see in books and movies. Think about Disney princesses or Barbie dolls; these characters are thin, while the villains, like Ursula or the Queen of Hearts, are often overweight.

It goes beyond just noticing different types of bodies too. According to a 2015 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34 percent of girls are restricting their eating by age 5 for fear of being fat. Furthermore, research by Common Sense Media reveals that over half of 6-to-8-year-old girls and a third of boys in that same age range think they should weigh less.

Here are three tips to consider when your child is concerned about their weight.

1. Rethink your responses.

Fortunately, you have a huge influence on your children and can help them process and understand messages from the media and culture in general. To start, when you talk about how everybody looks different, mix in weight and body size with traits like skin color, eye color, and hair texture.

Additionally, steer clear of phrases that equate fat with being “bad.” For instance, if your child notices a larger body, you may impulsively want to respond with something like, “It’s not nice to say that!” Instead, share a positive response like, “Isn’t it cool how we all look different? Bodies come in all shapes and sizes!”

2. Limit conversations about weight in front of them, especially with their pediatrician.

While you may be well-intentioned, having weight-focused conversations in front of your child often does more harm than good. Research suggests that parents who encourage weight control often create body concerns for their children. Additionally, it’s not surprising that weight-based teasing leads to weight gain.

Instead, focus on being strong and healthy. Talk to them about listening to the hunger and fullness cues and eating the colors of the rainbow. Encourage them to play, to move their bodies in joyful and loving ways, and to create good sleeping habits.

It’s also important to note that physicians often have an implicit negative bias against weight. If necessary, set very clear boundaries when it comes to topics you discuss in front of your children and those you discuss behind closed doors. You can use the physician office’s online portal to connect with your doctor prior to your appointment.

3. Think about your own relationship with your body.

It’s not surprising that research suggests parents who model body-positive behaviors are more likely to raise body-positive kids. Try to have a relaxed attitude about healthy eating and show them that it’s okay to treat yourself. Let them see you enjoying physical activity, whether it’s squeezing in a quick yoga session while they do their homework or running around in the backyard with them after dinner. Most importantly, do not make negative, self-deprecating, or comparative comments about your own body or other's bodies.

Remember: It’s never too early to teach your kids the importance of self-love.

Loving their bodies just as they are helps them live happier and healthier lives.

Reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.

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