Improving body image – how to talk to kids about their weight.

My kid says “I’m fat” how do I respond?

Well, first up, do not feel like you need to rush out and fix their concerns with ‘going on a diet‘ or ‘joining the gym‘. These, although well intentioned, will just fuel their body dis-satisfaction and it won’t matter how thin they get they will still be unhappy. Their body does not need fixing! What needs to be addressed is their response to diet culture and coping with outside pressures to fit the thin ideal. With this in mind, instead, try and respond with empathy and connection. Acknowledge how hard it is to exist in this diet culture, where we get lots of messages about how we should look and lots of negative talk about being fat. Then offer her tools on how to navigate this culture we live in. If you’re talking to a teen who is able to think more critically, try and ask open ended questions, what do you think, why do you feel that way, why do you think this person said that? My teen was worried about her weight gain during puberty, I told her that if I weighed 37kg, like she did, I would probably be dead! And I absolutely expected her to gain another 10 kgs in the next year. Below are some suggestions of what you could say to your teen or kid. the main idea is to be empathetic, acknowledge what they are saying and connect with them. Avoid brushing off their concerns, “oh don’t worry about that.” or “you’re not fat”.

  • “What makes you say that?”
  • “You have a strong, useful body.”
  • “Your body is here as a vehicle to get you through the world.”
  • “It’s normal to gain weight when we grow. And it’s healthy for us to get more fat on our body.”
  • “You are more than just how you look.”
  • “Your body is different to other peoples body’s. Our differences are what make us unique.”
  • “Girls/women are not put on this planet to be beautiful to men (or others)”
  • “Your body is amazing. Think about how well you can do, *insert activity here*”
  • “It’s normal for bodies to grow and change. “
  • “It’s normal for bodies to grow and change, imagine how life would be if you were the same size as when you were 2?!”
  • “It’s normal to gain weight as you get older.”
  • “Our bodies change a lot when we are kids, even more when we are teens. But it doesn’t stop there. Our bodies keep changing even when we are grown ups. Think about the size of a baby and think about grandma. Grandma used to look like a baby, think about how much her body has changed!”
  • “It doesn’t feel nice when people make comments about our body.”
  • “There’s nothing wrong with being fat.”
  • “Everyone comes in different sizes and shapes.”
  • “Kids and teens grow at different times and different ages. Some kids start puberty at 8 and others don’t start until they are 14.”
  • “Genetics plays a huge role in what body size we have.”
  • “Think about your ancestors, grandma, aunts, uncles, parents…. you are here because of your ancestors and you will look like them because of genetics. This is something to be proud of.”
  • “Just because someone says something, doesn’t make it fact. You can choose what is true about you, or not.”
  • “Only you get to decide what words describe you.”
  • “What do you think about the word fat?”
  • “How can I support you?”
  • “It must be really hard having a bigger body. There is so much pressure for us to look thin.”
  • “Just because thin is considered healthy and beautiful doesn’t make it true or fact. People used to believe that the world was flat – doesn’t make it true!”
  • “Size diversity is a thing! People come in all different shapes, sizes and colours!”
  • “You can’t change your height, or your eye colour. What makes you think you can change your body size?”

What do I say in response to negative self or body talk?

Negative self talk can be really harmful. Even if they are just saying it as a joke, it can still be harmful. Body image is not just about believing you look beautiful, it’s tied into body confidence and self worth. Avoid making comments about your kids body, research shows that kids and teens self esteem drops significantly when faced with jokes or comments about their body or about someone else’s. Research also shows that nearly half of girls report that seeing thin models makes them want to be thin and eat less, exercise more, in order to look like that.

As parents there are things that we can do that will help our kids have a good body image. Modelling self compassion is a powerful way to demonstrate kindness to ourselves and show our kids how to respond when they feel bad about themselves or make a mistake. Self compassion is a powerful tool for preventing disordered eating and for coping with disappointments. Celebrate size diversity and encourage your kids to do the same. Realise that bodies come in different shapes and sizes and that’s AMAZING. Show your kids that all bodies can be admired. When you talk about your body and others’, focus on what they can do. Avoid talking negatively about your body and your shape and food that you eat.

  • “You are amazing just as you are.”
  • “Everyone is different.”
  • “Do you find it helpful to compare yourself to others’?”
  • “It’s ok to make mistakes.”
  • “Nobody is perfect.”
  • “You don’t have to try to be perfect. “
  • “You are fabulous.”
  • “Every body has lessons to learn.”
  • “All bodies are good bodies.”
  • “I love you no matter what.”
  • “Wow, that lady is so strong, look at how she is running.”
  • “I love that outfit, it looks incredible.”
  • “You look so vibrant and bright today.”
  • “I like my body.”
  • “There is nothing I would change.”
  • “I feel fabulous.”
  • “I love your look.”
  • “The size of your body has nothing to do with your value as a person.”
  • “I love your smile.”

Improving exercise and nutrition

Encourage your kids to play sport or do an activity that is fun and encourages improving skills rather than how you look (working out to get abs or lose weight). If your kid loves a weight centric sport (gymnastics, dancing) then check out schools, coaches and teachers that will not put pressure on your child to body conform (lose weight, be small). Encourage kids to get their self worth from their skills, talents, the way they treat others and the things that they do to contribute to their family and community, rather than how they look.

If your kid needs to improve their health with increasing activity, then take a family approach. Instead of saying to your kid you need to exercise and eat better, say “I’d love to go for a tramp/ walk along the beach/play at the park/rock climbing/swimming, let’s make it a regular thing and go together”. If your kid needs to improve their diet, remember the Division of Responsibility and buy more of the foods that you want them to be eating and offer them to your kid and yourself. Make it a family based intervention and avoid restricting or talking about good and bad foods.

Want individualised advice to suit you and your family? Click on the contact page, in the top right hand corner and send me a message. I have a range of services to meet your needs.

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