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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Careless Whisper

My five year old whispered in my ear with her tiny voice quivering that an adult told

her a few weeks ago that she was fat! It breaks my heart to think my beautiful

daughter was thinking this was true for weeks. It is the first time she ever really

doubted her self-worth and self-image. I have a few choice words for the horrible

person who would take that away from an innocent child and undermine my desire to

nurture a strong, beautiful, confident girl.

A friend recently shared the above story about her daughter, and I can’t get it out of

my mind. Partly because I can’t imagine what kind of person would deliver such a

hurtful comment in such a thoughtless manner, and partly because a good number

of us have similar stories from what we experienced, either growing up or even as


As parents, we work so hard to help your kids understand self-image, and to be

proud of who they are. We strive to help our kids win their struggle with concepts

(and misconceptions) of self-worth and self-confidence. This is part of their arsenal

against negative peer pressure and bullying. This our job as parents, right? And

then, in one careless comment, another adult can undo our and our child’s hard

work with a few (what they think) casual comments about my child’s body image or

skill level or capabilities. And what do we do?

Let’s think first about our child.

Our child is now hurting. Who knows how long they have been sitting on this

horrible story, bogged down by the pain this hurtful comments have caused. It

doesn’t have to be about weight; these comments might be about classroom

abilities, athleticism, or any other characteristic. This child has had the proverbial

carpet pulled out from under them. They are reeling, regardless if this happened

this afternoon or three weeks ago. We need to help them to understand that

thoughtless people exist, and while the hurt they feel is very real, the quality they

are now question has not changed. They are still whole, they are still valuable, and

they still matter. Weight is just one characteristic of a person; it does not define

who you are. Weight will fluctuate, weight is not static, especially for young kids.

Want to give kids something healthy to focus on? Encouraging them to focus on

developing healthy habits and a healthy body image will help any child grow into a

strong and confident adult.

This is a big deal, folks. Kids who have poor self-images and who feel bad about

their body size are at a much higher risk for developing body image disorders. They

become more susceptible to bullying, to negative peer pressure and to developing

bad habits like smoking and drinking. Weight can become a control issue, playing a

role in eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. A parents’ job is to build their kids

up, first with constant interaction and modeling, then stepping back to keep within

arm’s reach (training wheels, if you’d like), and finally letting go and letting our kids

take off on their own, sailing high in their own right. How do we go from point A

(infants relying wholly on us for their everything) to Point B (the self confident

independent person who can take a failure, learn from it, readjust and grow)? That,

my friends, is the million dollar question, right? I surely don’t have all of the

answers, but I do try with all of my various ramblings to try to point out some ideas

and suggestions to try. Just like our kids, we have to try and try and sometimes fail,

but learn from our mistakes, grow and keep trying. There may be thousands of

parenting books out there but there is not one method/idea/philosophy that can

work for all kids. And because of that, we end up with adults who say callous,

careless, thoughtless things to children.

So, speaking of that adult.

(I am, by the way, focusing on this comment coming from an adult because, as

adults, we should know better and we should be more mindful of our comments and

how they might be misinterpreted. Kids, I know, can and do make such comments

rather reguarly. That is for a different discussion.) As I have said before, I honestly

don’t feel it is a parent’s place to fight battles for their kids. I strongly believe that

this is a skill kids need to develop for themselves; they need to be able to say their

feelings, and stick up for themselves. They need to learn how to use words to

properly defend themselves; there is no need for name-calling. Saying ‘That is not

okay. You hurt my feelings.” And “I don’t like what you are doing. Please stop.” And

if that doesn’t work to walk away. No need for violence. Taking the higher road, as

it were. Sometimes, though, it is time for one adult to remind another of proper

etiquette, good communication skills, and how there is a time and a place for

everything. And comments about another’s size – especially a child’s – is not a

behavior that should be encouraged. Sometimes big people need to remind other

big people about how big people should be acting, and also to remind that them

what they say, do and act like should be a good example for all of those little people

running around.

You know, I have to admit, my first inclination was to ask my friend who this person

was, and to go and tell them how callous and shallow I think they are, what a

horrible person they are, and to just be angry. Shame, really it’s not really my place.

While I think that would probably have been quite satisfying, I don’t think that

would have been nearly as effective of a lesson to both this big person as well as the

little people who might potentially see the interaction: the higher road wins again.

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