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
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.