Is This Normal?

Mommy, You're Fat

How to handle your child's "fat shaming"

Q: My 8-year-old daughter has started making comments about people’s weight. She points out “fat people” when we are in public and says to me that they eat too much. Then yesterday, she said I need to go on a diet and should be “skinny like other moms.” I could stand to lose 20 pounds, and when she said that it hurt my feelings. I totally snapped at her and told her that was an inappropriate way to talk to me. Actually I think my reaction was inappropriate. I feel like I need to help her not be so judgmental about other people. How do I do that?
— Portage Mom

A: It seems like this is a difficult situation with your daughter, not only because you are concerned about her hurting someone else’s feelings but also because she has hurt you.
A good place to start when dealing with this problem may be to have a non-confrontational conversation with your daughter about weight and body image. Through this discussion, explore with your daughter where this attention to weight began and where she is getting her messages about what healthy looks like. It may also be helpful through this discussion to explore if she has witnessed this behavior of identifying overweight people from others in the family or social group.
This would also be a good time to share with your daughter how you felt when she said that to you. Encourage her to think about how she might feel if someone made negative comments about the way she looks. Enhancing empathy may decrease her negative thoughts and comments about weight. It is important to also assist her in fostering a healthy self-esteem without comparing herself to others. If she is looking at others in a negative light to feel good about herself, it will be helpful to work on self-esteem building along with the empathy building. If you think she would benefit from self-esteem or empathy building, in addition to ongoing conversations with you, seeing a mental health professional may prove to be helpful.

Questions answered by Nichole Holliday, MA, LLPC, LLMFT, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Portage, and Alyssa Noonan, LLMSW, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Kalamazoo.

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