Dear parents of an overweight child,
How many times have you said something a little unkind to your child about their weight because you felt it would benefit them in the future? How many times have you tried to get them to lose weight because you thought they'd be better off if they were skinnier?
Have you ever wondered if your comments and suggestions could negatively impact your child’s self-esteem as they grow up? I get a lot of emails from adults who have been struggling with food related issues since childhood and who still find it incredible challenging to deal with parents who feel the need to constantly comment on how they look and what they eat. It doesn't matter how old we get, we all seek approval from our parents which is why it's so important for parents to show less judgement and more support through all the stages of our lives.
Being physically fit is only part of what makes an overall healthy human being and the last thing you want to do is help your child physically, while damaging them emotionally and psychologically. Confused about what to say and not to say?
Here are a few sentences that should be immediately and permanently deleted from your vocabulary, as well as some insight into what you say versus what they hear:
1. "You're so pretty, imagine how beautiful you'd be if you just lost weight."
(So basically what you're saying is that my beauty is directly related to my weight and I should only value myself as a worthwhile human being if I'm at a weight that others find acceptable and in doing so will always seek validation from any jerk with an opinion, solicited or unsolicited.)
2. "Give the cookie to your brother. He can afford the calories"
(Kevin's thinner than I am, which means he is probably also more self-disciplined and able to control his appetite in a way that I obviously cannot. If I want something crunchy, I'd better stick to celery sticks until I've been a good girl and earned my cookie)
3. "Have you seen Sheila's daughter recently? She had a terrible flu, was sick for weeks and lost 20 pounds! She looks FABULOUS!"
(Damn this healthy immune system of mine! What's the point of being healthy if I'm not thin enough to enjoy it? Bring on the bacteria, no more hand washing for me. It's flu time!)
4. "Would you rather have that doughnut or a boyfriend/girlfriend?"
(I'd rather you not think that my purpose in this world is to make you a mother-in-law/grandmother and to believe that maybe, just maybe, the person I would want to share my life with would care more about the kind of person I am than the size of the jeans I wear. I'll take that doughnut, please.)
5. "I'm only telling you this because people can be mean to fat people."
(REALLY? You don't say. Well, it's a good thing I don't know any of "those people" personally or it would really be hurtful!)
6. "Don't you want a flat tummy like your friend Amy?"
(I'd love a flat tummy like Amy and maybe longer hair like Gretchen and a smaller butt like Joanne. But I'm not Amy or Gretchen or Joanne and I can either waste my life away complaining about not being like them or find ways to become the best ME that I can be. Hey, for all I know they could envy my ample bosom, dark green eyes or killer smile!)
7. “It’s Just not healthy to be fat”
(It's not healthy to assume that your opinion of how my body should look and what it should weigh is any more valid than my own. I can't lose weight in order to like myself, I need to like myself in order to lose weight and the only way that will happen is if you can stop waiting for me to become who you want me to be and start appreciating and even celebrating who I already am.)
Parents, please note that I really do understand that the words you say are said with love and without malice and that you really only want what's best for your children. However, even the most well-meaning advice from a parent can feel like a cruel and shaming insult to a child if they're not careful.
If we want our children to grow up with the self-confidence and self-respect they'll need to make healthy choices and good decisions throughout their lives, we need to teach them that they're worth it. As parents, our job is to not only love our kids unconditionally, but to teach our kids how to love themselves the same way.