Do’s and Don’ts for Talking to Children about Body Weight
By Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD
Negative comments and criticism about body sizes, shapes and weights are not harmless. They can and do lead toward unhealthy eating and exercise behaviors that in a susceptible child or teen can begin the path toward an eating disorder.
Although not all eating or weight issues can be prevented, some triggers and harmful beliefs can be avoided.
Ultimately the greatest gift adults can give children with regard to eating is a healthy relationship with food and with their own bodies. Even children who aren’t prone to develop an eating disorder can benefit from an accepting environment. We all have a part to play in creating that environment and in countering negative messages from other sources.
Guidelines for Talking to Kids About Weight and Body Image
Concerned adults can use the following guidelines when communicating with children and teens to convey healthy, realistic ideas about weight and body image.
DON’T comment on the weight, size, shape or eating of others.
DO demonstrate through your actions an acceptance of a variety of weights, shapes and eating styles.
DON’T make judgmental comments (even ones you consider positive or supportive) to children about their weight or size.
DO simply demonstrate unconditional positive regard and acceptance.
DON’T give dieting advice to children.
DO encourage attention to internal hunger and fullness cues, as well as attention and acceptance of a wide variety of emotions.
DON’T talk about your own weight issues in front of children. EVER.
DO address your own eating issues with a professional in order to set a good example.
DON’T weigh children in a public setting.
DO teach that weight is one of many vital signs that are monitored throughout life; it doesn’t determine your health.
DON’T equate thinness with happiness or weight loss with confidence.
DO convey that your weight and what you eat do not make you good or bad and that happiness and confidence are unrelated to body size.
DON’T ignore weight loss. It is never normal for a child or teen to lose weight, even if that child was overweight at first. Overweight teens are at the HIGHEST risk for developing an eating disorder.
DO reach out for support and seek professional help for a child or teen who is losing weight.