Written by Sadie Wirthlin
Parents with an overweight child can sometimes run into a difficult situation: there may be a strong desire to help the child lose weight and be healthy, but saying something could negatively affect the child’s self-confidence. The question is, as a parent, is it better to say something about your child’s weight or to keep quiet? Recent studies provide some additional insights for these sensitive situations.
A new study published in the journal of Eating and Weight Disorders states that when it comes to a child’s weight, it is best for parents not to comment. These comments may seem harmless, but they can stick with a child and uphold negative stereotypes on which a child may base their ideas of weight. Repercussions to such stereotypes can last for years and could be as serious as unhealthy dieting, binge eating and other eating disorders.
A survey done on over 500 women in their 20s and 30s showed that those whose parents made comments about their weight when they were younger were still dissatisfied with their current body weight.
Women in the study who weren’t even considered overweight were still dissatisfied with their body image and wanted to lose 10 or 20 pounds. This shows the impact a parent’s comment can have—especially on girls—and how internalized it can become. Dr. Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, stated that whether the parent’s comments are said once or multiple times, the lasting negative recollection and impression is the same.
Other studies have shown that a parent’s criticism towards a child’s or teenager’s weight can increase the risk of obesity and depression. But it’s not just family members who can leave such an impact. The world today is promoting that a thinner body image increases a person’s value, and with the help of social media, this standard of appearance is all children see! Combining a parent’s negative comments and the media’s fictional portrayal of an attractive weight can skew a child’s perception of themselves and their personal value.
So if parents shouldn’t speak up, what are they to do? How can we prevent our children from becoming overweight and still help them feel good about themselves? According to Dr. Neumark-Sztainer, author of I’m, Like, SO Fat, situations like this are all about talking less and doing more. Parents can actually have a significant influence on a child’s eating habits without even talking about them. This is done by “mak[ing] your home a place where it’s easy to make healthy eating and physical activity choices.”
Parents can stock up on healthy food and avoid buying soda or candy. Make family dinner a priority and promote physical activity by going on walks and bike rides together. Parents should also avoid criticizing their own weight. If your child is overweight, let them come to you when they’re ready and be sure to show your love and support.
Source: Parents Should Avoid Comments on a Child’s Weight. Roni Caryn Rabin. June 16, 2016. Well.blogs.nytimes.com