Your daughter makes a comment about her weight during a casual conversation and then looks to you for reassurance. Should you acknowledge it or ignore it; correct it or agree with it? New research suggests what most of us have known for a long time; that parents should not discuss weight with their daughters.
Investigators from the Cornell Food & Brand Lab found that the less a parent comments on weight to their daughter, the less likely she is to be dissatisfied with her weight as an adult. According to the study, both overweight and women of a healthy weight, who did recall their parents commenting on their weight as youths were less satisfied with their weights as adults. Researchers believe this indicates that weight-related comments can be damaging to body image regardless of individual weight.
All of this seems like common sense. However, many girls grow up being concerned about their body image and weight. According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 40%- 60% of elementary school girls (aged 6 to 12) are concerned about becoming too fat or gaining weight.
So what's a parent to do?
First off, we can't ignore their comments. Parents are a child's best source of information, so if your daughter is expressing concern about her weight, it is imperative that you pay attention. It's how parents address it and the type of attention they give that really matters. The following tips can help guide parents about issues related to weight and body image with their girls:
1. Walk the talk
The most important thing is being a role model. Kids will follow more what their parents do, rather than what they say. If you want your daughter to focus less on her body and more on how she feels, then parents need to set a good example. Role-modeling a positive body image is no different from role modeling kindness or honesty.
2. Shift the focus from how your child looks to how they feel
When they make a statement about how they look, reframe it and ask a question about how they feel.
3. Watch your words
Weight-related labels bother all of us, and kids are no exception. Avoid words like obesity, overweight, fat, skinny, thin, etc. Instead, talk about health and say things like "being healthy is important," and "let's talk about how being healthy makes you feel good."
4. Avoid long, drawn-out conversations and keep lines of communication open
If your daughter comes to you and asks "am I fat?" avoid having a long discussion about it. Remain calm while listening and answer with compassion and empathy. Interactions like this make it more likely that she'll feel comfortable talking to you about this very sensitive topic in the future.
5. Give them choices
Experts recommend nudging healthy choices and behaviours by giving your children freedom to choose for themselves and by making the healthier choices more appealing and convenient.
Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page, FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna. Follow Sara on twitter.