Many believe that bully behaviors are confined to school yard taunts and teases. This is not always the case. Many children return home to face further humiliation especially if they happen to be overweight. Parents often have difficulty approaching their teenagers about any difficult subject, but weight issues appear to be particularly misunderstood.
Many parents “bully” their children and don’t even realize they are eroding their self esteem. Pet names of endearment that focus on body image are often internalized as criticisms. An affectionate parent may call their overweight child “chunky monkey”, “marshmallow man” or “butter ball”, but a distraught child will often perceive this clever name as a subtle insult.
Helpful hints such as diet more, eat less, eat only half, and avoid sweets appear to be helpful, yet overweight teens resent these types of suggestions. These common knowledge comments are too general and tend to drive teens away from the trusted adults in their life. Not knowing who to talk to, many will retreat to the privacy and stress free environment of their bedroom to indulge in hidden snacks.
If your child or teen is overweight, the first thing to do is seek professional help. Discuss with your pediatrician if a medical concern could be the cause of excessive weight gain. After physical problems have been ruled out, seek the assistance of a therapeutic professional. Kids often eat in response to some type of stressor. If the issue can be identified, better coping strategies can be taught.
Consider that you may not be modeling good eating habits. At dinner time, parents should cook healthy well balanced meals. Instead of allowing family members to serve themselves, make plates with sensible portions. If mom and dad load up on extra calories, children will follow.
Plan fun and active family outings that everyone will enjoy. Overweight kids often have negative attitudes toward exercise because their weight may make it difficult to participate. PE class and sports are avoided because obese teens fear peer perceptions and bully comments. Parents should engage kids in lively activities that encourage movement and promote coordination. Take a family bike ride in the park, throw a ball in the backyard, or learn to ice skate.
The most effective way to help overweight children and teens is through family interventions and positive support. Scaring your kids into losing weight does more harm than good often causing angst ridden adolescents to become depressed, anxious, or eating disordered. Parents can’t control what happens at school, but you can create a positive, supportive environment at home.