Q. Ours is an overweight family: My husband, kids (girls ages 9 and 14), and I all are between 15 and 40 pounds overweight. I know we're not as active as we can be, and I'm taking steps to get us moving as a family.
My girls, though, have terrible body images. They call themselves and each other fat, and I know it's affected their friendships at school. I know how cruel kids can be, and I can't help but feel I've contributed to getting them into this situation. Is there something that I can or should be saying to my girls to make them feel better about themselves?
A. Tackle this situation from three angles.
First, make a rule that it's not okay to call people -- or even yourself -- fat, and then create a meaningful consequence when one of your daughters does so. A quarter deducted from allowance is usually enough to break such a habit. It's important to explain that any form of name calling is hurtful and unkind. Go on to say that you can't allow one daughter you love to say hurtful words to another daughter you love or to herself.
Second, when one daughter compliments her sister or herself, add 25 cents to her weekly allowance. You're not bribing your daughters; you're offering an incentive to help them learn to compliment rather than criticize each other. Have fun with this process of turning hurtful unkind language into loving supportive interactions. You might need to create a chart for each daughter in order to keep track of the quarters won and lost.
Third, introduce to your daughters better ways to describe their bodies. Give them a realistic view of themselves by accentuating the positive rather than focusing on any negative attributes.
Don't discount appearance; it's especially important to tweens and teens trying to discover who they really are. Just help your daughters keep it in perspective while laying claim to what they can and can't change and focusing on their positive physical attributes.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, October 2006.
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