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If Your Child is Being Teased

Por Lic. Isabel C. Rodríguez R.* -

If your child is overweight or obese, he/she is at a higher risk of developing additional health problems in the future. Overweight or obese children are more likely to develop diabetes and have higher blood cholesterol levels than children who are not--all of this in addition to the negative attention from other children that their physical condition may attract

In addition to the impact that overweight or obesity has on an individual's physical well-being, there are other problems children may experience that often affect their mental health. One of those problems, often overlooked by health care professionals and parents, is teasing.  A recent study of 100 children, reported in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, found that those children who reported being teased or bullied because of their weight admitted to depression, anxiety, loneliness--and physical inactivity. Therefore, it is important that parents help their children address this problem, so that their mental health is not compromised.

Why do kids tease?

Kids tease overweight kids because their body image does not match what is considered to be the norm in their community. Overweight or obese kids tend to be clumsier when involved in physical activities and may tire more quickly than kids of a normal weight.

What should you do about it?

If your child is overweight, have a discussion with your pediatrician about it and devise a treatment plan that includes a plan for both dietary and psychological issues. The situation should become less tense as your child learns how to manage it. Here are some recommendations for when your child is going through treatment:

  • Give comments the importance they deserve. Comments made by other children can be hurtful, as can those made by you or any other family member or friend. When your child says someone has been teasing him/her, pay close attention. Reassure your child that comments like these are not important. Don’t go on and on about the teasing. He/she might be ready to forget about it, even if you find it hard to drop the subject
  • Create an atmosphere of confidence at home. When children are teased, they lose their confidence and their self-esteem. It is imperative that your child feels comfortable and safe at home.
  • Role-play with your child. Help your child come up with neutral and rational responses to kids who are teasing him/her. Be sure to teach them that is not OK to say something negative or condescending back to the other child. 
  • Treat your overweight child the same as you treat others. Avoid making comparisons with brothers and sisters or cousins. Give your child the same things to do. The idea of difference from other children should not be reinforced at home.
  • Focus on the positive. Concentrate on the things in which your child excels, and encourage him/her to develop those skills. If your daughter is not very good at ballet but sings better than most, take her to singing lessons and don’t miss a single concert!
  • Reward your child for achievements (but do not use food as a reward!). Acknowledge every bit of progress your child makes with the treatment. Progress is not only a matter of losing a specific number of pounds. Giving up bad eating habits or doing more physical activity are also great achievements. Try to use a fun family activity as a reward, such as going for a hike, going to the beach, or gathering friends to play a game in the yard.
  • Keep your child company when he/she exercises. If your child does exercises, he/she will lose weight faster, tire less easily and be more agile in daily activities. Overweight children don’t normally like to exercise, so they need a lot of encouragement from their parents. Choose an activity that is fun for everyone and organize family outings every weekend to somewhere you have to walk a lot or where your child can ride a bike. This might be more enticing than spending two hours playing baseball.
  • Be careful with family nicknames. Some parents, with all the affection in the world, call their children nicknames. Never call your child "chubby" or "muffin" or anything similar. Those kinds of nicknames only make your child even more aware of having a problem. They soon become labels that can be very difficult to remove.

If you follow the recommendations of your health care team and support your child, he/she will develop a better attitude about teasing. If, despite trying out all these recommendations, your child still does not make any improvements, you may want to consider seeking the advice of a psychologist.


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