Weight-Related Bullying – Tips Parents Should Know

Bullying continues to be an unsettling epidemic that’s most apparent in our children’s schools. There are many forms of this negative behavior, but weight is one of the top reasons why some kids get “teased,” a CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist says.

“This behavior could lead to eating disorders, such as anorexia or binge eating,” Mery Taylor, PhD explains. “Victims of weight bullying may also develop other mental or health issues, such as anxiety, depression or social isolation.”

Although bullying can occur with kids of any weight, overweight children tend to be at higher risk for bullying. This can lead to a number of consequences, including a negative body image, she says.

In recognition of National Bullying Prevention Month, we spoke to Dr. Taylor about ways parents can tackle this issue with their kids.

Dr. Taylor suggests this three-step approach when dealing with weight-related bullying:

1)      Assure your child that he is loved. Your child may be feeling unaccepted, unwanted and alone. Remind your child how much you love him and how special he is. Point out the people around him who love him and who value all the positive things about him. Focus on the positives in your child’s life.

2)      Listen. Sometimes parents want to immediately problem solve. Before any actions are taken, try to connect to your child’s emotions first. Ask your child to tell you in his own words what the issue is. Find out if this is an isolated case, or if it’s a pattern.

3)      Ask your child: How do you want to handle this? Although you may already have a plan of action in mind, ask your child what he feels comfortable with. This will help you execute your plan. If the bullying is a repeated pattern, you have even more ground to stand on and can take appropriate action. Contact the school and find out possible disciplinary action. If the problem persists, insist on having a meeting with the principal. Let the principal discuss the matter with the other family. It is rarely a good idea to confront the parents of the offending child.

Dr. Taylor also suggests looking out for changes in your child’s usual behavior, such as getting into fights, changes in sleep or appetite, acting withdrawn, angry or irritable. Sometimes the signs can be subtle, so it’s important to keep an open, honest dialogue with your child and regularly ask him about things going on at school.

Follows are additional tips to encourage a healthy body image:

  • Promote healthy eating and exercise habits and model this behavior. Depending on the case, this could be an opportunity to talk to your child about a healthier lifestyle.
  • Do not criticize your own body or others’ bodies.
  • Help your child boost his self-esteem by focusing on his talents and positive attributes.
  • Encourage your child to do the things he loves most. This could boost his confidence and help him redirect his focus.
  • Get educated on resources available for families and schools on body image and bullying.

Learn more about mental health services at CHOC.

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