“Look at your cute fat little tummy.”

“You’ve hit the puppy fat stage.”

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

They may seem innocent but even the most well-intentioned comments can have long-term negative consequences on our kids. Researchers from the UK’s Cornell University found a woman’s dissatisfaction with her adult weight is related to the extent her parents made comments about her weight. It’s something I know first hand.

The grim news is that research has shown children may begin to worry about weight and appearance as young as age three to five, and that many kids express unhappiness about their bodies.

But while as a parent you can choose how you approach weight and body image with your children, it can feel like a touchy subject with family. Here are 5 things you can do.

1. Pre-empt things

If you were raised in a weight-centred household, firstly, I’m sorry, that sucks (you might also want to check out my blog post How your mum’s dieting might have messed with you). And secondly, it means you’ll likely encounter comments about weight from your family around your kids. Instead of waiting until something is said and making an example of it, which can seem like an attack, you could consider a proactive conversation. It could cover how you’re raising your kids and what language you’d be appreciative of your family using. Chances are they don’t even realise what they’re saying can be harmful.

2. Recruit them

There’s nothing to be gained by a ‘he said’, ‘she said’, so by asking for this mindfulness you can recruit them to be allies, rather than critique what they have done. It’s nice to be on the same team.

Find your own words but you could try something like “Hey ___, We’d love to raise our kids with a positive body image. Can you please support us by not commenting on their weight, bodies or food intake? And can you also please not comment on your weight or other people’s bodies around them? That would be so appreciated”.

Make a pre-emptive strike and get them onside early. Image: Unsplash

3. Be gentle

And realistic. This won’t be a one-and-done conversation. From my experience, I’ve needed to reiterate the message many times before change has happened (if your parents comment on your weight and make you feel bad, this blog post might help). Be kind. Remember it’s easy to slip into old habits, so be prepared to gently remind them as many times as needed. 

4. Consider the circle of influence

Remember, you can’t control everything. There are going to be times when bad body talk shows up in your child’s life, whether it’s through the conversations they hear, books they read or TV shows they watch (also apparently Peppa Pig can be a bit body shamey, so I’d suggest watching episodes together, or choosing a more inclusive show altogether). After I had my son Leo, my gorgeous nephew told me, “you’re fat”, a harmless comment, which I used to explain that I’d actually just grown a baby in my body. Our bodies are allowed to change, I explained.

How brilliant are their tiny hands for craft? Image: Unsplash

5. Focus on function

Zoning in on what our bodies can do rather than what they look like is a really nice lesson for kids. Whether it’s how strong their arms are, how fast their legs can run, how deep their lungs can breathe, how clever their brain is, all these things can help build a positive body image.

6. Model healthy eating

Whether you’ve got a toddler or a teenager, creating healthy food habits starts at home. Sit down for regular family meals where you can, serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks, be a role model through your own relationship with food, avoid battles or loaded language around food and involve kids where you can – whether that’s grocery shopping or cooking. My Back to Basics app has 500+ family-friendly recipes you’ll love.