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Raising Largely 
Positive Kids

By Carol Johnson, M.A.

 

From Radiance Fall 1999

 

The following guide sheet was developed by Carol Johnson, founder of Largely Positive, an organization for people of size based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

DO:

Do love and accept your children unconditionally. This will help them to love and accept themselves. Remember—you love your children not for how they look but for who they are.

Do treat size and weight as characteristics that contribute to their uniqueness. Teach kids that diversity is what makes the world so interesting. Nature provides many examples. Flowers, for instance, come in all shapes, colors, and sizes—and yet all are beautiful.

Do examine your own biases, and ask yourself whether your concern is for yourself or your child. A large child may make some parents feel embarrassed, and some may feel that having an "overweight" child signifies a family’s lack of self-discipline. As with most forms of prejudice, these feelings stem from myths and misinformation.

Do educate yourself about what causes some people to be larger than others so you can separate myths from facts for your children. Books that will help you do this are my own book Self-Esteem Comes in All Sizes (Doubleday, 1996) and Big Fat Lies by Glenn Gaesser (Fawcett Columbine, 1998). Then educate your children. Have a discussion about heredity. Explain that body size is an inherited characteristic much the same as hair color and eye color.

Do emphasize your children’s positive attributes and talents, and teach them that these are the things that count. Help them to develop the things they’re good at.

Do make an extra effort to help them find clothes similar to what their friends are wearing. It’s important at this age to "blend in." J.C. Penney has a catalog called Big Kids. Call 800-222-6161 and ask for a copy.

Do arm your children with information that will help them to deal with the outside world and our culture’s obsession with thinness. Tell them that many groups of people have suffered discrimination and prejudice, and that large people are one of these groups. Help them plan how they would react to negative comments about their weight. Do some role-playing.

Do make your home and family a safe haven for your children, where they can always count on your support and encouragement. They’ll have enough to deal with outside the home in our fatphobic society.

Do be a good role model. Don’t criticize your own body. You’re the most important person in your children’s lives. If they see that you like your own body, they’’ll find it easier to like theirs. Consider reading Like Mother, Like Daughter by Deborah Waterhouse (Hyperion, 1997), who writes extensively about the influence mothers have over their daughters with regard to body image.

Do provide examples of attractive and successful large people, both current and historical. Also, give your kids an anthropology lesson, and inform them that many other cultures value and desire bodies of ample proportions. Check out Radiance magazine’s current and past issues pertaining to children and weight. Visit their web site (click on "kids project") for essays, articles, resources, and information for kids of all ages and those that love and work with them.

Do help your large child to unravel the "thin-is-in" media hype. There are about four hundred top fashion models, and less than 1 percent of the female population has the genetic potential to look like them. Attractive people can come in assorted shapes, sizes, and colors.

DON’T:

Don’t ever say or imply that your child’s weight makes him or her less attractive or less acceptable in any way. This can cause lifelong damage to self-esteem. There is no connection between weight and worth, and you are responsible for helping your child realize this. And for heaven’s sake, don’t tell your child that she has "such a pretty face"—if only she’d lose weight. Shaming or teasing children about their weight or body will make them hate their bodies.

Don’t tell your child that no one will want to date them unless they’re thin. First of all, it’s not true. Plenty of plus-size girls have boyfriends. Tell your child that lasting affection looks beneath the surface and is not bound by narrow definitions of beauty.

Don’t ever put your child on a diet. Most dietitians now agree that this is not the way to help children manage their weight. In the long run, dieting will only make them fatter. Maintaining a stable weight has been shown through research to be safer than continual yo-yo dieting. Focus on helping your child develop a healthy way of life. Make physical activity a family affair: go for a family walk, buy family swimming passes to a community pool, have a family dance party, go biking together, or go fly a kite!

Don’t become the "food police." Continually nagging your child about what he or she is eating will surely backfire. Children can always find ways of getting forbidden foods. In the worst-case scenario, you could be contributing to the development of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia. Besides, foods should not be categorized as "good" and "bad." All food has a place in normal eating. This is the view of registered dietitian Ellyn Satter in her book How to Get Your Kid To Eat, But Not Too Much (Bull Publishing, 1987).

Despite all your child’s best efforts, he or she may never be thin. This is not the worst thing that could happen. Many heavy children become heavy adults—and still have satisfying, fulfilling lives. Researchers will tell you that there is still much to learn about obesity and what causes it, and that there is no permanent cure for most people. Teach your children that a rich, rewarding life has nothing to do with their weight—and everything to do with their own attitude and self-image.

 

CAROL JOHNSON can be reached at Largely Positive, Inc., P.O. Box 17223, Glendale, WI 53217. E-mail Carol at positive@execpc.com


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