A person’s weight is a reflection of the force of Earth’s gravitational pull on their body. It’s not a reflection of their moral character, or how much attention they do or don’t pay to their health, or their worthiness as a person. People come in all shapes and sizes, babies and kids included, and their bodies have all sorts of reasons for why they end up weighing what they do. That’s something we all have to learn and help our kids understand, which is why I have a few rules for talking to my kid about their weight.
It’s my job as a mom to raise kids who can eventually take care of themselves, which includes making choices that help maintain their physical and mental health. They’ll need to know what their bodies need to feel their best (how much rest they need, the kinds and amount of movement that makes them happiest, the foods that leave them feeling satisfied and energized, and so much more) so when I talk to them about food and exercise, that's what I want them to pay attention to.
That’s also why we don’t talk very much about how much they weigh. We make a note of changes in their weight when they go to the doctor, because it’s definitely cool to see how much they’ve grown between visits, and sometimes it’s useful to know if they’re still small enough to go on certain rides or use certain toys, or if they’re almost big enough to move onto bigger ones. There is no magic number on a scale that can guarantee they will feel good, and trying to pursue such a number without paying attention to more important information (like how their minds and bodies feel and function) could do real damage to their health and well-being.
Ultimately, that’s the goal of body-positive parenting: raising kids who actually know how to take care of themselves rather than becoming obsessed with superficial information like weight and appearance, and who can accept themselves and others for who they are rather than what they look like. That’s why, when I talk to my kids (or anyone else’s) about weight, I keep the following rules in mind, and hope anyone else who talks to them about their weight will, too.
Ask Yourself Why You’re About To Comment On It At All
Unless you're their pediatrician, there really aren't a whole lot of reasons to be talking to a kid about their weight. So before commenting, ask yourself, "Why?" Are you about to take them on a ride or something that has a strict weight limit? Then just ask how much they weigh, without expressing an opinion about the number they respond with. (Unless of course they come back with something like, “I weigh as much as an elephant!” cause they’re little and have no idea how much they weigh.)
If You’re Not A Doctor, Just Don't Talk To A Kid About Their Weight
If you’re not their doctor or parent, you probably don’t have enough information to have any kind of informed opinion on their health, or about what their weight means in the context of their overall health. So, unless you’re wondering whether the child in question is allowed and/or able to play in a bouncy house or something, you probably should just keep your weight-related comments and questions to yourself.
If You Are A Doctor, Offer Context
If you are my kids' doctor, please give them some context around their weight. You’re in a unique position to help them understand how all of the different tests and measurements they receive fit together to give a picture of their health and being healthy is the goal, not hitting a certain number. Please use check-ups as educational opportunities rather than opportunities to flatter or shame a child for weighing what they do.
If You’re Concerned About Their Health, Talk To Me First
Remember: we can’t tell how healthy or unhealthy a person is, or why, by looking at them or knowing how much they weigh. Moreover, my kids are kids, so they’re not solely responsible for their care and keeping yet. That means it’s not appropriate to talk to them about anything to do with their health without talking to me about it first. You probably don't know enough to tell them anything useful, you might give them information they’re not able to understand or put into practice, and you’re probably just going confuse them or make them feel bad. Give me the opportunity to set things straight before you create a problem I'm going to have to fix later.
Skip The Weight Talk And Just Model Healthy Habits
If you’re in my or any other child’s life often enough to have a legitimate interest in their health, always come to me with your concerns before talking to them. Once you’ve done that, if you want them to be their healthiest, eat and serve whole, nutritious foods when they eat with you. Ask if it’s OK to go on walks with them, or to show them how to play your favorite game or sport. Those are all ways you can promote their health, that have nothing to do with fixating on their weight.
Watch Your Praise, And Your Language
If you want to compliment my child or any child, prioritize compliments about their abilities or character over compliments about their appearance. If you’re going to compliment their appearance, too, there are lots of things you can compliment them on besides their weight or size, like their sense of style, how their smiles light up a room, and so on. Compliments about weight are basically as unwelcome as criticisms about it, because it suggests they should focus on their weight in order to keep getting that kind of praise. Also unwelcome are references to being over- or under-weight, which suggest there is one "right" weight to be, and that everything that isn’t that weight is a problem.
Don’t Use Weight As A Threat Or An Insult
If you’re ever in a position to help them choose what to eat or what to do for fun, don’t try to scare them out of one choice or another by suggesting it will have a negative impact on their weight. First of all, no single choice will have any impact on their weight. No one ever got “fat” from eating a single piece of candy or skipping a single workout, and no one’s ever been “too skinny” because they missed one weight-lifting session. Secondly, all bodies are good bodies, and weight doesn't define a person. Suggesting that they shouldn’t do something for fear of having a certain kind of body sends a clear and insulting message that a specific kind of body isn’t OK. Ask them about how they might feel after eating something or doing that activity, if you’re concerned they’re about to eat or do something that isn’t healthy for them.
Don’t Suggest Some Body Types Are Inherently Better Or Worse Than Others
This goes along with not using “fat” or other factual visual/weight descriptors as insults. If you use some body types as a threat, or praise some kinds of bodies and not others, you’re sending the message that there’s only a narrow way to have an acceptable body, and by extension, just one narrow way to be a worthwhile person. That’s not true, and I’d prefer that my kids not have to unlearn that. Help me out; either treat all body weights and shapes equally when you discuss them, or just don’t discuss them at all.