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Weight-based Teasing and Bullying in Children: How Parents Can Help

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Children with obesity have to deal with many challenges beyond pressures to lose weight. They may also be teased at school, often unmercifully, because of their body weight. Over time, this taunting can take an emotional toll, making them feel isolated, embarrassed and sad.

Some of these children eventually dread going to school, and are more likely to skip going to class. According to research, youth who are teased about their body weight are also likely to avoid physical activities at school, like gym class or sports. Often, the reason is that these are settings where they feel vulnerable to teasing.

In a jointly written policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and The Obesity Society offer guidance for pediatricians and other health care professionals about the negative consequences of such weight-based teasing and bullying.

How parents & children should respond to this type of bullying

  • Emphasize that no one deserves to be teased. Regardless of whether it is because of weight, skin color, or any other reasonbullying is never ok.

  • Tell an adult. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted teacher or coach at school.

  • Stay in a group. Help them to identify at least one other friend that they can be with when they walk the school hallways, sit in the cafeteria or take the bus.

  • As much as they possibly can, they should not react to the taunting. If the school bully sees them becoming anxious or even start to cry, the teasing may get worse. Encourage your child to maintain their composure, turn around and walk away.

  • Talk with your child's teacher about the bullying. They may be able to step in and put an end to it. If the teasing continues, ask the school principal or your child's school counselor to get involved. Your child may be embarrassed to have you talk to the principal, but you can't afford to let them be mistreated any further. Many schools now have anti-bullying policies, but weight-based teasing isn't always on the radar. It is generally better to let the teacher and principal handle the situation, rather than contacting the bully or the bully's parents yourself.

  • Convince your child to try bonding more closely with the friends that they do have at school. If they hang out with a group on the playground or in the lunch room, they are less likely to be singled out for mistreatment.

  • Don't forget about computers and phones. Weight-based bullying through social media is very hurtful. Monitor your child's social media activity and take seriously any cyberbullying against your child.

  • Find activities outside of school that your child can participate in, where they can develop a new friend group that may be less inclined to tease.

  • Spend time with your child and treat them as an important person. Help maintain your child's self-esteem by demonstrating respect and acceptance and telling them often, "I believe in you."

  • Reinforce your child's strengths and admirable qualities that have nothing to do with body weight.

When the bullying happens at home

When evaluating the teasing your child is experiencing, don't overlook what may be going on in your own home.

Sadly, some children are teased by their own siblings. Even some parents use negative comments about their child's weight, often with statements like, "I'm telling you what to do—why aren't you doing it?"

If this is happening in your home, you need to put a stop to it. Have a family discussion about it, and set some sensible ground rules for treating each other in more supportive and positive ways.

More information

Last Updated
Adapted from A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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