It’s the moment every parent dreads. You’re getting ready for a fun day at the beach or afternoon at the pool ... putting on sunscreen, hats and, of course, bathing suits ... when out of your child’s mouth comes that awful phrase, “I look fat.”
Whether your child is four or fourteen, boy or girl, whether you’ve heard this sentence too many times to count or it just came out of nowhere, more than likely you are at a loss for words.
It's difficult enough to come up with something to say when an adult friend utters the phrase while shopping, let alone figuring out what on earth is the best thing to say to your child. To help with this tricky situation, we spoke with Deborah Gilboa, board certified family physician of AskDoctorG.com, who offered tips on this difficult topic.
So what should a parent do when they hear the "F" word? First, says Dr. G, parents need to stay calm, avoiding any type of overly emotional reaction, and ask the child “What makes you say so?”
She also warns parents to avoid saying “No, you don’t” to their child. Though this is often what first comes to a parent’s mind, children will only interpret this as “don’t say that,” and will continue to feel the same way.
Rather, by using “neutral questions,” parents can determine the root of the issue, as well as let their child know that “they have a safe space to express their worries.”
Understanding why the child feels bad about how they look is key to remedying the situation. “If they stop saying it, but don’t stop feeling it,” Dr. G warns, “the situation only gets worse.”
So what should a parent do if a child refuses to wear his or her bathing suit? If there are posted rules about wearing bathing suits in the water (and not shirts & shorts), Dr. G tells parents "then it is important to follow that rule in order to teach the child respect for rules." However, without any explicitly stated rules, "it is a better idea to let the child guide their own sense of privacy and wear what makes them comfortable," says Dr. G.
To help avoid this sticky situation all together, there are plenty of things parents can do to help their child feel more comfortable in her/his own body. First, suggests Dr G, parents can focus on “finding TV shows, Internet sites, magazines that have kids doing good things, with whom your child can readily identify will help their own self-image.”
The next step for parents is to be careful about what they say about themselves around their child. If dad or mom is consistently discussing his or her own body in a negative manner, it is very likely that their children will also pick up the same habits.
Focusing on and encouraging healthy choices are key to promoting positive self-image, says Dr. G. Finally, parents must be patient and realize that “we cannot change how a child feels, especially quickly or because we tell them to feel differently.” However, promoting healthy habits and positive self-image will in the long run enable the child to feel comfortable in his or her own skin.