My daughter has recently been teased at school about her weight. She is twelve, 5’5″, and weighs 145 pounds. She is by no means obese, but she is definitely “big-boned.” The particular people teasing her are kids who she thought were her friends! That is what baffles me! I do not want to talk to the parents because I feel like this will make it worse. What do I say to my daughter? I don’t want her to believe the other kids and develop an unhealthy image of herself. Please help!
Dear Worried Mom,
My heart goes out to your daughter. Her friends are not acting like friends. That betrayal is a deep cut and one that is likely to baffle her as much as it baffles you! In addition, she probably still considers these girls her friends, but their behavior puts her on emotionally shaky ground. To make matters even more confusing, they may actually be acting like real friends some of the time.
You bring up a common parenting dilemma: “When do we intervene when our children have issues with peers?” Whether it’s teasing, rumors, or being given the silent treatment, when our kids are hurting, it hurts us, too. Whether the harassment focuses on the child’s looks or athletic ability, or how closely he or she conforms to the way a boy or girl is “supposed” to be—or a dozen other things—all cruelty is unacceptable. You don’t need me to tell you that. You also don’t need me to tell you that your biological instinct as a mom is to protect your child. It’s natural that you want to intervene and stop the hurting. But how?
The first intervention is for you to counter-balance the teasing. In other words, make sure you let your daughter know there is so much that is right with her body. Labeling her as “big-boned” isn’t helpful. Many of us women do not have a positive body image, which can make it more challenging to help our daughters develop a positive body image. But it’s not impossible! It takes awareness of what you say to her about her body and what you say about your own. It also includes healthy eating and an active lifestyle, for you and for her. That will help your daughter feel better about herself. Will it stop the teasing? Probably not. But it won’t affect her as much. And, when children feel good about themselves, they are less likely to put up with teasing from so-called friends. When your daughter recognizes that these girls may not actually be the kind of friends she deserves, she will find better ones.
The second intervention, and one that will also help her build self-esteem, involves encouraging your daughter to stand up for herself. For example, she could tell her friends, “I don’t like it when you tease me about my weight. Maybe you didn’t know that, but it’s true. If you are my friends, then you won’t do it again.” This clear statement delivers a strong message. Unfortunately, girls sometimes hold themselves back from saying what they need to say because they fear being labeled a “mean girl.” We empower our girls when we teach them that they aren’t being mean when they stand up for themselves (and others who need support)—they are being brave.
The third intervention involves talking to other adults. You say you don’t want to talk to the other parents because you feel that will “make it worse.” I’m not sure why you assume that, but I think it’s worth a try. Talk to the one parent in the group that you feel closest to. You might say something like this: “My daughter has been hurt recently by some unkind words from her friends. She’s being teased about her weight. I know your daughter is a sweet girl, and I also know that when girls are together in a group, they sometimes fall under the influence of other girls who aren’t always so sweet. Today they may tease my daughter. Tomorrow it could be yours. I could use your help. What do you think we can do about this?”
This nonconfrontational approach may yield some positive results. For example, you might decide to have a meeting with the parents of your daughter’s friends. That will put all the parents on the same page. That would be ideal! At the very least, the mom you’ve reached out to will talk with her daughter. And sometimes that’s what it takes to help a good-hearted child break away from the “herd” and take a positive leadership role. With one ally in the group, your daughter will feel better.
I hope this helps.
Annie Fox, M.Ed., is a nationally known educator with more than 30 years of experience teaching kids and teens social intelligence skills. Her award-winning books include Too Stressed to Think?, the popular Middle School Confidential™ book and app series, and Teaching Kids to Be Good People. She is currently working on a teen novel.
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