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 because these are settings where they feel vulnerable to teasing.
In a new 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 reason - bullying 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 she possibly can, she should not react to the taunting. If the school bully sees her becoming anxious or even start to cry, the teasing may get worse. Encourage your child to maintain her composure, turn around, and walk away.
Let your child's teacher know about the bullying. The teacher 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 her 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 she does have at school. If she hangs out with a group on the playground or in the lunch room, she is 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 cyber-bullying against your child.
Find activities outside of school that your child can participate in, where she can develop a new friend group that may be less inclined to tease.
Spend time with your child and treat her as an important person. Help maintain your child's self-esteem by demonstrating respect and acceptance and telling her 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.