Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Is Your Child Being Teased About Their Weight?

Kids frequently are too embarrassed to tell their parents.

Key points

  • From preschool through college, overweight kids are teased and excluded from activities.
  • Overweight children may be too embarrassed to tell their parents when they've been taunted.
  • Parents can be supportive to reduce the pain overweight kids feel. Encouraging socializing may reduce their withdrawal and isolation.

Kids can be cruel. A child who is overweight or obese may be teased or taunted about their weight and excluded from activities by their peers. Prejudice against overweight kids occurs at all ages. It’s been found in kindergarten or even earlier. In one study, 6-year-olds described an overweight child as lazy, dirty, stupid, and ugly. Another study found that virtually all overweight high school girls had been verbally abused by their classmates. Compared with an obese person, embezzlers and shoplifters were rated as better marriage partners by college students.

Stigma and rejection

If your child is overweight or obese, it’s heartbreaking to think about the prejudice and rejection he or she is likely to experience. Unfortunately, overweight kids internalize the negative evaluations from their peers. Even though your child is hurting, they may be too embarrassed to tell you that they weren’t invited to a friend’s birthday party or that another kid shoved them in the hall at school. Especially with social media, the list of possible humiliations an overweight kid may experience is endless.

Adults may also contribute to a child’s self-consciousness about his or her body. Although they may not be nasty, comments from family members, teachers, or doctors, even with the best intentions, can be hurtful. If Uncle Joe makes a “humorous” comment about a child’s weight or a coach or gym teacher tells your child he needs to “get in shape,” the result may be further shame.

How to help

If your overweight child doesn’t complain about being teased or humiliated, how can you recognize the problem and help? One clue is withdrawal from social activities. Is your child isolating him or herself and spending time watching TV or playing computer games? Does your child resist suggestions to be more physically active? Often children who feel rejected by their peers will retreat, engage in solitary activities, and console themselves by eating.

You can help by encouraging your child to socialize. If you sense that he or she is withdrawing, social activities like the Boy or Girl Scouts, youth groups at a church, synagogue, or mosque, or other structured after-school programs could help. For younger children, you could arrange a supervised playdate with a classmate.

If your child does mention being teased, listen carefully and don’t interject until she’s finished. Express understanding and then you can explain that the child doing the teasing is probably insecure herself. Maybe she’s trying to get in with the popular kids and thinks that by making fun of you she’ll become more popular herself. Although it’s uncomfortable, your child can develop resilience. By not responding to the teasing, the kid doing it may get bored and give up.

The stigma and shame that overweight children experience is an unfortunate reality but you can help to minimize the effects.

References

Abramson, E. (2011). It's NOT Just Babyfat! 10 Steps to help your child to a healthy weight. Lafayette, CA Bodega Books.

advertisement