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My Child is Obese and is Being Bullied: What Can I Do?

Ask an educator about obesity and bullying and you are sure to get a response.  Recently, one of my doctoral students found that not one of 14 fourth and fifth grade children identified as gifted could sustain five minutes of aerobic exercise.  We all can agree our children spend too much time sitting whether doing homework, watching television, or using an I-Pad. 

Children can be relentless in their hurtful comments to a child who is overweight, such as “Your fat!”   I believe teachers do their best when they hear such statements, but the recipient may respond aggressively, or become withdrawn.   How we adults respond in these situations is critical. 

There are subtle ways bullying occurs.  Children who are obese may be picked last for a team or given little opportunity to play in competitive sports in elementary school.  Coaches seem to not have the mantra of ‘everyone plays’, which is as much a part of bullying as the child who openly makes comments.  Some children who are overweight do not get invited to birthday parties, or be part of what they regard as the ‘cool’ group.   Educators seem to do little to create a community ethos that enables empathy and sensitivity for children who may have a variety of differences and needs. 

As parents become more aware of the situation, they need to offer their child appropriate strategies to respond to comments, guide the child’s choice in foods, build the child’s self-esteem, and convey their unconditional love.    

However, one Kindergarten teacher, Vivian Gussen Paley, decided to try the rule that everyone could join a play group.  She wrote the book You Can’t Say, You Can’t Play and documents the class’ journey of implementing this rule from the perspective of those typically not accepted and those who tend to make the rules.  This book provides opportunities to understand all children’s views and progress towards acceptance.

My advice to parents is as follows:

  1. Educate yourself about nutrition.  Learn what the labels mean on food and what should be on family dinner table.
  2. Find inexpensive ways to have nutritious meals
  3. Find ways to exercise as a family that are fun for all.  Do it religiously.
  4. Consistently, foster self-esteem in your child and be ready to listen whenever your child wants to talk.
  5. Intimidation is a form of bullying, so are remarks from eight year olds who say, “You can’t come to my birthday party”.  Talk to teachers, other parents and your child.  Both the giver and the receiver of verbal intimidation need guidance.

 

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