Beliefnet
Doing Life Together

child-1439468_1920A child struggling with weight issues has to face an unsympathetic world–one steeped in the idolatry of the body, glamorizing thinness at all costs. “Thin is in” and the pressure to conform is enormous. When your body doesn’t measure up, the reminders are everywhere. Social rejection is not an easy pill to swallow. The stigma is great.

Kids, like adults, can medicate life stress with food. Food serves to temporarily numb out problems or bad feelings and provides immediate gratification. Food becomes a friend who never leaves and offers satisfaction. As food is used to cope with stress or negative feelings, weight gain results and can lead to feelings of self-hate and inadequacy. One of the most difficult areas for an overweight child is dealing with teasing.

Overweight children suffer more rejection and social exclusion than their normal weight peers. They are teased more often than kids who are of average weight. One of the most common methods of teasing is intentionally leaving a child out of social activities. And of course there is name-calling and the physical shoves and pushes from other children.

Teasing can result in feelings of rejection, discrimination, experienced failure with peer relationships and limited group and social interests. Because of this, parents should make every effort to confront teasing when it happens and coach their children in terms of how to handle teasing.

We know that some children learn to effectively handle teasing and avoid being repeatedly victimized. Other children don’t do as well and find themselves the brunt of much teasing. According to researchers, we still don’t know exactly why some kids manage teasing better than others. I suspect it has to do with the personality of certain kids, their sensitivity levels and the way they think.

All parents need to talk to their kids about the hurt teasing causes and not minimize the impact of teasing. What seems like a small thing to a parent could be a big thing to a child. So many adults I see in therapy can still recall name-calling and teasing from their childhood. Teasing left a lasting impression.

When a parent witnesses the teasing of an overweight child, the teaser needs to be confronted, asked to stop this rude and disrespectful behavior and made to apologize. Nothing justifies being cruel to another person. Parents should engage the school in this type of help and have an action plan. Adults can ask the teaser if he has ever been teased and how it felt. Then ask why he would want to do that very thing that felt so awful, to another person. Explain what empathy is and how important it is to practice.

If the teaser blankly stares back at the adult, the adult can simply say, “You need to stop hurting another person. It isn’t nice.” The adult should tell the teaser that she will be watching him to see if he continues. If, at another time, the adult observes the teaser being appropriate with an overweight child, the adult should praise him—telling the teaser she noticed his kindness and appreciates it.

Parents should be careful not to overreact to teasing. In other words, make sure you are not reacting out of your own history of hurt. Instead, encourage your child to handle  the teasing and work on improving the situation. Be positive and give hope.

Also encourage your child to find friends who look beyond weight. Usually there are one or two children known for their empathy and kindness of heart. Identify those children and invite them over to play.

Finally, remind your child that Jesus was teased and rejected for our sakes. He knows what it feels like and can understand the pain they feel. He died to carry that pain for us. We can pray and lay the hurt at his feet, forgiving those who have hurt us and allowing God to heal us. The importance of forgiveness cannot be underscored.

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