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Talking to your child about weight

Not everybody feels comfortable talking about bodies and weight. It might be an emotive subject for you. Or you might be worried that talking about size might make your child feel self-conscious about their body, and perhaps put ideas into their head about being over- or underweight, or encourage them to judge their own or other people’s body shapes. But it’s a good idea not to make weight and size a taboo subject, so your child knows that you’ll always be honest with them and that they can come to you if they have any worries.

Should I talk to my child about weight?

As a parent there are lots of things we have to talk to our kids about that we’d perhaps rather ignore – from sex to online dangers. And for many of us, weight is another of these awkward subjects. And of course it’s up to you to decide what to talk to your child about – you know them best. But there are times when it can be helpful to talk openly to your child about weight. Here are some examples:

  • Talking about size and weight rather than avoiding the topic helps build trust and can help prevent your child from feeling that their weight is something to be ashamed about or that they have to keep secret. If they have any worries, they’ll be more likely to come to you, and you can talk through their concerns together.
  • Children will hear lots of different things about weight from many places – in school, from friends, on TV, online and through social media. You can help them to see that what they hear about shape, size and weight is not always right or helpful.
  • Talking to you about their shape, size or weight could be your child’s only chance to ask questions openly and learn about their weight and health.
  • Talking about weight as just one part of keeping healthy can help prevent them worrying about it.

What words should I use?

Some people prefer to talk about growth and health, or exercise and healthy eating, rather than using the word ‘weight’. If this is what you and your child are comfortable with, this is fine. But sometimes it can be helpful to use the word ‘weight’, for example, if:

  • your child asks about their own or someone else’s weight or size
  • you hear your child use hurtful words about someone’s size
  • other people, including health professionals, talk about weight with your child
  • your child mentions talking about weight or weight teasing at school – you could take this as a chance to ask them what they think about weight and how they talk about it with their friends.

Try not to make ‘weight’ a banned word as this can create shame and worry. Talk openly about weight, size and shape if your child wants to.

Tips for talking to your child about health and weight

If I’m not happy with my weight, how can I help my child with theirs?

Many adults are unhappy about the way they look or struggle with their weight, so if you feel this way you’re certainly not alone. But you can still help your child to be healthy.

If you’re trying to gain or lose weight yourself it’s a good idea to avoid talking about diets and dieting or eating different foods from the rest of the family. Instead, try to show your child that healthy eating and keeping active are normal and important for everyone.

If you’re increasing the amount of exercise you do, try to pick an activity you enjoy. This way your children will see you enjoying physical activity, rather than treating it as a chore, and this might encourage them to be more active themselves too.

You can find some helpful tips for improving how you feel about your body on the Mental Health Foundation website. You can get advice on eating healthily and keeping active on the NHS Inform website.

Dealing with different issues around weight

Weight isn’t just a number – it can be tied in with other issues like body image, confidence and bullying. These pages have more information that can help:

If you’re concerned about bullying, this page from the NSPCC has lots of information on preventing bullying, spotting the signs that your child may be being bullied, and how you can help them and get further support. The respectme and YoungMinds websites also have practical advice.

This article is based on research carried out at the University of Bath. You can find out more about this research here.

Last updated: 25 May, 2023