Am I overreacting?

threegirlsmomJanuary 2, 2002

My five year old dd asked us over xmas break if she was fat! When we in turn asked her why she would ask such a question, she told us that one of the girls in her class told her she was fat! She is actually probably the most petite child in her class, but I am concerned about the message she has received. My DH and I explained that her looks are always secondary to who she is inside and that a person's size or looks does not determine her worth, but I hate that we live in a society that puts so much value on weight that kindergardeners are taunting each other about it. I am firmly convinced that this is where eating disorders start and I want to talk to the teacher about possibly addressing this for the whole class. The teacher would likely be receptive, but my DH says to let sleeping dogs lie. What do you all think?

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Hi threegirlsmom.

No, I don't think you are overreacting. I would be concerned that false beliefs of being too fat might lead to anorexia nervosa. I think you should make it VERY clear to your daughter that she is NOT fat. Does the teacher need to address the class? It wouldn't hurt to bring it up with the teacher and get her/his opinion and make her/him aware of the problem.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 12:31PM
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By reacting by focusing on HER size and what's inside as important, you may have caused her to think in terms of something being "wrong" with the way she looks. I think that you would have done better to explain that some people like to tease and try to make others angry. Explain that the world is full of people that try to make someone uncomfortable. She must learn to ignore what others say.

Now, yes, I think if this sort of thing continues, a talk with the teacher is important. It may be that the other child is also teasing other children and needs some guidence.

If this was the first time something like this has happened, then, I think you would be overreacting to talk to the teacher now.

Take a good look at your daughter, you may consider her petite, but is she really? How does her weight check out for her height? If she is a little chubby for her height, it may be time to watch the sweet snacks.

Don't make an issue of "looks don't count, it's what's inside that's important" The issue here is how to handle teasing by someone that has learned how to do it.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 12:46PM
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You're not overreacting at all. I forget the exact stats, but the majority (something like 70%) of elementary school girls have been on diets. It starts in kindergarten, and even earlier, and can have disastrous and deadly results. Just as an aside -- girls pick up a lot of body esteem from their moms. If we're at home saying "I'm fat" or always complaining about our weight, we're sending a strong signal to our kids.

But I think it would be perfectly appropriate for the school to integrate some sort of health class type cirriculum. Kindergarten's not too early. Learning about eating right, having a good self esteem, and taking care of their bodies is a great idea.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 12:48PM
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I think you may have misunderstood about the way my DH and I handled things with my daughter. We really tried to stress the importance of everybody's "inner beauty" over the way that they look. We never made any comments like, "you're perfect the way you are," or "don't worry what others think," because we want her own self esteem to be determined by a high regard for herself that can only come if *she* truly believes she is a good and beautiful person. In fact, right or wrong, when she said that Francesca told her she was fat, my husband's first words were, "Francesca's mom has a serious problem," since he knew that a five year old must have heard that somewhere.
And for the record, she is truly petite. Only 29 pounds in kindergarden. Much smaller than the girl who called her fat. Thanks for responding.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 1:04PM
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I see nothing wrong in discussing this with the class, I have friends with anorexia and bulemia and they do start early. I never cared what I ate but never got fat nor stayed very thin. There are plenty of ways even by cartoon or books to talk to the class on the matter. The main fact even is to explain that it is prejudice to even say someone is fat weather they are or not. Kids really need to learn that early because too many kids pick on each other for their looks and it continues throughout school.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 1:24PM
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You can talk to the teacher. 5 Year olds in a classroom setting can probably benefit from being taught that physical differences are ok, predictable, and usually good. That includes everything from eye colour, and hair colour, to issues of size and shape. These kinds of things are often beyond anyone's human ability to 'control.'

The problem of having a program specific to eating disorders is that those are more complicated. They can be symptoms, of an underlying problem like borderline personality disorder for example. They can be symptomatic of other mood or cognitive disorders. Most of those, and probably all do have a genetic component to them. Not everyone is as 'susceptible' to developing them. 5 year olds tend to personalize everything. Make sure that if any program about eating disorders is given, that it has been specifically designed for that age group. (If not, the tendency to personalize everything and to be curious can end up with children going home and upsetting their parents inadvertently.)

It might be better to stress with them, and to teach how to eat a nutritious diet; and why that is important to have and maintain a basic healthiness. It can also be a good idea to practice noting how people have physical differences which can be seen. It is usually considered rude to point those out, no matter what they are.

The problem of the 'fat' comment is that sometimes, some people use it as an epithet or a derogatory comment and reacting to it as if it were derogatory is probably not a good idea. Reacting to it as if it were one of those 'rude' comments where someone points out some other physical characteristic in isolation from the whole person might be better. You can try to teach her how to assess such comments for accuracy if she worries about that. One thing she did do was seek your input and advice about it (asking you if you thought she was). You can explain to her how you can tell and assess if it were true, and address her degree of worry (or find out if she kind of thought it wasn't true herself).

You should probably act in such a way that your daughter feels reinforced for talking to you about it. If having a classroom presentation would cause your daughter to feel 'pressured' or singled out, then it might not be the way to go at this time anyway. On the other hand your daughter might think it would be good to learn about nutrition or cooking, or basic friendly social skills for 5 year old classroom environments.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 3:54PM
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I agree with Aileen in that avoiding the real topic and focusing on "inner beauty" does make a child think they must actually need to look at themselves. I mean, come on, when a friend tells you about a blind date and says "hes sooo smart" truthfuly you automatically think he must be ugly.

Same with girls. When we avoid the real issue of fat and redirect it to "inner beauty" they think we are avoiding the issue because they must be fat. While I agree inner beauty is of coarse more important, I think when a child has questions about being fat, the truth should be given. When my dd started this is scared me to death just like the original poster.

We just told my dd the truth about fat, meaning, we stuck to the facts of..healthy eating vs bad eating and the physical results of each. The importance of eating healthy and exersizing our bodies, and if we remember to take care of our body it will take care of us.

She appreciated that we didnt brush off her fears of getting or being fat (which she wasnt).

By avoiding a real conversation is when it leaves these young girls up to their own devices on how to handle "being fat". No nice words of inner beauty will take away fears a child may have, whether they are indeed overweight or not, so instead teach her the CORRECT way to take care of her body. When we invalidate their FEELINGS they feel slighted, regardless if their fear is founded or not. When is the last time you felt overweight and someone said to you..."inner beauty is what counts, of coarse your not overweight" that you actually believed them?? Did it change your mind? No. How a child feels is the key here, and dealing with it, and not redirecting it.

just my 02

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 5:20PM
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I did sort of misunderstand how you and your husband handled this. However, the other girl may not really understand what FAT is other than it is just some sort of insult. Please try to look at this as a chance to teach your daughter how to handle all types of teasing. The child that learns how to ignore teasing remarks becomes more secure and less likely to have self image problems.

On the chance that the other child is the bully type and is making others miserable, encourage your daughter to tell you how the other child acts towards others in the class. It may be that the teacher is already aware, but just in case she isn't, if the teasing continues, have a talk about your concerns concerning the class in general.

It could be your husband is right, the mother has a problem and this teasing is the little girl's way of dealing with stress at home.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 7:29PM
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Whether you talk with the teacher or not, you need to have a talk with your daughter about the physical dangers of people trying to be too thin and of children not getting proper nutrition. I would want her to understand that she is just right, that inner beauty is important, but that a child needs nutrients for a growing body and teeth and bones, etc., and that this fad of dieting is dangerous to young children. Too many kids these days do not think but instead mime what they hear at home or on tv. You can tell her what you feel she can understand, but let this be a lesson to all of us. Little pitchers need to understand that adults diet when they are overweight and maybe we all need to review this discussion periodically with children. When she is older, you can discuss empty calories etc, but for now, I would try to discuss a general idea of not needing to diet and the dangers of dieting when you do not need to.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 8:16PM
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I have a different opinion.

This the kind of thing that is hard to know if you weren't there. I can see the importance of all the issues mentioned. But a part of me thinks this is sort of like explaining human reproduction and sexuality with "the talk" the first time they ask "where do babies come from?" What is being talked about here is a much bigger issue than one conversation can cover. I wouldn't use the word over reacting, though. I think you are idealistic and well intentioned with your thoughts to send a positive message to all the children in the class. I just don't think it's necessary right now.

I think the strongest message your daughter picked up from the other girl is that some kids can be mean. The message that young girls get that leads to poor self esteem comes from the combination of media, parents, peers. And eating disorders are the result of control issues as well as self image issues. I think talking to a class of 5/6 year olds about eating disorders and self image is beyond their comprehension. I appreciate your concern for young girls' self image, but I don't think a presentation to kindergardeners about body image and eating disorders is the solution because I don't think that is the problem at this time. I think the problem is name calling and hurting people's feelings. You're right it can lead there. But just like the issue of explaining sexuality and reproduction to children, deal with it one question at a time. Presenting the whole issue at once is way too deep. When they ask where babies come from, we don't introduce the concept of erection or orgasm. When they ask am I fat, I don't think we need to introduce $20 concepts like eating disorder.

I do think that, if the problem of name calling continues, a little chat from the teacher about not calling people names and maybe a good story book about feelings is in order.

Meanwhile, with your own daughter, I'm sure you are doing a good job of avoiding self image problems by praising her strengths and encouraging independence.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 10:45PM
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my degree and life's work is in nutrition and dietetics and i share your worry about 5 year olds' obsession with weight. in the grocery store today i heard a 5 year old telling her mom not to buy the red carton milk because it would make her fat. unfortunately, i think children and weight issues will be more and more in the media as time goes on because of the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemic. Also, we are working on fast food chains and schools to change their menus- offering way more healthy choices and no more super sizes , so i think that helping her build a good self esteem and teaching her that sometimes kids will tease, and that it doesn't mean anything is wrong with her- it is just kids being mean etc.. because i think the reality is that all of our kids will at one point be teased whether it is their clothes, or hair, or last name.. etc.. i wouldn't worry too much about the eating disorder thing if you have a good solid family structure. things to watch over the years are anxiety, depression etc.. although a few cases of anorexia may stem simply from pressure by society it usually goes along with something else like a desperate need to feel in control. they will start a diet to lose a little weight and then they feel euphoric from the feeling of control it gives them . most cases stem from things like control -coming from a family where the parents try to control the childs life and they stop eating as a way to gain control over themselves. another reason might come from too much indivduality in a family or from too much stress in their life like a job, family trouble, a death divorce, grades etc.. and they want to be a "child again" when they had no worries and they felt safe and taken care of, so psycologically they want to be that "size" again.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2002 at 10:49PM
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Are you aware and is your daughter aware of the teen age slang..."phat"....a complimentary term?
Perhaps your 5 yearold ( who is barely more than a toddler) misunderstood.
Was she upset over what the other girl said? If she wasn't in a tizzy over the other girl's remarks.....and if the other girl did indeed mean it as a slam and not a compliment...I think you are over reacting! Big time!
Children that age often don't really have a good idea of what words mean.
I once told my mother who was all dressed up to go out that she looked hideous! I thought it was a hight compliment......and will never forget my mother's anger at me....for what I thought was a kindness.
As long as she is not fat.....don't make a big deal out of it......unless SHE is making a big deal.
Linda C

    Bookmark   January 3, 2002 at 12:17AM
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I'm with Stephanie (how is Tenn?). It's not that you are overreacting, but you may be injecting things into her life that are above her head. I think the problem is more of name calling and meaness than body image and eating disorders.

Polarprincess-The 5 yo may have gotten the stuff about whole milk at school. The school my kids attend (a charter school in FL) teaches nutrition and good food choices as part of the curriculum beginning in kindergarden. They teach the kids to try to make lower fat choices and lower fat milk is one of the things specifically mentioned in school as a healthier choice. My son didn't mention that it would make him fat, but that lower fat milk would keep his heart healthy.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2002 at 8:57AM
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I disagree.

5 year olds now adays do know what fat is. It is in their face at every turn. Magazines, tv, people around them, etc. My dd certainly knew what she was talking about when she said she was fat at that age.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2002 at 10:12AM
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Peaches-I don't think the issue is that they don't know what fat is at 5. They certainly do. I have a 5 year old son and he most certainly understands what fat means.

I think the issue is that they are not sophisticated enough at 5 to understand a conversation about eating disorders and body image. They do understand name calling and being mean and that is the issue the OP should focus on now.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2002 at 11:05AM
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That could be the case in this situation as long as the child doesnt THINK she is fat. If the child actually thinks she is fat, then the focus would not be on kids being mean to her or name calling.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2002 at 2:36PM
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