Parents: Don’t Insult Your Kids!

September 25th, 2006 by | Permalink

My mother knows a woman who offered her a child a two-thousand dollar Christmas bonus if she would grow six inches one year.

I’ll wait until the sounds of shock and outrage simmer down a bit….

This anecdote is one of the reasons why I didn’t immediately file this story from the Toronto Star in the “once again, we’re paying experts to tell us what we already know” category:

Make no mistake about it parents. You can defend it as being “helpful” or “honest.” But words ?????? and especially comments about a child’s appearance ?????? do damage. Even more so when aimed at impressionable tweens or young teens.

A stream of recent studies supports the notion that a healthy self-image begins at home, including an August article in the journal Pediatrics which concludes that family criticism “results in long-lasting, negative effects.” But anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of critical remarks about their weight or body shape doesn’t need an expert to tell them that.

You don’t say?

It wouldn’t seem even helpful to link to or discuss, except that I know (and I’m sure you all know too) that there are parents out there who believe that insulting their child’s body size is the best way to get them to adopt healthy habits. The mindset escapes me–would a parent tell their child how stupid they are to get them to study harder? Would they tell them how lazy they are to get them to help out around the house? So why call them fat?

(It hasn’t escaped my attention that these studies are coming out hot on the heels of the ones saying that most parents can’t even tell when their kids are overweight. This leaves parents with a fine line to tread: correctly assess your child’s size, but never mention it; if you are concerned, focus on diet and exercise, not weight. This makes perfectly good sense, but like many things that make perfectly good sense, it’s a great deal tricker in practice than in theory and I’ll bet most of us make a right mess of it from time to time.)

At any rate, no matter where you stand on this issue or where on the spectrum your own behaviour falls, you can comfort yourself with one thing: At least you’ve never tried to bribe your child to be tall.

Filed under: Health
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