6

My 8-year-old daughter is very quiet and isolated at school. She has almost no friends. Besides, she doesn't like sports at all.

Yesterday she told us that one of the boys at school told her she has fat thighs.

When I look at her from that perspective, her body started to get fatter around the hips.

I think it is a combination of food problems (eating chocolate and no healthy food) and genetics as her mum has the same physique.

I want to boost her self-esteem, but at the same time I want her to take care of what she eats.

At the moment, I am not sure what to do or how to do it?!

7

In terms of eating healthily, you need to practice what you preach. Do you have unhealthy foods in your house? If so, why? If, for example, you eat ice cream several days a week, why is it a bad move on her part to do so? What is health, and why should we care about it? This is a multifaceted issue, and teaching by example is better than words.

Self-esteem should not come from how one 'looks', rather from who one is, because looks change constantly, and are often not under our control. Maybe you feel differently, but I would not concentrate on her looks at all, especially at the age of 8. If you must give her dietary advice, do so only from the standpoint of health and self-determination.

If I were in your situation, I would start introducing her to critical thinking skills. What is behind the judgements she hears/perceives? Is it important/true to one's worldview, or unimportant and therefore discardable? In my worldview, comments on the appearance of others are not to be treated as important (in other words, the comment puts value on the superficial and is, therefore, not to be taken seriously) and that the opinion is fundamentally irrelevant (opinion being different from the individual.) Avoid global judgements ("That boy is not nice") in favor of accurate ones ("That boy should not have said something that might hurt your feelings.")

If you choose to do this, you have to be there as well, because she will learn from you, and if you value physical appearance highly, she will learn that your words to the contrary are untrue.

Watch what she watches on television or other media. If there is a strong focus on physical appearance, discuss this in terms of marketing and how this informs us on deeper levels. Start the radical process of critical thinking now.

People tend to focus on negatives. Read about resilience. Start teaching her to think in terms of positive attributes, abilities, and actions rather than negative ones.*

People will face criticism in every aspect of their lives. One needs to be able to focus and prioritize on what is good (e.g. kindness, honesty, tact, etc.), what is important (you can fill this in as this varies with culture, but I would place integrity and self-efficacy very high on any list), and what is under our control (self-control, delaying gratification to achieve goals, etc.).

Finally, make sure you notice and praise her abilities and strengths, and avoid empty praise (e.g. "You're special/You can be whatever you want to be.")

*Although this may sound like psychobabble, keeping a "success journal" with her might be a good idea if she doesn't have much self confidence. How often do we ask ourselves in a meaningful manner, "What did I do right today?" Too often we start and end with, "It was a good/bad day". If you're worried that this will give her a swollen ego, don't. Life will poke holes in it constantly. It's how we deal with these setbacks that matters in terms of self-respect, which is really what self-esteem is about.

Building Resilience in Children
Building self-esteem

3

How to boost her self-esteem and make her eat healthier?

I don't think you can do both at once. Your goals seem mutually exclusive to me, especially if stated in the same sentence (meaning these two problems are connected in your mind).

It doesn't seem like you want her to eat healthier; from your question it seems like you don't want her to gain weight - ("When I look at her from that perspective, her body started to get fatter around the hips" and "she doesn't like sports at all"). There's a difference.

Eating healthy and not putting on weight are NOT synonyms. Not being interested in sports doesn't mean your body is unhealthy. Healthy doesn't mean thin. Healthy and physically attractive aren't the same. But in our societies, there's an insane focus on making these things mean the same, and kids pick up on it from movies, commercials and from what other kids tell them.

So. If you focus on changing her eating habits so boys won't tell her that she is fat around the hips, then obviously she'll think that you're agreeing with the boy that something is wrong with how she looks. That won't boost her self-esteem; on the contrary.

If you do want to boost her self-esteem, you can't make it dependent on how she looks, and that means you can't talk to her about what she's eating at the same time. Instead, you should find things that she's good at, point these things out to her, and put her in situations where she succeeds at things she wants to do. If you want her to be less isolated, maybe you can help her get into activities with kids that have similar interests, and so on. But talking to her about changing her diet WON'T boost her self-esteem.

I do think it's legitimate to worry about kids developing unhealthy eating habits like continuously eating low-quality snacks throughout the day, or eating too much sugar etc, especially if they easily put on weight, because that means that in order to stay healthy, they need to work much more at self control, and if they don't learn it as children, it will be much harder later on, which might lead to them actually develop health issues due to excessive weight (I'm thinking knee joint problems, heart issues, reduced quality of life due to reduced mobility etc). So if you're genuinely worried about this, maybe you can split responsibilities. The parent who does most of the grocery shopping and cooking makes sure your family eats balanced meals and that there are no sweets and junk food snacks in the house, and the other one concentrates on the self-esteem issues.

This way, nobody needs to actually talk about eating habits until they're already in place -- you're just making sure she's "learning by doing", and her eating habits don't get associated with the self-esteem question in her mind any more than they already are. In fact, I'd actively work at separating these two things in her mind by pointing out "attractive does not equal great person" whenever the chance presents itself.

1

Goals

Well you really have two goals for your solution here:

  1. You need to get her to understand there will always be people in life who don't like who we are (looks related or not) and how to get past those people.
  2. Health is important as well, but should be done for her own sake, not because others told her to.

Execution

You really need to sit down with her and explain that there are always cruel people in life, perhaps you can bring up a real or fictitious story to share which can drive home the point of not living life based on what others say.

As far as the health aspect, since you are the parent, you have direct contribution to this. Try and lead by example by eating healthy foods as well and explain to her why certain foods are healthier and portion control.

1

I am so sorry to hear about the situation with your daughter. As parents we want nothing more than to protect our children and situations such as this can make us parents feel helpless. But there is great opportunity here!

It sounds like you have two goals:

  1. Boost her self-esteem
  2. Emphasize good health

Fortunately, your goals go hand in hand. Better health will lead to improved self-esteem!

Improved nutrition, as well as physical exercise and sufficient sleep, are beneficial to both physical and emotional health. Consider a family "Clean Eating Plan", focused on a variety of nutritious and wholesome foods. Throw in family exercise time for good measure. Make your new diet and exercise regime interactive and fun: read books together about nutrition, cook meals and play Nintendo's Wii together. Your child (and perhaps you and the rest of your family) will become invested in improving her health if she feels that she is not alone and instead she is doing so with the love and support of her family.

You must also teach your child how to handle such situations when they happen. Stopbullying.com has great advice for children in such circumstances:

"There are things you can do if you are being bullied: Look at the kid bullying you and tell him or her to stop in a calm, clear voice. You can also try to laugh it off. This works best if joking is easy for you. It could catch the kid bullying you off guard. If speaking up seems too hard or not safe, walk away and stay away. Don’t fight back. Find an adult to stop the bullying on the spot."

"There are things you can do to stay safe in the future, too. Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t keep your feelings inside. Telling someone can help you feel less alone. They can help you make a plan to stop the bullying. Stay away from places where bullying happens. Stay near adults and other kids. Most bullying happens when adults aren’t around."

I commend you for seeking help and I wish you and your daughter the best of luck.

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