Q: My ten-year-old daughter recently declared she was going on a diet. She's a normal size! Then I discovered some kids at her school have been teasing her about her appearance. How can I get this under control and help my daughter have a balanced, healthy, and appropriate view of her body?
A: I am so glad you're asking this question! First, you need to know that you are not alone in your concern. One study a few years back reported that 81 percent of ten-year-olds are terrified of getting fat. I haven't seen a revised number lately, but I'll bet it's gone up. Unfortunately, children who diet young tend to struggle more with weight and body image throughout their lives than those who don't diet, so it's definitely a good idea to shift her thinking sooner rather than later.
When dealing with body-image worries, whether someone else's or our own, the most important place to begin is with the emotions that are swirling under the surface. From my own experiences with disordered eating, fear, shame, and loneliness seem to top the list.
Let's start with fear. Your daughter has indicated a desire to diet because of negative comments from friends. The fear of rejection by peers is especially intense for young girls and the simplest comments can send them reeling. But fear loses power when it is talked about, so ask your daughter about the fears she is feeling inside. Validate her by sharing some similar fears you have faced, and talk about how you can work through those fears together.1