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Leman: Don’t overreact to child’s fear of being ‘too fat’

Question: My 8-year-old daughter has been making comments lately that she is “too fat.” Her weight is just fine, and her pediatrician and I have told her that. But she makes comments about needing to lose weight and how she shouldn’t eat anything that would make her “fatter.”

So many girls do end up with eating disorders and I am worried. How should I handle this?

Answer: Isn’t it too bad that little girls – or boys, for that matter – worry about being too fat at the tender age of 8?

Talk about social pressure. That pressure is primarily geared toward young women.

The best response that a mom or dad can make to an 8-year-old is, “Honey, you look fine to me, but it’s your call.”

You’re putting the proverbial tennis ball of life on her court.

What you can’t do is run the risk of overreacting to it. Most parents would come up with something like, “Melissa, why would you say something like that? You have a lovely, cute little shape.”

Don’t do that. Don’t deny the child’s self-perception, but don’t pay it off, either.

In other words, “Honey, if you want to feel that way, you go right ahead. But I have to tell you the truth. It doesn’t look like that to me.”

That has a sense of balance in the response. If you tend to overreact, you’re going to make that situation worse.

If your child continues to feel this way, it is worth a call to the pediatrician.

We see a plethora of cases of anorexia nervosa, where kids have myopic views.

The theme in that tragic disorder is perfectionism.

Don’t be a flaw picker, parents. When kids do well, tell them they did well. Say, “I’ll bet you’re proud of your effort.”

But don’t overdo things. Don’t be like most parents and hold that carrot out there, hoping they’ll jump a little higher.

If you create that scenario in your home, you will regret it.

Just a quick note about general nutrition. Kids do get obese. Kids are among the most out-of-shape generation in our history.

A reminder to every parent: You’re the one that brings the junk home, so be careful about what you bring home from the store.

If you have nutritious snacks around that aren’t laden with sugar and calories, chances are your child will do just fine.

Dr. Kevin Leman is a Tucson psychologist and author of more than 30 best-selling books, including “Have a New Kid by Friday.” E-mail questions to him at whatsupdoc@tucsoncitizen.com. Photo by Tom Spitz Photography

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