Am I Fat?

Help teens and tweens feel fit, healthy, and happy with their bodies.

Am I fat? feet on scale
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Has your child ever asked, "Mom, am I fat?" Many kids and adolescents do compare themselves to others and worry about their weight. The best way to help your tween or teen develop a positive body image is to start young. "Creating a positive self-image for your daughter or son should start almost at birth," says psychology professor Elane Rehr, who is also the co-author of 101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body (buy from Amazon).

It's also important to encourage physical activity at every stage of your child's life.

"Physical activity and healthy lifestyle choices need to be a part of a child's life from toddlerhood until young adulthood and beyond," says nurse practitioner Barbara Poncelet, who practices in Pennsylvania. " If you encourage physical activity throughout your child's life, he will be more likely to value exercise as a teen," and in turn, less likely to worry about his weight and appearance.

To counteract am-I-fat fears, try these confidence-boosting tips from experts and parents. Most apply to both girls and boys.

Sign up for swimming lessons.

In addition to water safety and physical activity, seeing different body shapes and sizes at the pool is a valuable benefit. "Starting swim lessons at a young age, and continuing them, gives a genuine sense of what a body looks like," says Rehr. "Swimming gives you a true body image.

That competes with the fake body images kids see in the media.

Find clothes that fit.

Angela Hayes is a Wisconsin mom with two girls, ages 11 and 14. She's made it a point to help her girls shop smart: "I guide them towards clothing that is not only appropriate for their age group, but that fits them well and makes them feel comfortable and stylish.

It's not always an easy task!" But so far, both of Hayes's girls say they don't feel awkward about their bodies or uncomfortable changing clothes in front of their peers.

Serve healthy comfort foods.

"Most people have emotional relationships with food," says Rehr. So establish positive connections. Instead of reaching for the ice cream scoop or brownie pan when your child feels sad, try a warm cup of tea and some apple slices instead. Avoid using food as a reward, for yourself and for your kids.

Be a body-image role model.

"I have been very diligent about modeling appropriate behavior regarding body image as a way to positively influence my girls," says Hayes. Professor Rehr says this is critical. "Parents have to be very careful—especially mothers, especially mothers of daughters—about constant dieting. If I'm walking around saying 'my thighs are too fat,' that's going to be repeated."

Have a mirror on the wall.

"Every child should have a full-length mirror in his or her room," says Rehr. "This may sound counterintuitive, but they should be able to shut the door and take a look at themselves, to integrate their own image in a positive way."

Emphasize health, not weight.

If you are concerned that your teen isn't getting enough exercise, it's important to discuss your concerns in terms of health, says Poncelet. "Explain how important exercise is for your child's body, and how it is part of a healthy lifestyle. Discussing it any other way ('you’re putting on a lot of weight' or 'aren't you ashamed of how you look?') can lead to some very negative consequences."

Be an exercise enabler.

Provide your tween or teen with gear, lessons, rides to the gym, even an inspirational book—whatever it takes. "It sends the message that staying active is important," says Poncelet.

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