You’re out and about running errands with your tot in tow and everything’s going A-okay—no tantrums, no whining—and then, your dream outing turns into a nightmare. Your sweet, innocent spawn just stuck his little finger out, pointed in the direction of an overweight person and loudly commented on their appearance. You’re mortified. Time slows down. You’re lost at sea…and we’re here to throw you a lifeline. Here, some sound advice, courtesy of clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook, on what to say and do when your kid points out someone’s weight in public.
What to Do When Your Kid Points Out Someone’s Weight In Public (Besides Be Totally Mortified)
Have a talk before you leave the house
According to Dr. Cook, you might be able to avoid this uncomfortable situation altogether by covering the basics of socially acceptable behavior before you leave the house. You don’t need to have a big, drawn out conversation on the subject—just a quick reminder that it is impolite to point or talk loudly about others in public should do the trick. Of course, younger kids might want to know why that rule exists, so if they ask, you can help them understand by turning the question around: How would they feel if someone they didn’t know was pointing at them or commenting on their appearance? The end goal of this exchange is to lay some ground rules with regard to good manners, while also letting your child know “they will see all sorts of different looking people (which is good) and you are more than happy to answer questions about what they see when you’re back home.”
Correct the behavior
You followed the above advice, but your foresight didn’t pay off. Your kid just pointed at a heavy set person and loudly commented on their physique…in the middle of a quiet library, of all places. Now what? First, take a deep breath and remember that “children’s questions usually stem from a place of innocence and genuine curiosity,” so don’t scold or shame them for their mistake. Instead, Dr. Cook recommends you calmly reiterate the rules and move on. “You don’t have to make it a bigger deal by trying to explain to your kid in the moment in front of the person…you’ve already told them not to point, so just remind them and talk about whatever they pointed at later.” And whatever you do, don’t completely ignore the transgression because there’s a very good chance your kid will say it once more (with feeling!)
Shift the narrative
In general, it’s best to assume that your kid’s victim doesn’t want to be a part of your lesson plan, so avoid making an example out of them and save the bigger conversation about different bodies for later. That said, there’s a good chance your kid still wants to know more about what they’ve observed and, as previously mentioned, ignoring them is not an option. Instead, Dr. Cook recommends seizing the opportunity to shift the narrative by acknowledging the comment and redirecting your child towards a shared positive trait. The simple script goes something like this: “I see you noticed someone who looks a bit different from you. Now can you notice something you both have in common?” File this under ‘turning lemons into lemonade,’ friends.
However, “if the person overheard and seems genuinely open to interacting with your child and their potential questions, allow it,” says Dr. Cook. This turn of events might feel unbearably awkward for you, but if the other person isn’t bothered, the expert says it’s important to own your issue and give your child an opportunity to talk to a willing stranger. After all, Dr. Cook points out that “heavy people know they are heavy and overhear all sorts of conversations and judgments,” so allowing them play a part in shaping the narrative could ultimately be beneficial for both parties.