ECEC educators encouraged to work with families of children with higher weight
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ECEC educators encouraged to work with families of children with higher weight

by Freya Lucas

November 14, 2022

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals are being encouraged to work with the families of children with higher weight to discuss potential mental health concerns, because of the higher risk of mental health challenges experienced by children with a higher weight.


“Children come in all shapes and sizes. However, children with higher weight are at an increased risk of mental health difficulties due to weight-based stigma,” Emerging Minds Director Brad Morgan explained, introducing a new range of resources developed by the national infant and child mental health not-for-profit organisation.


“Negative weight-related beliefs, attitudes and behaviours are prevalent in society and can become ingrained in children from a very young age,” Mr Morgan said.


“This can lead to children of higher weight having lower self-esteem, as well as being bullied and excluded by other children due to their physical appearance.”


Although the resources have been created with health professionals in mind, Mr Morgan said that the role educators play in supporting children and families, while challenging unhelpful biases, cannot be underestimated. 


“Educators are a constant and trusted presence in children’s lives and have an unparalleled opportunity to support the parents and families of children with higher weight,” he said.


Any concerns about a child’s weight should be addressed in a way that positively engages with the family and is not judgemental or stigmatising.


“Many adults think that focusing on a child’s weight, or the benefits of weight loss, will help them to lose weight. However, these negative comments and behaviours can actually lead to body dissatisfaction, social isolation and further weight gain,” Mr Morgan continued. 


Emerging Minds offers the following advice for ECEC professionals looking to raise concerns about children’s mental health in the context of higher weight:


  • Consider your own beliefs, attitudes and knowledge about higher weight – recognise that the causes of higher weight are complex, with biological, behavioural and environmental factors all contributing. Take a non-judgemental approach to build a trusting relationship with families.


  • Use non-stigmatising language – the language you use can contribute to the outcomes for children. Consider that parents of children with higher weight may feel shame or a sense of guilt, particularly if they are higher weight themselves. Where appropriate, focus on health and healthy lifestyles rather than only weight. Avoid using language like ‘overweight’, ‘fat’ and ‘obese’.


  • Consider who could be part of the discussion – ask the family’s permission to engage in any conversation about weight and mental health. It may also be helpful to consider which other family members should be involved, such as other parents or grandparents who are involved in the care of the child. Early educators can also suggest that the parents/caregivers engage in proactive conversations with their GP about their child’s weight and mental health.


  • Allow enough time – understand that weight and mental health can be sensitive issues that can evoke a range of parental responses, including strong emotions and denial of the concerns. You may need to take a staged approach over multiple conversations with parents.


Emerging Minds’ range of higher weight resources includes an online training course, practice papers, fact sheet and guide for parents. All resources are available for free on the Emerging Minds website

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