Bullying can affect many aspects of your child’s life, both emotionally and physically. The stresses inflicted by bullies may even cause your child to lose or gain weight. There are a number of ways you can ascertain whether or not bullying is affecting your child’s weight. The first is to establish an open form of communication with your child so that she will feel comfortable coming to you when she has problems. However, even if you want an open relationship, stress may cause your child to withdraw. If you suspect your child is being bullied, watch for the following behavior:
Isolation or Withdrawal
Any sudden change in your child’s behavior may indicate external stressors such as bullying. If your child begins to isolate herself and withdraws from spending time with friends and family, she may be dealing with bullies or other stresses at school. She may also be secretive because she’s hiding the fact that she is bullied from you (because she feels ashamed or embarrassed) or because she’s hiding dangerous behaviors such as overeating or not eating enough.
Attitude towards Food and Weight
Observing your child’s eating habits may not actually reveal whether or not bullying is affecting her weight. This is because she may eat a normal amount in front of others or say that she already ate. However, she may be hiding food to overeat later, purging the food later or lying about the fact that she’s already eaten.
If it’s difficult for you to catch her in the midst of dangerous behavior concerning food, watch her attitude toward food and weight. She may start making comments about how she “needs” to lose weight (regardless of whether she does or not) or how “unattractive” and “fat” she is. She may say something about how she’d have more friends or get a date if she lost weight. She may not enjoy trying on clothes or going swimming because she thinks she’s overweight. Both eating too little and overeating can manifest in a negative attitude toward being overweight.
It may be difficult for you to tell whether your child is gaining or losing a lot of weight until it’s already reached a point of extreme danger to your child’s health, as she may try to hide weight changes by wearing baggier clothes. However, you can observe her actions. For example, if your child suddenly develops an interest in exercising and starts working out in excess, she may be trying to lose weight in an unhealthy manner.
Even if your child is reluctant to share–and she may be, if she’s suffering from an eating disorder–you should push her to get help from a counselor. A counselor can be an anonymous confidant for your child to confide in and can also guide your child to a healthier lifestyle. If your child is reluctant to see a counselor right away, start with a doctor’s appointment for your child and express your suspicions to your child’s doctor. The doctor may also notice the weight gain or loss and recommend counseling.