Care and Feeding

What Do I Say to My 7-Year-Old Niece When She Asks if She Looks Fat?

Ugh, this stupid world.

A little girl asking an innocent question to her nervous aunt.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by BSIP/UIG/Getty Images Plus and Absodels/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

The other day I was helping my 7-year-old niece zip up her dress and then she turned around and asked me if she looked fat. I was so taken aback I gave some lame answer about it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but I really want a better way to respond to this.

Not that it really matters, but my niece is stick thin anyway, so I have no idea where this is coming from. My mom has mentioned that my niece has made these kinds of comments to her as well. I’m so shocked that she’s dealing with these kinds of body issues at such a young age. Do you have any idea what I can say if this comes up again?

—This World Is Hell

Dear TWIH,

I would absolutely tell her parents about this, and that she has made similar comments to your mother in the past. Ideally, the obsession with thinness is not coming from either of her parents. That being said, it’s very common for people to say nice, societally encouraged things about inner beauty and loving one’s body and so on to their children, while also saying, “God, I’m such a pig” and grimacing at their own reflections in front of them.

If that’s the case, this could be a wake-up call that everyone has to walk the walk on not trashing bodies, because children see what you do and will always internalize it rather than what you say.

If this is coming from the larger culture, it also gives her parents an opportunity to keep an eye on what she’s watching and reading, and have a talk with her about bodies.

It’s serious enough for a 7-year-old to be making these kinds of comments that I’m less concerned with what you should say to her and more concerned that the situation gets handled in a larger sense. If, however, she does say something like this again, ask her, “What makes you say that?”—and listen.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My generally well-behaved almost-3-year-old has been throwing daily tantrums for baby-related items. He needs his drinks in baby cups, he is insisting on wearing outgrown onesies without pants in the middle of winter, he wants a pacifier. He hasn’t used a pacifier since he was an infant!

In other ways he’s developing really well. Last week he decided he was ready to be a big boy and is independently using the potty on his own! That’s awesome, but these other baby regressions are strange and my husband and I don’t know what to do about it. One other upcoming event I should mention is that we’ve set an end date to breastfeeding and I’m committing this time. His bedtime routine booby-milk is over when he turns 3.

Is he worried about getting older? What can I do to help?

—Goo-Goo Gaga

Dear GGG,

I think what we have here is a very normal desire to be a little baby, but as that’s coupled with the fact you’ve (mildly) dragged your feet on a few things, he’s now dealing with the conflict between having the more advanced emotional turmoil of a 3-year-old while still being babied in other ways.

It’s not an accident that it’s while he’s tackling potty training that he’s also frantically trying to hit the brakes on growing up in other ways by begging for pacifiers and trying to squeeze into his too-small clothes. And although giving up that last feed is a great plan, it’s going to make things harder and not easier for a bit. Which is OK—you’ll just have to ride it out.

I would pick one thing to give way on (he can use a sippy cup a while longer, and your carpets will be grateful) and just sweetly but determinedly move forward with the rest.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We have an elderly dog and an almost-6-year-old boy. When the time comes to say goodbye to our beloved dog, should our son be with us? We’ve talked about death and saying goodbye to dogs and we have a family member who could come with us if it gets too overwhelming, but we’re not sure if it’s right that he witness it because we are concerned that it will be too hard for him. He’s a very empathetic and sensitive kid.

—Unsure

Dear Unsure,

I think 6 is too young. You’ve laid the groundwork; his death is not going to be a shock, and there’s no reason he has to see the event itself. Pets who are just going to the vet for checkups are frequently terrified and scrambling to bolt, and you don’t want that to be his last memory of the wee thing.

I’m very sorry for your eventual loss, and I encourage you to see if your vet will come to your home to do this particular service or can recommend a vet who will. We did this with our late dog, and it made a terrible day a little bit less terrible. If that’s the road you take, I still recommend your son be elsewhere at the time.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 22-year-old daughter had a high school boyfriend (her only boyfriend to date) who cheated on her and then broke up with her almost two years ago, after he went to the other side of the country for college. She was heartbroken at the time. While she has not seen him for almost three years, they have recently reconnected online. He is now planning to move to the city where she attends college, several hundred miles from where we live, after he finishes college this spring. She says they are now back together and she plans to get an apartment with him. I found this out the other day in a roundabout fashion.

She now recalls their breakup as being “mutual”— revisionist history for sure. We are paying for her college education and have no intention of subsidizing her to live with him. We have never trusted him (he lied to his parents about her when they were in high school, and then had other girlfriends in college and dumped her unceremoniously) and we worry that she is making a huge mistake by letting him back into her life now. She will not listen to us or to her siblings when we try to express our concerns.

We will certainly refuse to pay for her to live off-campus while she is still in school, which she will be for another year and a half. She will not be able to afford an apartment on her own. We are deeply concerned about her lack of judgment and her vulnerability to his manipulation. We can’t stop her from seeing him, but we at least want her to understand that moving in with someone should not be one of the first steps in a relationship and that she has to protect herself in case things don’t work out. She seems jealous of her older sister, who became engaged last month to her long-term boyfriend.

—Revisionist History

Dear RH,

She’s an adult. You don’t have to pay for her to live off-campus, so tell her you have no intention of doing so. She can make her own choices accordingly when provided with that information.

I know it’s hard to watch your barely adult children make ass-foolish decisions in their romantic lives, but you may as well get used to it. It’s most of the job from here on out.

—Nicole

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