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When your child calls you 'fat'

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on Mar 25, 2024 · 4 mins read

Like many parents, I went through a stage of calling my baby the 'little fatso' of the house (in an endearing way, of course).


His croissant-like belly rolls seemed far too delicious not to draw focus to. As were the folds of plump skin layering his arms, legs, fingers & toes.

While endearing in my head at the time, with a 4 year old set of ears also in the room, the nickname ‘fatso’ was nothing short of naive.

It did not take long at all for my 4 year old Hamish to start saying, ‘Mummy look at your big fat belly like George!’ Like many kids, when Hamish noticed the shocked expression on my face, it only egged him on (classic, right?) Hamish giggled and repeated the word he now knows to be very naughty – fat, fat, fat.

Oh gosh. An error on my behalf had been made.

The word fat is being cancelled in society for a good reason. Even Roald Dahl’s iconic literature has been scrubbed of the word ‘fat’ along with ‘ugly’ and ‘crazy’. Variety Magazine reported that rephrasing such terms as ‘enormously fat’ to just ‘enormous’, has taken place within the pages of ‘The Enormous Crocodile’, ‘The Twits’ and ‘The Witches’. While some individuals may see this as completely pedantic, as I witnessed my own child call me fat on repeat…. It was a shock to the system.

Since I was the mother in this particular situation, the offence I felt was heavily discounted. The fear that swarmed the pit of my stomach, however, was the worry that Hamish might just approach other individuals by asking them, where are your fat bellies?!

Ugh. I shudder just thinking about it.

It was time to nip this in the bud. As you continue reading, it’s important to note that I am not a parenting or a child expert. I am, however, a qualified parent and I found the below steps to be very effective.

What to do when your child calls you fat


The Apology
I told Hamish very clearly that I was wrong and I apologised. It was very silly of mummy to call his baby brother fat. His brother was not fat, but strong & beautiful. I was sorry for confusing him.

The Pivot
I re-directed Hamish (who doesn’t love a parenting pivot!?).
The word fat should either not be used at all or it should be replaced with the word strong – and only ever used with kind intentions. I was silly to call his little brother’s belly fat and I should have used the word strong.
“All that milk being guzzled up was helping him to grow tall and strong.”

The Lesson
Even though at 4 they’re still reasonably uneducated by school curriculum standards, it’s at this age (and younger), children need to be taught and guided. I strongly believe that we, parents, need to line our instructions with explanation & age appropriate reasoning.
“Darling, fat is a word that can make people feel very sad and upset. Mummy is very, very silly for using it. I’m sorry if I have confused you. Do you understand?”

The Follow Through
I didn’t wait to assess if the lesson had sunk in. I just kept repeating the ‘pivot” when an appropriate opportunity arose. For example I would say, “Mummy’s strong belly is ready for dinner,” or “Wow! Well done for eating all of your dinner Hamish! Your belly will feel nice and strong!”
Despite being solely responsible for this language faux pas in my household, it was up to me to set the record straight and adopt a very stern tone if ever the word was to sneak its way back in.

The Wider Network
I made sure this message was consistent. This meant asking those close to us (family, friends, babysitters) to please follow suit. I, of course, received a few eye rolls from those who found this particular boundary ridiculous (there’s always someone), but I ignored any judgement. The feelings of another little boy or girl who might cop a “fat belly” comment due to my naivety, trumped it all.
It’s exceptionally hard to be The Perfect Parent 100% of the time, even 1%, because The Perfect Parent does not exist.

If you find yourself making errors – me too! Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Instead, just do the work to re-write the playbook. When it comes to an individual’s ability to parent, it’s never too late to own up to your mistakes, pivot, teach valuable lessons and carefully explain consequences.

The benefit of doing so is not necessarily for you, but for the children in our orbit. After all, monkey-see, monkey do.


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