3 Year Old Thinks She's Fat

Updated on June 22, 2010
R.H. asks from Ebensburg, PA
7 answers

For the last few weeks my 3 year old daughter has been asking me if she is fat and telling me that she thinks she's fat. I am pretty shocked by this because I have certainly never told her that she is because honestly according to her BMI she is closer to being too thin than being overweight. I keep telling her that she is just right and not to worry about being fat. I never diet or talk about dieting or talk about weight. We discuss healthy eating habits of course but not in terms of things making you fat or anything like that. This just worries me because you hear so much about kids with eating disorders and poor self esteem, poor body images and things like that. I never make comments about other peole being overweight or too thin because I don't want my daughter to judge people based on their appearance etc. I asked her if someone at preschool told her that she was fat and she said no, so were did this come from? She doesn't watch much t.v. (We don't even have cable.). This might seem weird but the only time I talk about someone being fat is in reference to our cat and his weight is an issue (22lbs for a cat is an issue). Could she have just applied this to herself? I think there's a big difference between calling the cat chubby and saying that about a person, but I'm not three years old.

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So What Happened?

Well, I decided not to make a huge deal out of it when she brought up the fat issue. I just told her that she was beautiful and a perfect weight. She has not brought this up again this week but I decided that if she does start asking me about being fat again, I will talk to the pediatrician at her upcoming appointment and have her tell Elle that she is the right weight. I also stopped commenting about Linus the cat's weight and he has lost two pounds btw! Thanks for the great advice!

More Answers



answers from Portland on

It is fascinating and disturbing to hear that from such a young child. It sounds like your attitudes about body size are healthy. Hard to say sometimes where these thoughts originate.

I would be careful not to insist that she's wrong, because that could cause her to cling more tightly to her opinion, thinking that you just don't understand. There's a great book that can help you navigate this issue and the many more you'll face in the coming years, called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk. You can learn how your children can propose their own solutions to a mind-boggling range of problems. Read part of this wonderful parent-workshop-between-covers here: http://www.amazon.com/How-Talk-Kids-Will-Listen/dp/038081....

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answers from Sacramento on

It's probably less likely that someone has told her SHE is fat than that she has heard someone say THEY are fat or ask if the look fat. Even Disney movies sometimes make jokes about women asking "does this make me look fat?" and if she heard that she might think it's something people should ask.

Good luck with this. My advice would be keep it light, assure her that she is not overweight but don't spend too much time on it, just because she's saying it doesn't mean it's really a big deal to her, but it could BECOME one if it gets a big reaction.


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answers from Pittsburgh on

You know you can never be sure quite how a comment gets stuck in the mind of a child that age. Someone may have said something like eating chips or McDonalds or whatever will make you fat and she ate it and it stuck in her brain. My very skinny daughter was told by a preschool aide jokingly that she was too fat when she couldn't get the seatbelt on her. You can show her a growth chart to reassure her that she is the perfect size (yes they can understand this if put in simple terms) or be sure to ask your pediatrician to address it at the next visit. Remind her she is beautiful perfect, and even though kitty is fat- you love her.

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answers from Houston on

I believe absolutely that she can be applying what you are saying to/about the cat and applying it to herself. I know...it is so disturbing the way that their little minds work. As disconcerting as it is, I agree with not insisting that she is wrong. There little brains don't really make such a clear distinction between themselves and others (including animals).

My three year old:
-sends the dogs to time out when they aren't following commands.
-told me that I am the Mommy and the Daddy.
-has decided that make-up makes you pretty (I don't even wear make-up everday)
-will tell you that she has a baby in her tummy and that her daddy put it there (try explaining that one to the lady in the check-out line!)
-talks about her Daddy's house like she has actually been there. She hasn't.
-tells me when she doesn't like my clothes. Mostly when I wear something other than black (my usual).

It was so disturbing to me when she cried because she wanted blue eyes and blonde hair...like Mommy. I was so pained by it that I actually dyed my hair darker. I have no idea where she got attached to this ideal, but she definitely notices women with nice hair and make-up and points it out.

They get attached to some strange things at this age. Like everything else, best not to focus on it and continue to reinforce positive behavior.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I have a son that is off the charts for height. He is a solid boy, but not overweight at all, and his height is ahead of his weight, so he is in a healthy range. The pediatrician has assured us of that all along, and to see him, you see he is not fat...

But, for several years in a row, he has come home with a letter from the school nurse, after they do the measurements at school, suggesting that he join a healthy kids program and explaining how bad it is to be overweight, etc. My pediatricians are OUTRAGED by this. One year my son opened the letter. He was 8 years old and VERY upset by it. We went to the pediatrician and she took out the chart they use to calculate all this and showed my son that he was the AVERAGE height and weight for a 12 year old...and that it was stupid that the school (utilizing state-mandated info, apparently) was saying my son was overweight, without taking his entire frame into consideration.

I am guessing your cat statements made your daughter think about herself, not that it's rational. Maybe, on your next pediatrician visit, you can have your doctor assure your child and show her the growth chart, calculation wheel, etc., as our pediatrician showed our son.

Good luck!

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answers from Williamsport on

Yup, it's the cat. Or she heard other kids say it or something. If you don't call yourself fat or other people fat or obsess about food and appearances, she won't either. With all this in check, at age 3, she isn't really upset that she may be fat, she's just asking the question. If the cat has a physical malfunction that makes him fat no matter what, and his diet isn't responsible, or even if it is because of what he eats, then for her sake, just quit calling him chubby, since she could interpret it as name calling based on weight.
My daughter started calling obese people "Really Big" even though we purposely NEVER use any sort of size description on people for fear the kids would pick it up and say something so we had to explain why it wasn't nice to say "really big", and you just say "lady" or "man" not, "big lady, etc. You might have to expand the lesson to cats!



answers from Louisville on

I would suggest watching your daughter for signs of this issue affecting her. Most likely she has heard someone say something about being fat and is just responding with a question. However, if she starts not wanting to eat or asking if things are fatty then there is a problem. My niece freaked out at about 31/2 or 4 and was worried about becoming fat. Not sure why (although we think someone in her mother's family said something to her about it). She is one of those children who are actually to skinny, but for a year it was torture to get her to eat. She would cry and hide when anyone mentioned food. She asked about everything if it would make you fat. It was horrible. So just watch out and make sure she doesn't have problems with food.

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