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Reality Check: Watching Kids' Weight

Q. My wife is hypervigilant about her weight and is now obsessing about our 4-year-old daughter's. How can I protect my child from developing a poor body image?

You may not be able to help your wife sort out her own weight issues, but you can take some preventive measures to help your daughter.

Tell her often that she's a beautiful person, inside and out, and that she has a strong, healthy body. Let her know she's just the right size for her.

And don't call her "chubby girl," even if it's a term of endearment. Teach her to eat when she's hungry and not just because it's dinnertime.

If your wife says, "I was so good today -- I didn't eat that chocolate-chip cookie," explain to your daughter that cookies don't make a person good or bad. Emphasize nutritious foods but allow one or two small treats a day. And as your child gets older, monitor her media consumption, pointing out differences between TV's fantasy women and reality.

Also be aware of how you talk about other people's weight. "If a girl hears disparaging things about large people, it will be harder for her to feel comfortable with her body," says Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

If you can get your wife to make just one change, get her to stop criticizing her body in front of your child. If not, counter her message: Every time she says she looks fat, tell her you think she looks gorgeous, pretty, strong. And let your daughter hear you say it. One of the best things you can do for your child is let her know that you love and accept her mother, body-image flaws and all.

Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to PARENTING magazine and a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk.