Emerging Minds

Supporting the mental health of children with higher weight

About the course

This course examines practice strategies for supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of children with higher weight. It aims to improve your understanding of the connections between higher weight and mental health in childhood.

This course does not offer specific guidance on providing advice to children about diet or exercise. However, it does provide support for non-stigmatising conversations with children and families who are concerned about their weight. Part of this involves using neutral, non-judgemental language when talking about a child’s weight. Throughout this course, we use the term ‘higher weight’ unless referring to a scientific study that uses a specific term (for example ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’).

Obesity has been found to be one of the most stigmatised conditions for children.1 Throughout this course, child and family partners will discuss their experiences of stigma and its effects on their mental wellbeing. The four practice strategies explored in this course will help you to reflect on your own engagement with children with higher weight and create opportunities for positive outcomes.

The following resources developed by the Parenting Research Centre provide some extended examples of the link between higher weight and mental health in children. The papers also provide some practical strategies for working with children and parents in respectful and non-stigmatising ways. The parenting resource can be shared with parents who express concerns about their child’s weight.

This course also uses many of the principles and understandings explored in the Emerging Minds course, Understanding child mental health and chronic physical conditions.

We are particularly grateful to the child and family partners who have been willing to share their experiences in the development of this course. Their generous contributions ensure that the lived experience of children with higher weight and their families is faithfully represented.

Who is this course for?

This course is for any practitioner who works with children with higher weight and their families. It will follow the journey of a fictional mother (Sarah) and son (Tom) to demonstrate conversations with both a general practitioner and a social worker.

Learning aims

The practice skills demonstrated throughout this course will increase your:

  • understanding that children with higher weight are at greater risk of negative mental health outcomes
  • understanding of and ability to address the effects of weight stigma and bullying on children
  • focus on the child’s best and healthiest life, rather than weight and weight loss
  • strategies in developing a team around the child, consisting of supporting adults who provide cohesive and encouraging messages; and
  • use of positive and non-judgemental language with children and their families.


It is estimated that this course will take you approximately two hours to complete, including reading the material, completing the reflection activities and watching the videos.

You can undertake this course across multiple sessions at your own pace. The last screen you visit before logging off will be bookmarked and you will have the option of returning to that screen when you next log in.


As you work through this course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later.
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through this course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy.
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete this course.
  • This course discusses disordered eating, weight loss and diet culture. Some people may find this content triggering, particularly those currently experiencing an active eating disorder and those in recovery from an eating disorder. For support, please call the Butterfly Foundation’s helpline on 1800 334 673 (please note this is not an emergency response line.)

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


The use of the term higher weight throughout this course has been recommended by practitioners and child and family partners as an alternative to overweight and obese, which can be highly stigmatising and may negatively impact children.1

For the purposes of this course, the term parent encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Social and emotional wellbeing refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.2

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.3

'Social and emotional wellbeing' is also used by some people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, who may have differing concepts of mental health and mental illness.4

Social and emotional development involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy; and
  • establish and maintain relationships.5

Weight stigma is described as attitudes that negatively affect children’s mental health when communicated as biases, put-downs, rejection or prejudice.1


This course draws on the latest research, clinical insights, and the lived experience of our child and family partners. We’d like to thank the professionals and families who played an integral role in shaping this course, generously offering their time, wisdom and unique perspectives.

A quick guide to Emerging Minds Learning

Watch the following video for a quick guide on how to navigate Emerging Minds Learning courses.


  1. Puhl, R. & Suh, Y. (2015). Stigma and eating and weight disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(10). doi: 10.1007/s11920-015-0552-6.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  4. Everymind. (2020). Understanding mental health and wellbeing. Newcastle: Everymind. 
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.

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