Our kids go through what seems to be an immeasurable number of changes as they go from toddler to teen. One day they are coming home from kindergarten proud of another lost tooth and the next they’re worried about how they look in their sports uniform. As children grow up it seems topics of conversation become more complex and sometimes frustrating.
The pressure of balancing family life, sports, grades, and friends adds more challenges to dealing with physical changes they are experiencing. One of the most difficult and avoided conversations with parents and kids is their weight. Some children don’t need to talk about their weight but too often passing remarks from our kids like “I’m too fat” or “I’m not skinny enough” are overlooked. Unaddressed emotions can lead to poor self image and destructive eating habits that often go into adulthood. If your child expresses concerns or negative comments about their size it is important for them to know they have your support and willingness to discuss it with them. Let them know their feelings are real, normal and sometimes painful. Dig a little deeper to find the cause of the negative emotions. Consider some of these tips to help promote a positive attitude towards good nutrition and a healthy weight for your child.
Be the Change Agent. When talking with your child, write down a few positive changes you can make together to promote a healthier lifestsyle. Simple actions like planning more healthy foods into the family meal or setting aside time for walking together instead of TV time goes a long way. Never segregate an overweight child’s activities or food choices from the rest of the family. The entire family can often benefit from healthier choices even if everyone is at a healthy weight.
Keep Food Safe. We know kids are exposed to a lot of negative messages from media and peers about how our bodies should look. Evaluate how you talk about your own body around your children. Do you find yourself saying things like “I am too fat for this shirt” or “My diet starts tomorrow”? As their role model, you have the opportunity to use your words to help them develop a healthy relationship with food. Try to focus on their growth, learning, and physical activity instead of pursuing a number on the scale.
Ditch the Diet. Healthy eating is a lifestyle, not a punishment or temporary fix for weight loss. Avoid talk that promotes dieting or food restrictions for weight loss. Healthy food should be enjoyed and appreciated not demonized or marked undesirable.
Talk with Your Doctor. If a health care provider expresses concern about your child’s weight speak with them privately about suggestions for improving habits and normalizing growth patterns. Seek resources like local nutrition programs for youth. Often hospitals have comprehensive programs with education and activities for the child and parent. Some options are even covered by some insurance providers.