Talking to your child about her weight can be one of the more difficult conversations you have with her. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and make her uncomfortable, or worse, cause her to develop an eating disorder. And you want to support her and help her feel comfortable talking to you while still conveying important ideas and information. But how can you do these things when “weight” is such a touchy subject for both adults and children? Here are a few tips that will help facilitate the conversation and help you create childhood habits that will promote her health long after she’s grown.
No pressure conversations
If your child is overweight, chances are they know it. According to WebMd.com, girls will start worrying about their weight as young as six years old. Overweight kids are often bullied or teased in school and often have low self-esteem. Focusing on having a “heart to heart” with your child may make them feel uncomfortable and cause them to shut down. Instead, make it a casual conversation.
Focus on health rather than weight “Parents should talk to their children about what it means to be healthy, rather than focusing specifically on weight,” recommends Angelina Sutin, co-author of a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Conversations focusing on a child’s size or weight will impact their self-esteem making them more likely to develop unhealthy eating or obsessive dieting habits. Whether your child is over-weight or not, have ongoing conversations with them rather than once in a while. And use every opportunity to talk to them about healthy eating making sure to avoid words that are body-weight oriented.
Explain to your children that healthy foods make your body stronger and your brain smarter. They help you stay active and do better in school. Help children make good decisions when you’re not home as well by keeping temptations to a minimum. Buy healthy vegetable-based snacks and keep junk food and soda out of the house.
Set the example Children learn by example from their mentors. If they see you snacking on ice cream rather than an apple, they’ll be more likely to do the same. If they see you eating well, reaching for foods that are good for you and leading an active lifestyle, they’ll want to model your behavior.
So choose healthy snacks and foods and exercise regularly. Tell them why you’re snacking on yogurt rather than potato chips and express a positive attitude when heading to a yoga class or the gym. “A healthy relationship with food and exercise -- that's the main goal," says registered dietitian Sarah Krieger, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Setting them on a strong track now will teach them the importance of a healthy lifestyle. They’ll have skills that will keep them strong and nourished for life.
Take an active role Pack your child’s lunch rather than having them purchase lunch at school. This will give you the advantage of knowing what they’re eating while they’re away. Have them help pack their lunch and let them make some of the decisions on their own. Give them positive feedback when they make a healthy choice and use this as an opportunity to teach them about making healthy food choices.
Take your child to the grocery store with you and teach them how to read labels. Make searching for the healthy things a fun activity by asking your child to go find the healthy ketchup or bread.
Make exercising together an opportunity to spend good quality time with your children. Go for evening walks and take your children with you. Make a weekend day an active day. Have your children choose a fun physical activity every week and spend that day doing that activity together. Make it part your family’s lifestyle.
Kids need help learning about health and activity. They rely on you and their mentors to show them the way. Make it a fun and easy conversation and have it often. Make healthy choices part of everyday life. If you’re able to incorporate health and physical activity into your lifestyle, hopefully you’ll never have to worry about your child’s weight. You’ll never have to worry about having that difficult talk and you’ll have the security of knowing that they’ll always know how to make good healthy decisions.