When your child is overweight, beginning a discussion about healthy body weight and body image can be a difficult task. In this situation it is important to begin the discussion in a positive way, reinforcing your love and respect for your child.
Pediatricians and dietitians prefer the parents to serve as role models by being physically active and choosing and eating healthy foods. Children often learn more by watching our actions than by listening to our parental words of wisdom. Parental role modeling speaks more than a thousand lectures. Children that are overweight should be encouraged to become more active and praised for making healthy food choices. We prefer children “grow into” their weight and do not use the word “diet.”
It is important to consider why your child is eating more than is healthy or choosing foods that have empty calories. Are your cabinets and refrigerator filled with empty calorie foods or healthy choices? Do you have a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table? When your child asks for a snack ask them if they are hungry. Children do need snacks but sometimes children may eat out of boredom, frustration, or anxiety. If you suspect your child is an emotional eater it is important to ask “why” occasionally to try and help your child develop healthy coping strategies that can last a lifetime. It is good to remember that often children gain weight before a growth spurt so they may be a little heavier and hungrier at this time.
Research shows as TV and computer time increase so does the weight of children. As parents it is our job to define limits and determine the rules for acceptable television and screen time per day. By limiting everyone’s screen time the whole family will find it has more time for family dinners, bicycle rides, and family games. Parents might also consider the types of gifs their children receive and the possible impact upon a child’s health. A video game will likely guarantee more screen time whereas a jump rope, bicycle, a tennis racket, or new ball will encourage physical activity.
Monitoring how many empty calories your child eats is important. If you have soda in your house you can assume your children will be drinking it regularly. But soda isn’t the only beverage that needs caution. Lemonade, sweet tea, fruit drinks and punches, fruit juices, and energy drinks also contain sugar and empty calories. By not consuming these products as an adult and not keeping them in your fridge you set the example by drinking healthy, low calorie or no calorie drinks, especially water.
As you may have guessed I believe our children do learn by watching their parents and what parents eat and how active parents are in part determine the weight of their children.
If weight issues seem larger than you can manage, it is recommended you speak to your pediatrician and consider family counseling to help the family develop healthier habits. Beginning a discussion with your child about their weight should focus on the health of the child and the family. By making healthy choices, enjoying family dinners, and being active together your family can enjoy years of healthful living.