Tips for Parents: How to talk to your overweight child

If your child is overweight, you may be at a loss for how to help. Talking to kids about weight can be a sensitive topic, no matter their age. While it may be uncomfortable to discuss weight concerns, the sooner you bring it up and help your child take action, the easier it will be to help him or her achieve a healthy weight. Ignoring it won't make it go away, and in fact, waiting until your child is older to deal with weight issues may make it harder for him in the long run.

Also keep in mind that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, which will put them at a higher risk for serious health concerns such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. While it is possible at any age, it can be much easier to tackle weight problems when a child is younger and more open to making different lifestyle choices.

So where should a parent start? Here are some supportive ways to help children overcome weight issues while keeping their self-esteem intact. 

Be Available to help

It's important to talk honestly to kids about their weight if they ask you about it - and be available to help. If your child is concerned about her weight, tell her you want to help, and make getting healthy a project you work on together.

Then put some action behind your words by helping her explore her interests and discussing options. For example, suggest taking a cooking class together to learn healthier ways to prepare old favourites. Bring her grocery shopping with you and have her choose a new fruit or vegetable to try every week. By involving your child in the decision-making process, you help her take charge of her health and build self-confidence.

Lead by example

When it comes to children and weight, what you do is more important than what you say. Parents are kids' number-one role model. Kids develop their attitudes about food and eating from their parents. If parents go to fast-food restaurants and expose their child to junk food around the house, that child will develop the same habits.

Limit the meals you get from fast-food restaurants. But when you do go to the drive-through, explain to your child about the healthier choices you can make, such as ordering a grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad or fruit cup rather than a burger and fries. Then order a healthier choice yourself.

Don't postpone - Start setting a healthier example today

It's never too late to develop healthy habits. Maybe you haven't always made healthy choices in the past, but today is a new day. Improving your own lifestyle can inspire your overweight child to do the same.

Take on change in small steps. Make it easier for everyone in the family to eat healthier by gradually ridding your house of all junk food. Take a look at your pantry and refrigerator and clean them out. Check the food labels and find foods with high percentages of saturated fat and with ingredients like sugar and high fructose corn syrup. 
Stock your kitchen with healthier snacks and foods to help your family limit trips to fast-food restaurants by making quick and easy healthy meals possible without a trip to the store.

Be optimistic

Criticising kids about their weight is one of the worst things an adult can do. Making remarks about their weight at the dinner table and comparing them to their slimmer siblings or friends can cause long term damage to their self-image and can even result in eating disorders. Encourage your child in a positive way to lose weight.

Be actively involved

Being overweight can be a symptom of a deeper issue that your child is experiencing. It is important to find out what's going on with your child socially and at school. For example, loneliness is often a factor in children's weight issues. Overweight kids may be lonely because they are socially isolated. Parents should get kids involved in activities: Music classes, clubs, or volunteer activities will keep your child active and will also help him meet people who share his interests.

A child may also overeat in response to unresolved issues at home, such as marriage or financial problems. If you suspect your child's weight signals an underlying problem, consult your health care provider.

Keep the balance

Establishing healthy eating habits is a much more effective approach than completely restricting foods. Healthy eating doesn't mean your child can never have cake at a birthday party or a cookie at a friend's house. Your child is going to encounter treats, and you want them to learn to make good, balanced decisions about the food they eat.

Teach children to savour treats rather than gobble them up quickly. Show them what a healthy portion of ice cream or cake looks like so they know what to ask for. For example, one serving of ice cream is 1/2 cup. That is about equal in size to a light bulb. A healthy portion of cake is about the size of a deck of cards. Using these visual cues will help your child participate with friends without overdoing it.

Mealtime is family time

There is evidence that eating with children and having regular family meals helps prevent childhood obesity.
Research shows that when you eat with your child, they eat more slowly and make healthier choices. When you have family meals, eating becomes a social event.

Encourage physical activities

Parents should encourage physical activity as a natural part of life, not a chore, or kids are likely to resist. Make it positive; instead of making your kid go to a cardio class once a week, for example, do something spontaneous, like take a walk around the neighbourhood, or a game of cricket in the park.

Sleep is key

More and more studies are being released that link a lack of sleep to weight gain and other medical illnesses.

Sleep needs vary from child to child, but the following are general guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • 1 to 3 years old: 12 to 14 hours per day
  • 3 to 5-year-olds: 11 to 13 hours per day
  • 5 to 12-year-olds: 10 to 11 hours per day
  • 12 to 18-year-olds: at least 8 1/2 hours per day

To help your child get the right amount of sleep, remind him to ‘unplug’ from the computer, cell phone, and TV at least two hours before bedtime. Artificial light from electronics stimulates the brain and may make it harder to fall asleep.

Love your child unconditionally

Remember that your long-term goal as a parent is the same regardless of their size: to raise a person who is comfortable with herself and knows that she is loved.

Be careful of the messages you send. You never want your child to believe that your love for her is based on what she eats or doesn't eat. Kids need to know that what you feel about them has nothing to do with their weight. Part of loving yourself means taking care of your body and keeping it healthy. If your child knows she's loved and learns to love herself, she's far more apt to make healthy choices.



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