Sitting down with your kids and talking to them about their weight is never an easy thing.
In this article, you will learn the best ways to have the weight discussion with your child that is effective and emotionally protective. If done incorrectly, this conversation can cause more harm than good.
When I was younger, I was overweight. A 195 pound 11-year-old who spent a lot of time gorging on peanut butter and crackers.
When asked about why I ate so much peanut butter I’d answer, “I needed the protein.” I probably could have done without all of the protein. I definitely could have done without all of the sugar and without all of the loafing, but I was a kid who liked sweets and TV.
I wasn’t happy about my weight. I wasn’t happy with where I was. But I did not know how to fix it. I needed guidance…
There are many children in very similar situations all across the country.
Check out our other articles in our Childhood Nutrition Series:
- Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Child on a Diet. Do These 9 Things Instead
- Why Food’s Marketed to Kids Causes Weight Gain
- How Juice Went From A Health Food to Junk Food
Why It’s Important to Have The Conversation Now
Sadly, over one-third of children in the US are overweight (1). Increasingly, as more sugar is added to processed foods, and companies like Coca Cola try and push the focus off nutrition, our children’s health is paying the ultimate price.
Kids are becoming less healthy and becoming more susceptible to diseases, such as childhood diabetes (2). And sadly diabetes is a rising epidemic among children! This is the first generation that is not expected to live as long as their parents.
The question needs to be: what are we, the parents, going to do about it?
Some Alarming Stats
A recent study that recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), includes data from more than three million children younger than 20, the study was conducted over an 8-year period and revealed that the:
- Rate of Type-1 diabetes for children rose 21 percent. Type-1 is not related to diet. However, the increase is staggering and worth mentioning.
- The rate for Type-2 diabetes for children rose 30 percent in those same years.
- Some children eat as much as 600 extra calories a day in snacks alone.
- Child obesity and obesity was originally considered a personal problem, now it is considered a cultural problem.
Watch This Video To Find Out How Much Sugar Kids Should Be Having
This is a must watch video.
Why Not to Use Sweets as a Reward!
For the past 40-years portion sizes have increased and foods have grown sweeter (4). Our sweet tooth as a country has grown out of control. Kids are now getting dessert at every meal! Snacks account for 27% of the calories kids eat in a day. Now kids get cookies for going to the grocery store, candy and ice cream if they do well at the doctors or have a tough day. We’re becoming a treat nation!
So much of our treat society stems from our parenting good intentions. We want the best for our children and to acknowledge when they have succeeded. Next time your child does well on a test, take them to the park instead of stopping and getting ice cream or cookies. Let’s change our reward system from sweets to more shared activities outside.
Let’s not forget those companies who market to children. These companies have played a heavy role in the obesity epidemic, according to the Harvard Nutrition expert Walter Willett. Willett stated that the food industry exploited children by creating foods and marketing campaigns that were deliberately catered towards them (4).
There is no Tony the Tiger or Captain Crunch for zucchinis or Brussels Sprouts. Some of the worst foods for children use incredibly manipulative marketing approaches to target children.
These companies are targeting you and your kids and making millions in the process, while American children are getting diabetes, heart disease and a myriad of other health issues.
It’s a Life-Style Change and Not a Diet
We have to change the way we think about eating, nutrition, and exercise in order to combat a growing epidemic. And the first place to start is right at home.
Children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight as adults (2). We all want to set our children up to be healthy and happy. What you do now may impact your child for a life-time.
Starting right now, you can begin to work with your child at creating a healthy lifestyle, but first you must sit down and talk with your kid.
There are better ways to have these discussions with your child, so keep reading!
Change What Your Kids Are Eating For Breakfast
How to Start Talking To Your Kids About Weight
Addressing your child’s weight is not going to be easy. In fact, a recent study suggests that parents are more open to talking to their children about sex and drugs (“and rock and roll”) than they are about talking to their kids about weight (5).
This is tough and you are not alone. One-third of all American parents face this very same problem. Talking about your child’s weight in NOT a “rip-off-the-band-aide” discussion. In fact, the solution to your child’s weight is going to take time.
The goal of these conversations is to help your child understand why maintaining a healthy weight is important, without shaming or blaming him.
In the book Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming, the author Ellyn Satter stresses the importance of your attitude as a parent with a child who has weight issues. Satter states that what is less known about the ‘weight issue’ is how much of an impact your attitude as a parent towards your kids has on the way they view themselves (6).
When you sit down to talk with your child, be certain that you are displaying the right kind of positive attitude, empathy, and understanding. It’s important your child knows you are doing this together.
Here Are Some No-Nos When Talking to Your Child About Weight
Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right author highly recommends avoiding these pitfalls:
- Do not shame your child
- Do not blame your child
- Do not compare your child to another sibling, relative or friend
- Do not talk to your child about weight issues at the dinner table
- Do not do all the talking
- Do not tell your child we need to talk
Sitting Down with Your Kids
Weight is a sensitive topic. It must be treated with respect.
First of all, when talking to your child, do not have the weight conversation at the dinner table (5). The dinner table should be a place for mealtime and not a place where your child feels stressed and/or pressured.
Instead, talk to your child in the car or on a walk (5). It should be at a place where they are not going to be on guard. You want your kid to be more open to the discussion.
Whatever you decided to have the conversation, do not say those ill-fated words “We need to talk.” Just like your spouse or significant other, these words always signal a ‘bad omen’ and create an element of fear and stress.
Instead, make the conversation free and open and always make sure that you are doing the listening (8). Steer the conversation by asking questions, like:
“How’s school going?”
“How do you feel about your friends?”
Steer the conversation in the right direction and watch as your kid unfold before you. He probably is aware of his weight and is unfortunately teased about it in school.
As you slowly learn about your child’s feelings about his weight, start addressing your concerns by talking about making lifestyle changes (8). You are in this together. It is important to tell your child that you are in this together! You will be his number 1 supporter and will make sure the house is stocked with healthy snacks, meals and encouraging words.
How To Change Your Kid’s Lifestyle
Have Your Child Go Grocery Shopping With You
Having your child go grocery shopping with you makes your child feel as though he has more control in what he eats. Control is important for kids, this way they feel like they get a say in what they eat and don’t try and sneak food.
Start Looking At Labels Together
To help your kid understand why certain foods are healthy or how to make healthier choices, be sure to check the labels. You’ll be surprised to learn that many foods that are seemingly healthy aren’t. Some products add “all natural” to their packaging, but once you look at the ingredients and nutritional label you may quickly see some of these foods are not healthy and should be avoided. Here is a list of some of the products you need to look carefully at the labels which include: cereals, granola bars, juices, frozen meals, etc. Be sure to check to be certain these foods do not have added sugar and a lot of calories.
If you go out to eat, be sure to choose healthier foods of the menu, help guiding your child to the healthier options. Be sure to be the role model and order what is healthy.
According to Joanna Dolgoff in her book Red Light. Green Light. Eat Right, kids are more likely to eat 55 percent more calories while eating out.
Your Child Needs to Make Decisions
Your child needs to choose to live a healthier lifestyle on his own, but you need to support it with your grocery and mealtime choices.
Remember, your child needs to feel like he is in control. Be sure to let him choose this lifestyle, otherwise, he will not try and get healthy.
He Needs to Feel in Control
In order for your child to become healthier and more fit, they need to be in control. They need to feel like this was their decision.
Say Goodbye to Soda and Many Sweets
If your child needs to stop drinking soda and juice, then the whole family should, too.
Your child needs to know you are in this together. And, if it’s unhealthy for him to drink than the whole family needs to get rid of the soda for a healthier lifestyle. If sugary cereals are a staple, then change up how breakfast is served.
Have Mealtime With Your Family
Having mealtime with your family will create deeper family bonds, prevent your child from overeating and teach him to eat right. You, as a parent, are a role model. So be sure to be a good model for your child to learn how to eat. With mealtime you can present new foods to your kid, exposing him to healthier dishes.
Exercise and Play
This doesn’t mean they have to join a gym, this means they can go out and play, ride bikes, go for walks or run and play hide and seek. Getting your child to play will help motivate him.
When I was overweight I got support from my friends and my family. My parents spoke to me, by sitting me down and addressing their concerns about my health. Instead of taking the lead, they let me make my own decisions. It became a goal of mine to get into shape. I didn’t want to be skinny, I wanted to be healthier and to be able to do the things I used to do when I was thinner, like climb trees or play hide and seek.
So remember, address the issue with a kind, understandable hand. It is important to be supportive, encouraging and caring. This is your child’s wellbeing, his physical and mental health.
Do not shame, place blame or try and point a finger (or wag a finger.) Your kid needs to know that you are on his side, providing words of encouragement.
The first step is always the hardest, but once you get moving, you’ll see progress. So start the discussion today and begin you and your child’s health journey.
Share your experience in the comments below and what worked for your family. We can all learn so much from each other.
The Atlantic: Study: When Talking to Kids About Obesity, Focus on Foods, Not Body Shapes
New York Times: Study Reveals Sizable Increase in Diabetes Among Children
Harvard Gazette: The Whys of Rising Obesity
Psychology Today: How To Talk To Your Child About Obesity
Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming: Birth through Adolescence. By Ellyn Satter. “Chapter 1” Madison, WI: Pg. 28. Print.
Huffington Post: It’s OK to Talk to Your Daughter (and Son) About Weight
Red Light. Green Light. Eat Right. By Joanna Dolgoff. “Introduction.” Pg. XVI. Print.