With all the attention kids’ weight issues and childhood obesity are getting these days, it can be hard to maintain your perspective. How can you move past self-blame to take action if your child is overweight? How can you help your child make healthy changes without making her feel judged or hurting her self-esteem? And how do you help her realize that, because she is overweight now, she will have to be thoughtful about how she eats and moves — but she can do it? Here are eight ideas to improve your child’s health.
1. Shift the Focus Off Your Kid’s Weight, On Lifestyle “Most overweight children feel ashamed of their size,” says Michelle Van Beek, MD, a pediatrician at Sanford Children’s Clinic in Sioux Falls, S.D. And low self-esteem about their bodies does not help kids make healthy choices. How you communicate your feelings about your kid’s weight to her — as well as any concerns about your own weight — may have a profound effect on your child.
A small study that surveyed parents of fourth and fifth graders showed that the more frequently parents made comments to their child about the child’s weight, the more it seemed to have a negative impact of how the children felt about their bodies. Parents’ attitudes about their own weight also seemed to affect their kids’ body images. Girls, in particular, seemed to be deeply affected by how parents felt about themselves. Girls whose parents regularly complained about their own weight or were concerned with thinness were unhappier with their bodies and more prone to going on unhealthy diets. “If the only thing Mom talks about is weight, the child can easily get the message that his value depends on whether or not he loses enough of it,” says Van Beek.
To help you find a more healthy perspective about kids’ weight, Van Beek recommends shifting the focus from weight — yours as well as your child’s — to lifestyle choices that help improve your family’s overall health: mind, body, and spirit. To help your child learn healthy skills and behaviors, make a family project out of it. Involve children in making healthy recipes. Brainstorm ways to be physically active as a family. Doing healthy activities together works better than watching numbers on a scale — and builds better self-esteem.
Of course, if you struggle with your own weight and self-esteem issues, this may feel like a lot to ask. If you feel hopeless about your child’s weight, childhood obesity in general, or even your own weight, you may not feel equipped to provide your child the tools she needs to develop healthy habits and improved self-esteem. Yet, your experience can be instructional — and even inspirational — for your child, if she’s old enough to understand. If you’ve struggled with feelings of isolation and loneliness because of your weight, tell her what it was like for you. Share your current struggles and successes. Hearing that you hit bumps in the road and how you handle them will help your child know she can also keep going when she stumbles. The time you spend with your child, sharing stories and listening to her as she deals with child weight issues will help her feel important and loved — key ingredients to healthy self-esteem.
I’ll continue talking about children’s weight next time, this is a subject that requires more than one post.