Parenting Tips To Help Your Overweight Child
As parents, we sometimes get busy and even overwhelmed. After a long day of work, it is so easy to stop at McDonald’s or Burger King to get the kids something to eat. Not only is it easy, but if your child is anything like mine, they will say you are the best mom in the world, as they grab the greasy bag out of your hand.
All smiles and everyone wins, right? Nope. Child obesity rates have increased over the past few decades. According to the CDC, in the United States, “the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.” There’s more access to saturated fats and unhealthy foods, and the temptation to indulge in them is around almost every corner. And if we are being totally honest with ourselves, we parents are part of the issue.
I noticed my son, Keith, started expecting carryout food, but was also complaining about his weight. He would look in the mirror and squeeze his stomach in, and I could tell his weight gain was having a negative impact on him. Weight gain can negatively influence our children’s confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, our children can even be bullied because of their weight.
Being unhealthy and overweight can also affect our children’s moods and quality of life. It’s up to us as parents to help our children through their weight issues without passing judgment or making hurtful comments.
Reinforce Healthy Decisions
Sometimes, with our help, our children make poor, unhealthy decisions. These decisions are often influenced and reflected by what they see at home, so be sure to promote healthy decision-making.
Once unhealthy habits have been established, it’s important to note that positive change won’t happen overnight. However, it will be worth the sacrifice. Integrating healthy habits into your child’s life will help them adapt to a healthier lifestyle that will improve their weight and health issues in the long run.
Adapt to Healthy Habits
Your goal as a parent should be to influence healthy habits and decisions. As parents, we should try to guide our children in the right direction by helping them adapt to healthy habits. These are just a few habits you can integrate into your children’s daily lives:
1. Eat a healthy, balanced breakfast.
Let’s face it, it’s easy to grab a Pop-Tart when we rush out the door in the morning. So, I am grateful my son’s school serves a balanced breakfast in the morning, as this is an important meal that sets you up for the day ahead. Make sure your children have something nutritious and satisfying so they can feel energetic for school.
2. Let them eat cake.
Don’t get so extreme that you don’t let your child eat birthday cake. Although it’s important to encourage healthy eating habits, you shouldn’t take away all treats from them. They are kids, after all.
3. Avoid diet culture.
My son asked me to put him on a diet. My response was “absolutely not.” I responded like that for a few reasons. First, I don’t think it’s healthy; second, I am not going to be counting calories for him; and third, I don’t want to argue over snacks. As a parent, promoting healthy eating doesn’t mean you should let your children participate in diet culture. Diet culture can become toxic, especially if you’re letting your children eat in a calorie deficit. Ensure your children are eating well-balanced meals that properly sustain their growing bodies.
4. Be Supportive and Understanding.
Being overweight as a child can have a drastic impact on their self-esteem and confidence. They may already feel insecure about themselves. It could be they aren’t happy with their body image, and other children may bully them. The last thing our children need right now is someone judging them, especially their parents. Our support, guidance and understanding throughout this challenging journey are key.
How To Approach Your Overweight Child
My son approached me with concern about his weight, but if they don’t, you may have to approach them. This can be challenging. The way you approach your child on this topic can impact how they react to it. It can be difficult to hear your parents calling you overweight, so be sensitive. These are some tips you should consider when approaching this topic with your children:
Show concern for their health, rather than their weight.
My son started off the conversation saying, “Momma, my stomach is really fat, and I want to get skinny.” It caught me off guard, but I quickly changed the conversation to healthy habits. Therefore, when you approach your children, make it clear you want them to be healthier. It will only make your children more self-conscious if you point out their physical weight issues. Don’t point out their insecurities, as this will only hurt their self-esteem.
Avoid blaming them.
In my household, we are a family unit, which means we all have a hand in this and there is enough blame to go around. Therefore, blaming them will be counterproductive and will not help to find actions to focus on going forward.
Make it their decision.
Ultimately, the success of your child sustaining healthy habits can depend on their commitment to it. Make it something they want to do. You can influence and persuade them, but if you force them, it may make them less willing to stick to a healthier lifestyle.
Participate In Family Exercise Together.
Our children have more screen time than we ever did. According to Medline, our children average five to seven hours daily in screen time. Therefore, they also spend less time outside playing kickball and tag as we did in our younger years. I’m still trying to teach my 10-year-old how to ride a bike, but that is a whole different article.
Being physically active plays a big role in our children’s health and weight. Ensure they are getting frequent physical activity, as this will make them healthier and aid in their weight loss. However, if your child is anything like mine, telling them they must exercise can make them feel like doing the opposite.
One positive approach is to engage in family exercise activities. By implementing family exercise, children will feel more motivated and comfortable getting fit. It’s more fun for them to exercise with others, instead of feeling like it’s an obstacle they have to face on their own.
You can practice family exercises in many ways. For example, I gave my son three choices of physical activities we could do together. They were to ride our bikes in the neighborhood, skate in our neighborhood, or go to boxing classes. I bet you all already know that riding our bikes in our neighborhood did not make the cut. He chose boxing. We go together as a family at least three times a week.
Consider the Cause
Where do the weight issues originate from? What’s the real issue? It is good to understand exactly what is driving the weight issues. Sometimes they result from a lack of self-control and over-indulgence. But this behavior could be influenced by deeper problems you’re unaware of.
If your children are experiencing weight gain from something deeper, it’s important to tackle these issues. It’ll be difficult to help them develop a healthy relationship with food and their health if underlying problems aren’t resolved. These are a few examples of issues that could be impacting your child’s weight gain:
If your child is facing constant bullying at school or at home, it may make them use food as an emotional crutch to cope with it.
Growing up can be difficult, and insecurities can cause your children to compare themselves to others. It’s important to work on promoting positive self-esteem, as it impacts your children’s eating habits.
Overindulging in food can be a coping mechanism for many when they’re battling trauma. Your child may have experienced something traumatic that impacts their eating habits.
Be a Good Role Model
I remember a saying I used to hear from adults when I was a child. It went something like this: “Do as I say, not as I do.” As a child, I did not like hearing that. I thought it was so hypocritical. At the end of the day, it will be difficult for your children to listen to what you’re saying if you’re displaying unhealthy behavior. Your children are influenced by you, so if you eat unhealthy food and neglect exercise, they’ll do the same. Be the good role model they need.
With my family’s situation, I did focus on weight. I am approaching it like this: We are getting healthier and accomplishing goals together as a family. This is definitely not a destination but a journey. Sometimes my son does not want to go to boxing and sometimes I am tired after work, but we remind each other why we are doing it. And once we get to boxing class, I forget how tired I was before I started, and he forgets that he wanted to skip that session. We constantly hold each other accountable and still give each other grace.
We live in a society where childhood obesity and weight issues in children are becoming more frequent. This doesn’t have to be the case with your children. Working together as a team can help them make healthier decisions.
Your child’s health is so important, so consider putting these tips into action. It will only benefit your children, as they’ll live a healthier lifestyle!
Dr. Tamecca Rogers is Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Tulsa Technology Center. She is a writer and mom to three boys who love adventures.