Childhood obesity is a problem that has received national attention in the past few years; the statistics vary a bit from year to year, but according to the State of Obesity’s latest annual report, 31.8% of American children and teens are either overweight or obese. While federal and state efforts have been made to combat this epidemic, the real battle takes place at home. If your kids aren’t quite as healthy as they could be, if they’re larger than what’s normal for their age and height, here are five ways to help:
Focus On Health
The first thing is to concentrate not just on weight, but overall health. Numbers on a scale can only tell us so much, but what’s more important is how a child feels (physically and emotionally), if they’re able to comfortably run and play with other kids, and that they’re developing the right habits for a lifetime of health. Don’t send the message that your child needs to hit a certain weight to be attractive; just work together toward better health.
Teach By Example
The biggest single factor in your child’s attitude toward fitness and nutritious eating is YOU! They see what you put in your body everyday, and since they’re living in your home, they will naturally eat the same kinds of foods. They take notice whether you sit down in front of a computer screen for hours or if you go take the dog for a walk. The old saying that “more is caught than taught” really rings true here. If your child is struggling with weight problems, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to discover that you yourself could stand to be more healthy too. I encourage you to think carefully about what kind of example you’re setting in this realm and then to make any necessary changes to model a healthier lifestyle.
Never Say “Fat”
Some parents seem to wonder how to break the news to their kid that he/she is overweight, but the truth is that they already know! Children are painfully perceptive of how they compare to their peers, and sadly those who struggle with weight problems have more than likely been bullied about this, starting in younger and younger ages. It’s not necessary to let them know that they’re overweight; they’re already aware! Still, when we approach this delicate subject, it’s crucial that we chose our words with the utmost care (I can’t think of any topic more sensitive than this one). Avoid saying “fat.” It’s a term loaded with shame that can lead to self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy. It is better to frame this in being healthy and unhealthy.
Make Slow Changes in Eating
If you realize that your child (and likely you too!) need to make some major dietary changes, it can be tempting to completely revamp the refrigerator and the cupboards to try to overhaul your family’s way of eating. This can be overwhelming, though, so try to make changes little by little. Recently, in my home, we have been eating more vegetarian meals, which has resulted in a lot of push back from my kids, as this has been a major lifestyle change. My son finally told me, “Mom! I need meat! Real meat! No more hippie vegan food!”. It was a good reminder to me to take my own advice and give some balance to eating changes, as this is a challenge for all of the family members. Its important to listen to your kids and make these changes slowly and openly. Also, don’t micromanage your child’s food intake, as this can be demoralizing and shame-filled for your child. Making small adjustments in eating habits, replacing sodas and processed snacks with water and fresh produce, can all add up to big changes in how a child looks and feels.
Exercise as a Family
In trying to implementing healthier lifestyle routines, it’s probably too much to set a strict physical regimen for your child (“Run 2 miles! Drop and give me 20! 40 sit-ups!”). Instead of making exercise a punishment or something to be dreaded, opt instead to make it something fun that the family does together! Trips to the park, swimming at the pool, a hike to a close waterfall, or even tackling the “Pokemon, Go” craze can all be ways to get outdoors, get the blood flowing, and strengthen those family bonds. Playing together will build bonds of attachment and memories that will last a lifetime…in a good way!
The most important thing to remember in all of this, is that we as parents just get to be good enough. We will completely mess up on a regular basis and all we need to do is say, “Wow, I really messed up. I am so sorry I hurt your feelings last night. I really love you” and try, try again.