Written by Joseph Skelton, MD
Dear Brenner FIT,
I am concerned about my daughter's weight. She is gaining more weight than she should, and her pediatrician said she is overweight. When I talk with my daughter about her weight, she gets angry and cries. I want to be able to talk with her about eating healthy and being active. However, I don't want my concerns about her weight to hurt our relationship or her self-esteem. How can I help my daughter to know how to be healthier?
Dear Worried Mom,
Talking with our kids about weight can feel like an impossible conversation. Deciding how to have this conversation with our kids is difficult because of the many pressures we experience as a parent. We may feel pressure from ourselves to teach our kids important skills needed to navigate an unhealthy world. Pressure may also come from another family member, coach or pediatrician. These pressures fuel the fears we have about our child's health. Often, our fears lead us to criticize the choices our child makes about food or activity. Below are a few tips to help you talk with your daughter about health and weight.
Listen. Getting our kids to talk about any issue, particularly those related to weight, starts with listening. Resist the urge to offer solutions and advice. Start with listening. Our kids are more likely to listen to us once they feel heard. If your child is worried about weight, offer your support rather than a diet or a personal trainer. Continue exploring your child's feelings and consider what will be most helpful.
Age matters. The support kids need from their parents is based on age. With younger kids, we can make habit changes at home with little to no involvement from our kids. Older kids become more involved in changes made in the family. However, expecting kids to make healthy choices and want to exercise is not appropriate. They understand that some foods are healthier, but this does not influence decision-making. Even as adults, we struggle to put into place our knowledge about health.
More doing and less talking. Avoid lecturing about why healthy eating and physical activity are helpful. Show kids what you want them to do. Kids learn by watching us. If you want your teen to start eating breakfast, start by eating breakfast yourself. As your teen sees you enjoying breakfast, she may join you.
Avoid diet and exercise talk. Focus less on typical diet and exercise messages. Those messages create shame and guilt around eating foods that are labeled as unhealthy. Focus more on offering a balance of foods and opportunities for play. Balance will allow kids to learn that all foods are OK and that moving should be fun.
Everyone is different. We come in all shapes and sizes. Our overall health is impacted by many factors, such as how much we move, the quality of our relationships and how much sleep we get. Help kids to learn that our health is more than just a number on the scale.
Teamwork. Make any health habit changes together as a family. The changes we make in the family can apply to everyone. Doing it together makes it more fun and no one is singled out.
Remember, your daughter has a lifetime ahead of her. Your goal is for her to be healthy and happy now and in the future. Focusing too much on the numbers on a scale now misses the big picture of her being healthy for the rest of her life.