September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. It’s a good reminder that health is important for everyone, not just ourselves. Children are not immune to struggles with weight just because they are younger. More than 18% of children have overweight or obesity.
Do you have a child who struggles with their weight? You might feel nervous to address the subject for fear of not knowing what to say or hurting their feelings. Still, there are ways you can gently talk about weight and health with compassion so your child feels better.
Connecting with Your Child
Let’s address a few things first. Chances are, your child probably already knows they struggle with weight. Research shows that children, especially girls as young as five, are aware of their size. However, they may not know what to do or how to process their feelings.
Your job is to be a caregiver and a role model. Help them accept that they are struggling in a loving way. Your support can motivate them to improve their health and build self-esteem.
By stepping in, your child can learn tools for improving their health as teenagers and adults. It can also help them in school, extra-curricular activities and building a social life.
A Compassionate Approach
Start by finding a good time to talk that doesn’t feel like “talk.” Help your child understand that many people are working together to become healthier. Weight is a part of this. You can choose to talk during a car ride, while cooking, or even during a homework break.
Do not single out your child or discuss specific behaviors. If they are responsive, tell them that their health is what matters to you, not their size. Help them see that health is a forever journey, but working together makes things easier. It’s also fun!
You Can Say Things Like:
- “I know you struggle with weight. I want to help you feel healthy and good about yourself.”
- “I see you feel bad about your weight. I can help. Let’s make goals together for our health.”
The words you use to talk about weight can also make a difference. Some words will not sit well with your child, while others may encourage them.
- Helpful Words: Healthy weight; healthy habits; move more; nutritious foods
- Harmful Words: Fat; obese; diet; junk food; chubby; no television; no computer
Also, don’t talk about weight every day. This is especially true if your child is affected by bullying or feels shame at school. Constant reminders can make them feel like they have done something wrong, but finding the right times to talk can help them see the big picture.
Model Healthy Behavior
If you want your child to be healthy, be an example. Do what healthy people do. Go on a bike ride, walk after dinner and cook balanced meals at home. Talk positively about your goals. Encourage them to focus not on their size, but on health. Healthy habits will make them feel better.
The key is to involve your child in healthy activities you can do together. Do not point out your own body issues and expect your child to not be affected.
Weight is never easy to talk about, especially with children. Frame the subject around health, not their size or what the scale says. Focus on your child’s strengths and encourage them to explore healthy activities together as a family. When you set the stage for good health and self-esteem in a compassionate way, everyone benefits.
For more resources on this subject, CLICK HERE to learn from the Obesity Action Coalition.