Listen first, then talk about weight
Your child comes home from school crying, upset because a classmate called her fat. You want to help her but aren’t quite sure what to say or do.
On one hand, childhood obesity can put children at risk for many ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. A recent study predicts that 86% of Americans could be overweight or obese by 2030.
But at the same time, your child’s psychological health is also your responsibility. So what do you tell your distraught child? Experts say understand how she feels about herself first, and armed with that knowledge, together you can set the proper path.
“Ask your child how other kids’ comments make her feel and really listen empathically without inserting your own feelings or solutions,” suggests family therapist Ellyn Satter, author of Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming.
Be supportive. “My mom influenced my weight loss by encouraging me not to give up,” says March L., 17, of Newtown Square, PA. “She continued to compliment me and say how proud she was, which made me want to continue working hard.”
Begin by talking about what it means to be healthy, not just about weight, suggests Amanda Holdridge, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Find out why the child’s weight is accelerating. “What is our part in it?” asks pediatrician John M. Tedeschi, MD, CEO of Advocare South Jersey. “Are we going out for fast food and having pizza night three times a week?”
CHOP’s 5210 Campaign helps families make good daily choices, including five servings of fruit and vegetables, no more than two hours of screen time, one hour of physical activity, and zero sweet drinks.
“Work together with the family to make these choices,” says Holdridge. “Plan ahead for situations like a birthday party. Your child can have a treat, you just need to decide together what that treat’s going to be and how much to have.”
Posting on the MetroKids Facebook page, mom Theresa Young says, “For the most part we cut back on portion sizing. Next stop for us is finding a suitable and fun exercise routine to get into.”
Don’t expect your child to have your size and shape. If your child is satisfied with himself, back off, says Satter. “There’s ample evidence that interventions that try to get children thin don’t work.”
But if your child is sad about how he looks, you need to help him. “You want a child who has a strong vision of himself and if he’s at an unhealthy weight, it’s going to affect him in the long run,” says Dr. Tedeschi.
Terri Akman is a contributing writer to MetroKids.