Your Child is Concerned about Weight: How You Can Help

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Recently, the rate of childhood obesity has fallen, this Feb. 26 ABC News story has more details, yet weight is still an issue with many parents and kids. Many parents want to know, “How do you help your child if they are concerned about weight?” I reached out to two experts from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. But, I’ll begin with a perfect example of how my friend had to approach the issue with her five year old daughter.

Kids are hearing and talking about weight issues at younger ages. My friend’s daughter, Alexis (a slender five-year-old in pre-kindergarten), goes to school with a nutritious, home-packed lunch every day. Yet, she barely eats the food in her lunchbox.  My friend thought Alexis wasn’t eating because lunch and recess are during the same block of time, and whatever time is not spent eating is spent playing.  My friend wanted to get to the bottom of this, so on the way home from school she ran down the list of food in Alexis’ lunchbox one at a time:

“Did you eat your sandwich and fruit leather?”

“No.”

“String cheese?”

“Yeah.”

“How about your fruit, crackers and juice?”

“I ate some of the crackers.”

“Alexis, why aren’t you eating?  You’re always so hungry when you get home. The food in your lunch box will give you energy so you can run and play at recess and do well in school!”

“Mom, if I eat my whole lunch I’ll get fat.”

This troubled my friend so much she had to pull over to the curb and ask her daughter who advised that eating food would lead to getting fat.

Expert Tips on How to Help Your Child

To help my friend and other parents going through this, I partnered with two of the hospital’s experts to get their feedback on the topic: Katie Ingman, PhD, Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Director, Behavioral Sciences and the HOPE Program and Hope Wills, MA, RD, CSP, CLS.

Dr. Ingman’s Recommendations

Dr. Ingman’s thought was to share a friendly reminder that kids will mimic their parents. If you talk about your weight issues in front of your child, they may begin to reflect the issue on themselves too.

  • Model the behavior you want your child to reflect rather than talking directly about weight.  For example, take a walk after dinner, have a healthy afternoon snack.
  • Choose what food you want your child to eat, but let them decide how much of that food they eat, even if it’s nothing.
  • Have structured mealtimes and snack times. Do not allow all-day snacking.
  • Don’t force your child to “clean their plate.” This teaches your child to overeat.
  • Teach your child about acceptance of everyone, no matter their shape or size.

Hope’s Recommendations

To tackle the issue of weight and children, Hope suggests asking your child what they want to do, NOT how they want to look. For example, kids run and many run a lot. If your child wants to run faster (this is what they want to do), they need to practice. A natural consequence of practicing to run faster is that their weight will change because they are more active.

  • Make eating healthy and exercising part of the family lifestyle.  There should be no singled-out family member on a “special diet.”
  • Focus on what a child needs to eat to have the energy to do what they want to do, rather than focusing on specific calorie intake.
  • Encourage your child to join a sports team and play outside.
  • Explain the difference between “special treats” (i.e. cookie, soda, pudding, candy, etc.) and real, everyday food (i.e. whole grain oatmeal, fruit, chicken, etc.)
  • Do not substitute food for attention. If your child is pestering you for attention, a cookie will not solve it. Instead, recognize that they need your attention and spend some time with them.
  • Avoid using nicknames that reflect weight or size, to describe people (i.e. “fluffy,” “toothpick,” “chunk”).

To complement the recommendations of Dr. Ingman and Hope, limit your child’s television and Internet time to only 30 minutes per day. This will encourage them to be active and imaginative during their playtime.

Truthfully, it can be difficult to create quick and healthy meals nearly every day. Sometimes a restaurant or drive-thru is more convenient. Hope shared this great resource, www.mealsmatter.org.  The website has many “kid approved” recipes that are fast and simple. If your child is old enough, ask them to be your assistant chef! Having your child help you make meals is a great way to teach them about healthy foods, and it often makes them want to eat what you just made together.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is currently doing a study called Kids N Fitness© for overweight and obese children. For more information about this study, please click here.

Circling back on my friend’s story. Alexis’ friends in her class told her that eating food makes people fat. This is why Alexis was barely eating her lunch, despite the fact that it was healthy and tasty. She and her mom talked about what it means to eat what you need to be healthy and she has been eating her lunch ever since.

What are some ways you inspire your kids and family to be active and eat healthy? Please share in the comments below!

 

 

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