How to Talk to Your Kids About Weight (Video)

Father and son talking about creating healthy habits to avoid problems associated with extra weight

Weight: it’s a hard topic to discuss with adults, let alone kids. The truth is, obesity is the most common chronic medical condition that affects kids in the United States. As adults, we have a responsibility to help guide children toward making healthy decisions. Whether your child is overweight or not, weight will likely surface as a topic of discussion eventually, so we’re here to give you some tools to successfully handle it. Jennifer Groos, MD, UnityPoint Health reviews six common scenarios.

Size & Shape of Children

Scenario 1: Your child starts to notice that he/she is bigger than his/her friends. How do you guide that conversation with your child?

“What’s important is to remember that it’s not necessarily our shape or size that determines how healthy we are, but our healthy habits. How many fruits and vegetables are we eating a day, how much exercise are we getting, how much sleep are we getting, how much are we on our screens? All of those things are important things to remember,” Dr. Groos says.

Weight-Based Bullying

Scenario 2: I am a child with obesity, and I come home and tell you that kids were bullying me at school, specifically talking about my weight. As a parent to this child, what would you say?

“It’s important to take your child’s concerns seriously and to make sure you are giving them some good tools on how to handle the situation. It’s great to role play with your child to determine, ‘what am I going to do if this happens again tomorrow?’ Talk to them about the importance of telling that bully to stop, making sure if they are feeling unsafe they’re finding an advocate at school, either a teacher or counselor at school they can go to and making sure they are addressing the issue with the teacher, so the school is aware so they can do what they need to help the situation. It’s important to know bullying shouldn’t be tolerated for any reason. So, also give that child tools to be able to maintain and develop their self-esteem. So, focusing on finding activities where they could find a good fit and find sources where they can build that self-esteem,” Dr. Groos says.

Am I fat?

Scenario 3: I’m a child, and I say to you, “Mom, am I fat?” How would you respond to that question?

“I would probably start with something like it sounds like you have some concerns about your growth and its relationship to your health. Is that something you’re worried about? If so, maybe it’s a good time to go talk to your health care provider about it so we can get some more information about how we can stay healthy,” Dr. Groos says.

Teens & Dieting

Scenario 4: I’m a teen or tween, and I ask you as a parent or guardian, “Should I go on a diet?”

“That’s a common question that I think teenagers come up with. It’s important to acknowledge and let them know there is a lot of research out there that diets are not helpful and long-term changes to become healthier. It’s important that we work toward changing out lifestyles to be healthier. So, making small, sustainable changes that we can maintain for a long period of time. Partnering with your teenager about, ‘how do I set some healthy habits,’ ‘how do you help make those healthy habits easier in the home,’ are both great starting points when they come to you with that question,” Dr. Groos says.

Allowing a Second Serving

Scenario 5: You know your child has issues with weight and he/she reaches for a second slice of pizza or a second serving of something that isn’t necessarily healthy. Should you say anything to your child? Why or why not?

“I think in that situation, I’d recommend you don’t say anything. Our goal, as parents, and all folks who work around children, is to make healthier choices easier, so children have different options to make healthier choices.  I think setting some ground rules or making it usual in your family that we’ll have one serving of the main course, and then we’ll have ample opportunities to have seconds of fruits and vegetables makes it easier for kids to avoid those less healthy choices,” Dr. Groos says.

What Words to Use

Scenario 6: The term obesity can be uncomfortable. Is there a correct way to talk about it?

“It’s OK to avoid using terms like obesity or overweight when you’re engaging within families. We really want the focus to be on their health and healthy habits. Because we know no matter where our BMI (Body Mass Index) is, making changes in healthy habits can make a big difference in the likelihood that we are to develop diabetes or hypertension or liver disease. All those small changes we make, even if they many not improve our BMI to the point that we don’t qualify as overweight or obesity, those all will keep us much healthier,” Dr. Groos says.

Four Keys to Success

  • Focus on health. Instead of focusing on weight, turn the spotlight on developing healthy habits. If your child starts to address weight concerns, try suggesting adding a new healthy habit. Some good ones to start with include aiming for five fruits or vegetables a day, two hours or less of recreational screen time, an hour of exercise or zero sugary drinks
  • Defer to your doctor. If your child asks you a question that you don’t feel comfortable answering, suggest talking to the doctor. They are part of the team guiding your child’s health and he/she would be more than happy to join the discussion.
  • Be a good role model. Kids look up to adults. So, any rules children are being asked to follow should be followed by adults too. It’s not fair if adults can get second servings, but kids can’t. If kids are required to eat vegetables, then mom and dad should be too. It’s important that everyone in the family is making healthy choices, no matter what shape or size we are.
  • Make the healthy choice the easy choice. This could mean leaving the cookies at the store, so no one in the family is tempted, or making enough of the main course for everyone to have only one serving, so the option easily becomes taking seconds of fruits and vegetables.

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