Talking to Children about weight

Talking to Children about weight

Talking to kids about size and weight can be difficult. Of course we want what’s best for our children and want to guide them toward healthy habits. However, discussions about weight can often be shaming and may not be effective. Many well-intentioned parents actually push children further away from healthy habits by trying to address their child’s weight. Here are a few guidelines for talking to children about their weight.

Focus on health and not on weight or appearance. Talk to your children about balanced eating and activity. Instead of using weight as a measure of health, encourage kids to make changes to their habits so they can feel happier and stronger. Don’t encourage dieting, frequent weighing, calorie counting or avoiding food groups. Also, avoid making negative comments about food choice or amount. Instead, focus on building a healthy relationship with food and promote intuitive eating and honoring hunger and fullness cues. Remember that weight is not a direct indicator of health.

Have the whole family make changes. Avoid having different rules for different family members. Singling out one child can build anger, embarrassment, and result in acting out. Look for fun ways to incorporate healthy activities such as going for a family bike ride or preparing a meal together. Kids learn best by watching what you do, so make sure your health habits set a good example. If changes are necessary, everyone will benefit from more balanced eating and exercise.

Avoid negative messages. Don’t try to motivate children to make changes by using guilt, embarrassment or teasing. Name calling and appearance-based labels make kids less likely to participate in healthy activities and lead to low self-worth. Be sure to limit the comments you make about your own weight and about the appearance of other people. Children learn to respect or hate their body by hearing how you talk about weight and size.

Ask your child how they feel about their weight, rather than telling them how you feel. This can open up a good dialogue about health habits and assist you with best meeting your child’s needs. If you are concerned about your child’s health, make sure to consult your primary care physician. Remember that your child is far more than their weight. Don’t make weight the main focus of their identity or self-worth.

Brought to you by Dr. Michelle Mannia, a clinical psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist in the South Bend area.

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