From the moment our children are born, there is a focus on body size. In addition to the announcement of “It’s a boy/girl!”, follows information about the child’s height and weight. This attachment to size continues through life.

My oldest son, Jack, recently turned five. He is small for stature, falling in the 10th percentile for height on the growth chart.  Well-meaning people will often comment on his small size, and while innocent in nature, I want to protect him from those feelings of scrutiny.  He doesn’t seem to give any thought to a stranger’s comment and hasn’t asked me why he is the shortest kid in class, but I know these questions might arise.

Whether your child is short/tall or heavy/thin talking about body size can be uncomfortable, and it takes courage to address these potentially sensitive issues. It is natural for children to wonder about their body in comparison to others, and WE as parents, need to be the individuals that help shape their view.

Children wonder about their body size & shape compared to others. As parents, let’s be the ones to help them form a healthy view.

When we encourage self-respect and self-acceptance in our children, it becomes easier for them to extend these values towards others.  A healthy body can come in all shapes and sizes and children will grow at their own unique rate and age.

Should feeding strategies be different for a smaller or larger child? 

Even though we know that our smaller or larger child is still growing and has their own unique size and shape, it is completely understandable that we might question the need to adjust feeding strategies. I struggle with this myself. I often find myself fixating more on how much Jack eats compared to his brothers.

Registered Dietitian, Ellyn Satter, created a feeding philosophy called the Division of Feeding Responsibility that I offer to my clients (and myself). This feeding philosophy states that parents are in charge of what foods are offered and when, and the child is responsible for how much he/she consumes. When I find myself slipping into control mode, returning to this philosophy puts me at ease. It creates a positive eating environment without nagging or bargaining and fosters a safe and welcoming place at mealtime.

If you are the parent of a smaller or larger child, below are 3 feeding strategies that can be helpful:

Feeding Strategy 1: Food guidelines should be the same for everyone.

No matter your child’s size, the guidelines for healthy eating apply equally to all family members. Our role as parents is to offer our children a variety of healthy foods and offer them often. It is also important that the family eats similar foods, and if a treat or “fun food” is offered, it is offered to all members of the family.

Feeding Strategy 2: Avoid engaging in a power struggle.

The more we plead with a smaller child to eat more or encourage an larger child to make healthier choices, the more resistance we should expect. It is also possible that overly controlling your child’s food choices could encourage a child to develop an unhealthy relationship with food or possibly with themselves.

Feeding Strategy 3: Encourage balance.

It is wonderful to talk about food and nutrition, and when you do, teach the concept of “balance.”  For younger children, this might mean you describe foods such as cookies/chips as “sometimes” foods or fruits and vegetables as “all the time” foods.

For older children, it helps to relate food to something that is important to them. You might suggest that a healthy snack can help them do well on a test or sustain energy on the soccer field. Fun foods, on the other hand, won’t do these things, but certainly taste good. It is important to remember that there is room for both!

Parents, feeding our children is one of the most challenging tasks we do.

Chime in! What has worked in your family?

For more information about this topic, please check out the following resources:

Feeding an underweight child

How to talk to kids about weight and obesity

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.