Whether you say it out loud or not, you’ve probably thought – I must have done something wrong if my child is overweight. Let’s start with the fact that ALL of us are doing our best and want the best for our kids. That is especially true if you’re reading this post.
A child’s weight can be an emotional issue for everyone involved; parents and children. That is especially true if the child’s weight appears to be trending upward quickly. As a parent, it can be an anxiety-provoking situation with, what feels like, no-win solutions.
It would feel 100% reasonable for you to think or try:
- Offering more fruits and vegetables
- Restricting less healthy foods/treat foods
- Encouraging them to exercise
Maybe you’ve already tried some of these approaches, and if so, you’re not alone. I’ve tried some of them, too. And, in my humble opinion, depending upon the age of your children, after realizing those approaches aren’t the solution and could exacerbate the situation; you might just start with:
“Sweetie, I’ve been doing something wrong. However, I’m learning, and how we eat and enjoy food in our family is going to look different.”
Then, it’s our job to talk about what that will look like, follow through and be consistent. Saying we are wrong, as parents, helps remove some of the burden off of our children. Maybe they feel THEY’VE been doing something wrong which results being in a larger body. Maybe they feel they aren’t worthy because someone has been trying to change them. By changing our approach, and 100% accepting them for exactly who they are, is a step in the right direction.
In addition to this honest assessment, we have some additional things to consider:
Talk to your pediatrician.
First, you’ll want to have a conversation with your pediatrician about your concerns. Do this over the phone and not when your child is present. The pediatrician will likely look at your child’s growth chart and you will be able see if he/she is following a normal growth curve. Your child’s doctor can identify if your child is higher than average for height and/or age. Most importantly, growth charts show changes over your child’s lifespan. If your child has always been in the 95th percentile since birth, that is much less concerning than a child who suddenly jumps from the 30th percentile up to the 97th If your doctor identifies that your child is trending overweight, keep in mind, the goal is not weight loss. Instead, the goal is establishing healthy habits for the whole family, allowing the child to listen to their own cues of hunger and fullness and let nature help your child grow and develop into a weight that is natural and appropriate for his or her body.
Take a whole-family approach to making healthy food choices.
It is extremely important that no child is singled out for his/her weight. Frame any changes in your family’s regular eating pattern as an effort to better feed and nourish everyone’s bodies. Most importantly, never use the dreaded “D” word… Diet. No one should be on a diet. At McDaniel Nutrition, we support the Division of Responsibility by Registered Dietitian, Ellyn Satter which states: parents are in charge of what gets served, where and when it gets eaten, and children are in charge of what they eat and how much they eat. Families are served the same foods and are offered the same “fun foods. In addition, mealtime should include both familiar and unfamiliar foods – and foods like breads, pastas, fruits should be served at mealtime to allow children the safety to know there will be foods served that they will like.
Be active together.
Kids are desperate for their parents’ undivided attention and physical activity can be a perfect opportunity to spend time together and improve the whole family’s health. Be an active family and everyone’s health will benefit!
Be aware of your words and even mental thoughts.
Whether we are aware of it or not, our own attitudes towards our own body influence our children. If you struggle with body image, you might consider getting help for yourself. Kids are watching and listening. Your food choices, word choices about your and their body, can leave an impact for years. Likewise, your words about food matter. Aim for neutral conversations about all food. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods and naming them as such can cause kids to feel shame or guilt about the “bad” foods they might want to eat. As you begin to make small changes to meal times, it might be necessary to remind kids that negative talk (i.e., This is gross!) is not acceptable.
How you feed matters as much as what you feed.
We stand behind the research of the Ellyn Satter Institute and their approach to an overweight child. Check your local library for their book – Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming Birth through Adolescence. By Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW, BCD.
Find support you can trust.
Finally, if you have concerns about your child’s weight, we are here to help! We want you, as the parent, to feel supported and confident in addressing any family feeding challenges you might have for an overweight child. Coming this February, McDaniel Nutrition along with therapists from St. Louis Counseling are launching a program specific to parents who have concerns about the weight of their child(ren). Contact us to find out more or set up a private consultation with one of our family dietitian specialists.