No doubt, the pandemic has set us back in the fight against weight gain. Many children — like adults — packed on extra pounds this past year.
Organized sports, extracurriculars and play dates were cancelled, playgrounds closed, daily routines relaxed and kids home with more time for screens. Combine these factors and you end up with more sedentary behavior, which can contribute to weight gain.
Now as sports, in-person school and normal routines slowly resume, parents are left with figuring out how to talk to their kids about dropping the weight and breaking those unhealthy pandemic habits.
“There are many subjects parents can talk to their kids about in a neutral way, but talking about weight can be an emotionally volatile one,” said Dr. Geoffrey Putt, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Kids can feel uncomfortable, judged and self-conscious, especially if they have been teased about it.”
If you’re unprepared, you can unknowingly contribute to stigmas and insecurities about weight that can result in negative consequences. So if a discussion about weight is necessary, follow Dr. Putt’s Do’s and Don’ts to help you tread lightly on a delicate, but necessary subject for your children’s health and wellbeing.
Do’s for talking to kids about weight
- Do acknowledge your own biases, struggles and insecurities with weight. Imposing these negative attitudes on your children can harm their self-image and worsen the problem. Instead, start the conversation by asking open-ended questions or discussing weight concerns of people in the media or your extended family to gauge your children’s thoughts and feelings about it. Don’t assume they are uncomfortable about their weight and create an insecurity.
- Do make the conversation supportive and positive, rather than critical or punishing. Create an environment where your children feel comfortable talking about their weight and any problems they may have with teasing. Remind your children about their strengths and positive qualities. Are they funny, kind, determined? It will help boost their self-esteem, while reminding them of your endless love and support.
- Do focus on health benefits, rather than calories, body size or a number on the scale. Being healthy isn’t necessarily about an absolute number — kids come in all shapes and sizes. Focus on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle: more energy for a stronger, faster athlete and a healthier heart and brain for school success. You also can discuss the risks that being overweight can bring, including diabetes and heart disease.
- Do model the healthy behaviors you want to see in your child. If you’re constantly down on yourself, chasing diet fads and talking negatively about your own body image, your children will follow suit. Make sure you’re sending the right message: Lose weight because you love your body and want to be healthy.
Don’ts for talking to kids about weight
- Don’t use the word fat, chunky or big-boned. These words can be interpreted negatively and emotionally scarring for kids, making a weight problem even worse. It’s important to talk about your children’s shape in positive ways to help them feel comfortable in their body, no matter the size.
- Don’t make it just about your child, but instead the whole family. Promote healthy behaviors in everyone. Set goals for the entire family, such as drinking more water and less soda or juice, eating more veggies with dinner and incorporating more active, rather than sedentary activities. Research shows kids are more successful at maintaining weight loss when the whole family’s involved. Plus, your children will feel more supported.
- Don’t compare your child to a sibling or other family member. It may do more harm than good and can be demotivating. Judgment doesn’t just come from words, but also from comparisons. Kids come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone is different, and most often weight is a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
- Don’t make the conversation complicated. If your children don’t understand, they will get bored and tune you out. You can simply say, “Food is fuel for your body, but when you have too much and your body can’t burn it all, it contributes to weight gain.”
If your child is struggling to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle, call Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program to schedule an appointment and evaluation at 330-543-5673.
Learn more about the steps Akron Children’s Hospital is taking to keep you and your family safe during the pandemic.