There are plenty of things parents can stop doing. Obesity is bad enough; a kid doesn’t need nagging too. But today, we’re talking about things that parents can actively do. Aracelly Clouse is a personal fitness trainer in California, who also writes about such specialized topics as places for cheap family outings in her area, how to shop thrift stores for used fitness equipment, and rock climbing for kids. She offers some ideas for parents, with the purpose of empowering kids to make healthful and smart choices for a long and active life. Clouse says,
For most children, being overweight is the result of unhealthy eating patterns, such as too many calories and not enough physical activity. Since these habits are established in early childhood, efforts to prevent obesity should begin early.
Please visit “Preventing Childhood Obesity: Tips for Parents” for the long versions, but here are the short versions of the first five out of 10 tips: Promote a healthy lifestyle at home, lead by example, remove temptation, get up and move, and eat breakfast.
If the whole topic of obesity prevention is unfamiliar, a great introduction is Dr. Pretlow’s information-packed “Solving the Over-Weight Puzzle” page, which offers a wealth of inspiration, along with positives steps to take. Remember, not every helping effort will be effective with every kid. Keep that in mind, and don’t get discouraged. A kid with a serious problem is like a big tangled ball of string with a bunch of frayed loose ends sticking out. The first strand you begin with may not unravel the knot. Choose another strand and try again.
Today’s question is, “What can I, Joe or Josephine Parent, do to help my kids?” To discover that, the first sub-question is, “Help my kids do what?” If we’re talking about a newborn baby, the purpose is to help the child remain well, and never even give an eating-related problem any chance to take hold. If the subject is a troubled teen, the goal is to diagnose the problem and facilitate the healing. So there are a lot of answers, and sometimes it takes more than one.
In the case of the obese teenager with food addiction and co-existing other problems, the answer might be a 12-step program for the child, and anger management therapy for the parents. Parents need to be prepared for that possibility. In a dysfunctional family, one dynamic that is seen by mental health professionals is for all the problems to somehow accrue to one child. This kid becomes the identified patient, while the other family members get “off the hook,” in a manner of speaking.
There are degrees of food dependency, and the answers depend on how far into the land of dependency the child has wandered. If, as Dr. Pretlow believes, food addiction is very widespread, you might want to look at that possibility first. A discussion is needed about your child’s relationship with food. Dr. Pretlow suggests,
Talk to your child about his/her feelings, what feelings are being numbed by food, and help the child to learn to find comfort and stress relief in things other than food.
Talk with a kid? How? In general, directness is a turnoff, because it feels like interrogation. When you sit a kid down and say, “We have to talk,” communication is pretty much doomed from the start. A sideways approach is usually better. And try not to think in terms of blame or fault. Think instead in terms of straightening out a misunderstanding, which it is. The child needs to understand that an offer of help is being extended. The parent needs to understand that the child’s emotional needs have been starved, and a way to supply them needs to be found.
We know about “teachable moments,” when a child is open to new information. What a parent can do is the interior work to create within herself or himself the “listenable moments” that open the way to actually hearing a child. Parent Effectiveness Training workshops and similar courses offer some really helpful ways to learn what’s going on with a kid. At any moment of the day, sometimes when you least expect it, you might get an opening. Be alert for the opportunity, and when it comes, don’t blow it.
Of course, the younger a child is, the better the chance of turning things around. Starting from Day One, it’s of primary importance to make sure a child’s emotional needs are met. Dr. Pretlow says,
Children who do not receive emotional comfort at home may turn to food for comfort. A nurturing relationship with parents can turn off the emotional appetite for food… Unfortunately, overweight in their child tends to upset parents, so that the relationship becomes strained, which causes the child to seek more comfort in food, which upsets the parents further… Breaking the vicious cycle by loving and nurturing your overweight child is the key.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Preventing Childhood Obesity: Tips for Parents,” SantaCruz.Patch.com, 02/09/11
Source: “Parents of Overweight Kids Area,” Weigh2Rock.com
Image by colros (Colin Rose), used under its Creative Commons license.