WebMD offers a plethora of articles related to childhood obesity, and “Talking about Weight with Your Child” by Mary Jo DiLonardo is one of them. The writer specializes in education and family matters, and her work can also be found in Parents magazine and other national publications, as well as Atlanta Magazine where she is a contributing editor.
… parents should talk about healthy eating and exercise habits. But this shouldn’t be a one-time, big talk. It should be an ongoing conversation, even if your child is not overweight.
The main thing in any case is to avoid mentioning weight, or size, or obesity, or anything that could suggest there is some stigmatizing going on. DiLonardo says,
Instead, parents should talk about healthy eating and exercise habits.
DiLonardo passes on a suggestion from an expert, based on the fact that children just starting school are usually strongly motivated to shine in that setting. Before they get old enough to find out that enjoying their studies isn’t considered cool, they have a competitive streak. So parents can take advantage of that tendency, by planting the idea that a healthy body supports a healthy brain, which is smarter and can do better in school.
Of course, when a child gets a little older, if sports become a passion, then the parent’s job becomes easier. It’s not difficult to demonstrate the connection between general, overall health and the ability to run bases. Those are only a couple of the many “do” and “don’t” suggestions found in this very comprehensive article.
DiLonardo notes, and truer words were never spoken:
While kids don’t care about the health risks associated with being overweight, parents do.
It’s characteristic of children to not focus on the future of the healthy bodies they take for granted. That’s normal. Teenagers often envision themselves dying in some heroic or romantic way, long before the consequences of early health risk-invoking behavior has the chance to catch up with them. Although that philosophy is on the extreme side, it’s still nothing unusual for the adolescent psyche.
Real trouble can start when adult concerns about sensible health practices are misconstrued by kids, and this is all too possible. If a child seems to be heading down the obesity road, and a parent starts talking about diabetes and dialysis, or high blood pressure and needing to take medication, a kid who already has emotional problems can hear that as, “You’d better not get sick because we don’t want to waste money on your hospital bills.” Needless to say, this would not be helpful, but it may be the interpretation a child makes.
With these family interactions, there seems to be a big catch. If a child is into emotional comfort-eating, there are probably already problems in the family. One of the parents might be a component of whatever mental anguish drives a child to seek solace in food. In that case, any parental attempt at communication could be doomed.
And even if there is no major familial malfunction, weight is bound to be a control issue with many kids. Common sense doesn’t enter into it. The attitude is, “It’s my body, and if I tattoo it, pierce it, or even blimp it up to 300 pounds, it’s none of your business, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So there.”
We humans are run by our brains, and a lot of our brains are not in perfect working order, and nowhere does this show up more clearly than in parent-child relationships. So while the potential pitfalls are many, learning to talk with kids about obesity (by not talking about obesity) is a skill worth cultivating.