5. Do talk to kids about other issues that may affect their weight.
Being overweight can be a symptom of a deeper issue that your child is experiencing. Ets-Hokin urges parents to find out what's going on with your child socially and at school.
For example, loneliness is often a factor in children's weight issues, according to Pretlow. "It's common for overweight kids to say, 'food is my friend,'" he says.
Overweight kids may be lonely because they are socially isolated. Pretlow urges parents to get kids involved in activities: "Music classes, clubs, or volunteer activities will keep your child active and will also help him meet people who share his interests." He also suggests engaging kids in family outings and physical activities.
A child may also overeat in response to unresolved issues at home, such as marriage or financial problems. If you suspect your child's weight signals an underlying problem, consult your health care provider.
6. Don't force kids to totally eliminate foods.
Establishing healthy eating habits is a much more effective approach than completely restricting foods. "Healthy eating doesn't mean your child can never have cake at a birthday party or a cookie at a friend's house," says Eileen Stone, a psychologist at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D. "Your child is going to encounter treats, and you want them to learn to make good, balanced decisions about the food they eat."
Teach children to savor treats rather than gobble them up quickly. Show them what a healthy portion of ice cream or cake looks like so they know what to ask for. For example, one serving of ice cream is 1/2 cup. That is about equal in size to a light bulb. A healthy portion of cake is about the size of a deck of cards. Using these visual cues will help your child participate with friends without overdoing it.
7. Do make mealtime family time.
There is evidence that eating with children and having regular family meals helps prevent childhood obesity, according to James Mitchell, MD, a psychiatrist and eating disorders expert at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D.
"Research shows that when you eat with your child, they eat more slowly and make healthier choices," Mitchell says. "When you have family meals, eating becomes a social event."
8. Don't make kids follow a strict exercise plan.
Torres suggests that parents encourage physical activity as a natural part of life, not a chore, or kids are likely to resist. "Make it positive," she says. "Instead of making your kid go to a cardio class once a week, for example, do something spontaneous, like take a walk around the neighborhood. Set goals to encourage your child, such as, 'Let's see if we can walk a little further this time.'"