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.'"
9. Do make sure your child is getting enough sleep and is ‘unplugged.’
More and more studies are being released that link a lack of sleep to weight gain and other medical illnesses. Work to make sure that your child is getting enough sleep every night.
Sleep needs vary from child to child, but the following are general guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation:
- 1 to 3 years old: 12 to 14 hours per day
- 3 to 5-year-olds: 11 to 13 hours per day
- 5 to 12-year-olds: 10 to 11 hours per day
- 12 to 18-year-olds: at least 8 1/2 hours per day
To help your child get the right amount of Zzzs, remind him to ‘unplug’ from the computer, cell phone, and TV at least two hours before bedtime. Artificial light from electronics stimulates the brain and may make it harder to fall asleep.
Also, remember, the more time your child spends watching TV or being on the computer or phone, the less time he’s spending having positive interactions with family or being physically active.
10. Do make it clear that you love your child unconditionally.
Remember that your long-term goal as a parent is the same whether your child is size 4 or 14: to raise a person who is comfortable with herself and knows that she is loved.
"Be careful of the messages you send," Stone says. "You never want your child to believe that your love for her is based on what she eats or doesn't eat."
As a once overweight child, Torres agrees. "Kids need to know that what you feel about them has nothing to do with their weight," she says. "Part of loving yourself means taking care of your body and keeping it healthy. If your child knows she's loved and learns to love herself, she's far more apt to make healthy choices."