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Raising Fit Kids: Healthy Nurtition, Exercise, and Weight

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2. Work on Building Your Kid's Self-Esteem continued...

Of course, if you struggle with your own weight and self-esteem issues, this may feel like a lot to ask. If you feel hopeless about your child's weight, childhood obesity in general, or even your own weight, you may not feel equipped to provide your child the tools she needs to develop healthy habits and improved self-esteem.

Yet, your experience can be instructional -- and even inspirational -- for your child, if she's old enough to understand. If you've struggled with feelings of isolation and loneliness because of your weight, tell her what it was like for you. Share your current struggles and successes. Hearing that you hit bumps in the road and how you handle them will help your child know she can also keep going when she stumbles.

The time you spend with your child, sharing stories and listening to her as she deals with child weight issues will help her feel important and loved -- key ingredients to healthy self-esteem.

3. Set Realistic Goals – Change Happens in Small Steps, Takes Time

Helping your family focus on small, attainable, healthy lifestyle changes can move you all in a positive direction. At first, everyone in the family may have goals as simple as:

  • Eat a vegetable with every meal.
  • Drink a glass of water instead of soda every day.
  • Take 10 minutes out of your day for a walk.

Better yet, ask your child to set goals that feel attainable to him. "Realistic goals give your child the chance to prove what he can do," says Joan Kinlan, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Washington, D.C.

Kinlan also suggests that parents give overweight children lots of encouragement along the way. "The sense of accomplishment that comes from starting small and building on that success can have long-lasting benefits."

4. Make Exercise Fun

Enjoying physical activity can help your child develop strong self-confidence and a positive body image. The problem is that many overweight kids hate team sports, like those played in gym classes or offered by community teams, because they get teased or can't keep up with other children.

To help prevent public humiliation from being the only feeling your child has about exercising, help her find activities that will build her self-esteem. You might start by taking a walk together each evening after dinner. "Start going for short walks and increase the distance over time," says Kinlan. "If your child can only make it for a block the first time out, that's OK. Sticking with it matters more than the distance you cover. Over time, your walks can get longer." Your child's weight will benefit as well.

Playing with kids with similar abilities -- or even pets -- may also provide opportunities for fun activity in a non-competitive and supportive environment. Consider tossing a ball, shooting baskets, or playing croquet or putt-putt golf. Try any fun activity, like just putting on some music for dancing, that will get your child moving and noticing how her body feels. She may even start to realize that everyone is not staring at her.

If you aren't active, you may have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone to help your child. So it's just as important for you to set realistic, attainable goals, have fun, and build on success. Working together to find fun activities may help your family get healthier, move past old feelings of shame about childhood obesity, and build stronger bonds in general.


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