What do you do if you notice your school-age child is a little heavier than maybe she should be? Do you sit her down for a heart-to-heart?
You should talk about it. But the important part is how, say parenting and nutrition experts.
The Talk: Expert Advice For Every Age
Do you have kids that are different ages or one that’s being bullied at school? See how your approach might need to be different for each one.
Dos and Don'ts for Talking about Weight
- Talk about healthy habits often
- Explain that healthy choices make them stronger and smarter
- Let kids have 1 treat a day
- Make healthy habits a family affair
- Talk to your child's pediatrician about weight worries
- Focus on what's inside your child, not outside
- Talk about "weight"
- Make foods "bad" or off-limits, but do watch portions
- Make healthy rules for only 1 child -- include the whole family
- Reward weight loss. Instead, reward healthy choices with compliments and support.
- Use food for reward or comfort
- Assume kids will outgrow "baby fat"
"Saying 'We need to talk about your weight,' puts a lot of pressure on the kid. They don’t know what that means," says registered dietitian Sarah Krieger, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
Instead, 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.
While kids don't care about the health risks associated with being overweight, parents do. Overweight kids are at risk of having health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, even as children. Overweight and obese kids are also at risk of developing sleep apnea, asthma, and liver damage.
Whenever the opportunity arises, talk with your child about the choices she can make to pick healthy foods and exercise. Talk about it when grocery shopping, making dinner, at restaurants, and when being active as a family.
"A healthy relationship with food and exercise -- that's the main goal," says Krieger.
Even if your child comes to you and says she wants to lose weight or tells you that she's been teased at school about her weight, the focus shouldn't be on losing weight or on how much she weighs. Switch the focus to getting her body as healthy as it can be.
It's important to remember that often overweight kids don't need to lose weight. They just need to grow into their weight. To know for sure, check with your child's health care provider. In the meantime, they need to work on good habits like eating healthy and exercising.
Empower Your Kids
When kids reach school age, they're more independent about what they eat and how active they are. Up until now, parents were mostly responsible for choosing their food and their activities. But knowing how to eat right and take care of their health are skills they need for life.
"Ask the kids what are some things they want to do to be healthy," suggests Stephanie Walsh, MD, medical director of child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Let them pick out fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or help plan the dinner menu. Have them choose which sports to play or which exercise classes to sign up for.
"Let them decide," says Walsh. "If they think of it, they're much more likely to do it -- because nobody likes to be told what to do."
When talking about nutrition, explain that healthy foods make for a strong body and will help you be smarter and do better in school. Kids at this age respond to that competitive edge, says Krieger.