A Family Affair
While you want to help them learn to make healthy choices, as a parent, you still have control. Even though kids come home and choose their own after-school snack, they can't eat cookies every day if there aren't any in the pantry. Stock the fridge and kitchen with healthy foods like low-fat yogurt, cut-up veggies and hummus, and whole-grain mini-pitas and low-fat cheese and let them have their choice.
Make household rules about how much TV and video game use is allowed and make everyone, including parents, stick to it. Kids at every age learn from what their parents do, as much as what they say. The whole family will benefit when you make healthy eating and an active lifestyle a family affair.
"The families that succeed are the ones where everyone in the family is doing it together," says Krieger. "You can't have a parent watching TV while a kid is out riding his bike."
Stay on Message
As kids get older, it gets harder to just talk about healthy eating and staying active if they start to worry more about how much they weigh and what size clothes they wear.
"You want to always stick with the message: You need to be as healthy as you can be no matter what and value your body no matter what," says Marlene Schwartz, PhD, deputy director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
If you have a child who's overweight, praise her when she makes smart food choices or is active. But don't get in the position where you're ever rewarding weight loss, says Schwartz. Compliment a child if she grabs an apple for a snack or decides to shoot hoops after school. But don't throw a party if she loses 10 pounds.
Remember what motivates kids, says Don Morgan, PhD, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health in Youth at Middle Tennessee State University. If you tell them that eating right and exercising is going to help lower their cholesterol or lessen their risk for heart disease when they're 50, they'll zone out.
"They can't even think about what they're going to do later in the day," he says. "Tell them they'll be able to run faster or play basketball better. Give them a goal that they understand, that resonates with them."
Bring in the Expert
If you are worried about weight issues with your child, talk to your child's pediatrician. Mention your weight concerns at your child's next well checkup or make an appointment now to discuss your questions.
The pediatrician can measure your child's height and weight to get his body mass index (BMI) and chart his growth if indeed your concerns are valid. You can talk with her about your family's eating habits and activity levels. She may be able to offer suggestions to help make sure your family is taking all the best steps to stay healthy.
Your pediatrician can also talk to your child about food and exercise, reinforcing the message that healthy food and regular activity will keep her body strong and help her perform better in school.