When your preschooler has cute chubby little cheeks or an extra roll or two around her middle, how do you sit down and talk about healthy weight?
You don't talk about weight, say parenting and weight 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
- Have age-appropriate, ongoing conversations about healthy choices
- Tell kids that healthy foods make them stronger
- Make exercise fun, think playtime
- Talk to your child's pediatrician about any weight worries
- Talk about "weight"
- Make foods "bad" or off-limits, but do watch portions
- Use food for reward or comfort
- Assume kids will outgrow "baby fat"
- Tolerate weight-based bullying or teasing
"Talk about healthy eating and healthy habits and say things like, 'This food will make you stronger!'" says Stephanie Walsh, MD, medical director of child wellness at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "I would never bring up weight. What does that mean to someone their age?"
Like you teach young kids that brushing their teeth and taking baths are important ways to stay healthy, tell them that eating healthy foods and keeping their bodies moving are also important for their bodies. This should be the approach whether your child is overweight or not.
"It's really important to talk to kids at every age and over time about the importance of nutrition and physical activity," says Marlene Schwartz, PhD, deputy director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
"Parents make the mistake that if kids are really small, it doesn't matter. Like, 'Young kids are picky, and if all they eat are chicken nuggets and french fries, it's OK. They'll grow out of it.' But it's not OK."
It's not OK because when kids don't eat well or aren't active, that can lead to being overweight or obese. And overweight kids are at risk for health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, even in childhood. Overweight and obese kids are also at risk of developing sleep apnea, asthma, and liver damage.
While scary, those medical concerns won't resonate with your kids. You have to reach them on their level. Have ongoing conversations, with even young children, about how healthy foods and moving and playing will make their bodies strong. For example, it will help them run fast and feel good. Talk to them about it whenever you have a chance -- like while shopping at the supermarket, making dinner, choosing a weekend activity, or setting up play dates.
What to Say
Registered dietitian Sarah Krieger, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, offers guidelines for how to strike up a conversation about healthy lifestyle choices in everyday situations.
When: Grocery shopping
Talk about: Why you pick one food over another
For example: "This will make you stronger."
When: Making dinner
Talk about: Why foods are good for you
For example: "Carrots help our eyes."
When: Being active as a family
Talk about: How exercise helps your body and how it makes you feel
For example: "Being outside makes me happy, and biking is great for our legs and hearts."
Making Healthy Habits
At this age, your child depends exclusively on you for food and activity. So you can have a huge positive impact on his health. It's up to you to make the changes that will help him get the healthiest foods and enough activity.