If your child is overweight, it’s normal to worry about his diet, if he’s getting enough exercise and the number on the scale.
As kids grow, their weight can fluctuate all the time which is why your first stop should always be your child’s pediatrician. With growth charts, your child’s doctor can track his height and weight trends over time, talk about his diet and activity level and give you some ideas to help him safely lose weight.
Yet the truth is that pediatricians get less than 24 hours worth of nutrition education. So you may also want to consider consulting with a pediatric nutritionist who can address all of the factors affecting your child’s weight and design a plan that will help your child safely lose weight.
Luckily, there are things you can do as a parent and as a family to help your overweight child too.
1. Talk about health, not weight
As a child, chances are someone made a comment about your weight or your appearance, whether you were thin or overweight, and it’s something you’ll never forget.
Overweight children are bullied by other kids, but parents and other adults in the community can be a source of bullying too, according to a November 2017 statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Words can stick so whether your child has gained a few pounds in his belly or it’s clear he’s overweight, it’s never a good idea to call attention to your child’s weight, even if you think it’s benign or a joke.
Rather than talk about how your child looks or how his clothes fit, for example, talk about health—for him and your entire family. Talk about how healthy foods give you energy and make you feel good, for example. Focus on healthy eating, exercise and being active as a family.
2. Don’t single out your child
Imposing food rules or new habits only for your overweight child will only make her feel worse about his weight.
Adding more vegetables and eliminating processed foods needs to be a lifestyle change for the entire family—not only for the child with the weight problem.
3. Make small changes
Not only is it not realistic to overhaul your family’s diet in one week but it could backfire. Your child may feel like he’s being punished or he may push back on too many changes at once.
To have the highest chances for success, make small changes like offering a new vegetable each week, swap chips for veggies or bean dip at snack time or build in 10 more minutes of activity into your child’s day.
4. Don’t label foods “good” or ‘bad”
Sure, some foods are healthier than others but talking about foods as good and bad can make kids (and you!) feel that they’re good or bad for eating them. If the latter, they’ll feel deprived if they can’t have those foods which will make them want them even more.
When you talk about foods, talk about making healthy choices and never make any food completely off limits.
5. Move more together
Signing up your overweight child for a gymnastics class or after-school sports are great ideas but if you want to instill healthy habits, the entire family has to make the commitment to be an active family.
Find ways to be active together such as taking a walk after dinner, playing a game of catch or going for a family bike ride or hike on the weekends. Look into fitness centers or gym like the YMCA that have active programs for adults and kids.
6. Limit screen time
I admit that putting limits on how much time my kids watch TV or use the iPad is tough especially during the winter months when it’s cold out.
Studies show however, too much screen time increases the risk for obesity. According to a December 2016 study in The Journal of Pediatrics, kids who used electronic devices five hours a day increases the risk for obesity by 43 percent.
To cut down on screen time, put on music and dance around the house or set up a challenge like a scavenger hunt or a circuit of exercises.
7. Get the entire family on board
Whether it’s your spouse, another sibling or family member, have a conversation about why it’s important to watch what you say when it comes to your child’s weight and why being encouraging will boost your child’s confidence and self-esteem.
8. Tackle emotional eating
If your kid is overweight but eats healthy, it may not be because his portion sizes are too small. Kids—like adults—can eat because they’re anxious, stressed, angry, sad or bored.
Talk to your kid about her tough emotions and try to identify a healthy outlet to express her feelings such as a journal, art or music.
If you think the problem is beyond your parenting abilities, seek the help of a therapist who works with kids.
9. Prioritize sleep
According to a 2014 survey by The National Sleep Foundation, kids aren’t getting enough sleep and lack of sleep is directly related to weight.
Sleep deprivation messes with the hormones that affect appetite. Ghrelin, “the hunger hormone” which tells our bodies to eat ramps up while leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite, slows down. Not to mention that lack of sleep can cause your kids to reach for high carb, salty or sweet fare.
Stick with a routine each night to make sure kids are getting enough sleep.
10. Model healthy habits
You can’t expect your kid to eat healthy, exercise and get active if you don’t.
Have regular conversations with your kid about how you feel good when you eat certain healthy foods, go to your boot camp class or get a full night’s sleep, for example. Also, find ways to be healthy together like cook a new recipe or particapate in a race.