How to Talk About Weight with Your Children
If your child is overweight, deciding to talk about this unhealthy lifestyle is only the first step. It can also be a huge challenge to have a productive, helpful discussion, especially if your child is unwilling to hear what you have to say.
Here are eight suggestions for avoiding as much conflict as possible.
Put the focus squarely on health and off weight
Whether by default or by design, each family has a health and wellness “culture”. This includes the types of food that are kept in the house, how heavily physical activity is emphasized, what sleep patterns are encouraged, how much health information is available and more. As a parent, you should emphasize each aspect of this health culture, not just your child’s weight. Remember, healthy weight follows good lifestyle behaviors, but good lifestyle behaviors typically do not follow weight loss diets.
Recognize that you spend too much time focusing on weight
Most people do not realize how much they use weight as a yardstick to measure their overall quality of life as well as their worth. For example, how many times have you asked about a piece of clothing, “Does this make me look fat?” with the understanding that if the answer is ‘yes’ you have somehow failed? That is why, when broaching the subject of weight with your child, and in your own life, it is important to stop talking about weight and even, to some extent, appearance. Emphasize other characteristics. For example, talk about how an unhealthy lifestyle influences your child’s self-esteem and thus demeanor, as well as how they express themself and the impression they make on other people.
Ask your child what would help
Yes, you are the authority figure in this relationship, but it can be a mistake to assume that you know the best way to help your child become healthier. One of the problems with giving support from a position of experience is that you tend to think that your child’s situation is the same as yours; therefore, the things that worked for you will work for them. That is not necessarily the case. Instead, it is always a great idea to ask what your child thinks the best course of action would be.
Focus on change, even if you run into resistance
The purpose of any discussion about losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle is to bring about change. In other words, talking to your child about their weight angst for an hour might have some value because it allows them to vent, but try not to leave the discussion there. Try to take one-step forward, too, even if your child is resistant to change. An effective way to overcome resistance (or even cut the conversation short if things are getting heated) is to get a commitment to make just one change in the next week. That might be anything from drinking fewer sodas and more water to walking three days a week. Focusing on one simple change a week seems manageable (as opposed to dropping 30 pounds, which is overwhelming), and is a very constructive way to move the conversation forward without being too bogged down.
Observe how your child, and the whole family, uses food
Your discussion will be better received and more effective if you are well informed, so before instigating “the talk”, observe how your child uses food. For example, if you see that they eat in order to manage their emotions, you have gained an important piece of information about a very damaging habit. The truth is you are not always your best observer. If you can determine whether your child is using food as a drug to avoid discomfort or as a stress manager, you are one-step closer to attacking the root of the problem. You can explain to your child that this underlying eating “trigger”, not food itself, is what you will need to focus on managing.
Do not be judgmental
One thing is for sure – nobody is perfect. Another thing is for sure – if you attack someone with words, they will stop listening to you. Considering those two truths, you should avoid blaming your child at all costs. The fact is, we live in a fat culture, and the majority of Americans are overweight. In many ways, your child’s struggle is not their fault. However, it is their and your responsibility to do something about it. The focus should always be on how you can help your child move forward from here, expressed as lovingly as possible.
Walk the walk
In the end, your example is the best way to change your child’s health behaviors. Teens, in particular, are sensitive to hypocrisy. So if you are not ready to make any and all of the changes that you are asking of your child, do not instigate the weight discussion in the first place. If you cannot walk the walk, then your actions will simply be encouraging your children to continue with deadly habits that will have a major negative impact on their lives.
If you really cannot get through
Sometimes, despite their best efforts, parents just cannot get a positive response from their children. If this happens in your family, someone needs to have the weight discussion with your child. Getting professional help is always a good idea, but there may be others such as relatives, friends, or teachers who might get a more receptive response.
If all else fails
Well, all else cannot be allowed to fail. Your child’s life is too important.
Contributed by MindStream Academy