Talking with Your Kids about Weight
Talking with kids about weight can make even the most experienced parents break into a cold sweat. If you do not discuss weight with your kids, your kids may establish and maintain unhealthy weight; on the other hand, if you do talk with your kids about weight, you risk damaging their self-esteem. Is this a lose-lose proposition? According to many experts, there IS a way to talk with your kids about weight in a constructive manner. Read on to learn the details.
Talk with your kids about healthy self-esteem.
What makes your kids special to you? What are their talents? What about them supports healthy self-esteem? Talk with your kids about what you find praise-worthy about their identifiers. Ensure that you speak about who they are and not merely how they look.
You may say, “Caroline, you are very smart. I love how you reason through things, always calmly, and always with a logical and long-term perspective. No matter what you choose to do as a grown-up, these traits will be tremendous assets to you, just as they help you in your academics today and foster among your friends a sense of trust in you and security when they are around you.”
You may also say, “Cameron, you have such a tender heart. Your love of your fellow human beings, of animals, and everything, well, you just make me proud. The future of our world is brighter because you and others like you will make the future better, one person at a time, each in your own little circle that you influence. You may never know how your kindness may affect others and how that may create a ripple effect far beyond the people you know, but I believe that you influence people positively and that you set a wonderful example for others.”
Also ask your kids what they find praise-worth about their own identifiers. You may say, “Ciera, if you had to tell me who you are . . . not in relation to another person, like being my daughter or Kelsy’s sister, but who the essence of you is . . . what would you tell me? “ Then, provide feedback on your kids’ statements. So, if Ciera says that she is “fat”, you can say, “I hear you saying that you are overweight. We can talk about that, to be sure, but, before we get to that, I want to make sure you know that you are not your weight. Your weight does not define you or affect your goodness or value as a human. Your skills and talents, your mind and heart, your soul: these things are what make you you. Ok?”
Teach your kids about healthy body image.
Tell your kids to disregard, as best they can, the myriad messages presented to them by media, their friends, etc. that it’s important to be skinny, wear trendy and sexy clothing, and be physically attractive to be deemed a worthy friend or valuable person. Speak instead about healthy body image, healthy weight, and healthy diet. Lots of tried and true expressions may come in handy in this endeavor: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, beauty is only skin-deep, etc.
Teach your kids how healthy eating habits affect weight, and how weight, in turn, affects health.
Healthy eating habits substantially influence metabolism and weight. Experts say that eating many small meals daily can be healthier (in terms of weight management) than skipping breakfast and eating larger lunches and dinners daily. Ensuring that proper nutrition is consumed (all five food groups) and limiting the consumption of empty calories also has a positive impact on weight management.
Weight management should be focused on health rather than the superficial gauge of physical beauty.
The health issues associated with being long-term underweight are: diabetes, osteoporosis, anemia, hormone imbalances, menstrual irregularities, difficulty becoming pregnant, pregnancy complications, low muscle mass, hair loss, vulnerability to infections, and anorexia nervosa, to name but a few.
The health issues associated with being long-term overweight are: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers, gallbladder disease, and osteoarthritis, to name a few.
Discuss your kids’ weight loss/gain promptly, gently, and directly, with the goal of obtaining buy-in from your kids as to the cause and resolution of the weight loss/gain.
Don’t delay: speak with your kids as soon as you begin to notice any concerning weight loss/gain. Delaying the discussion only lets the problem get further out of hand and more difficult to reign in.
Don’t speak indirectly (i.e., communicating subtly or implying your message) as your meaning may not be communicated with clarity; however, don’t be so direct as to be critical or harsh. Couch your discussion in supportive rather than critical terms. For example, you may say, “Carlie, I think you and I have gained a little weight over the winter, haven’t we? Maybe it was all those Christmas goodies. I wonder if we should take steps now to take the pounds off so we can return to our healthy body weight. What do you think? Would you like to do this with me?”
Ask questions to determine the cause of the weight loss/gain. How are you feeling? How’s school going? What has made you the happiest in this last, say, month? What has made you the most displeased in the last month? What did you do last night after homework? These and other questions seek to identify if the weight loss/gain is a function of depression, boredom, poor role modeling, or other issue.
Once the cause is identified, solutions can be discussed. For example, you may say, “I understand now that we’re all drinking too many soda pops in this house and that those oh-so-tasty desserts have been everywhere since I started taking that baking class. We’re consuming a lot of empty calories. How about I select healthier recipes to try in my baking class . . . maybe some things with veggies in them and not so much refined sugar . . . and we can cut back on soda pops in favor of other beverages that taste just as good but that are better for us, like milk, orange juice, pineapple juice, cran-raspberry juice, or tomato juice? We don’t have to give up soda pop all together; maybe we can have just one can a day. We don’t have to give up sugary baked goods either; maybe we can have them as a special treat once a week or so. How about that?”
If your kids are being bullied because of their weight, discuss weight-related bullying with your kids and select and carry out solutions with mutual buy-in.
Don’t tell your kids that they need to learn how to stand up to bullies as this makes them feel like being bullied is their fault. Instead, ask how you can help your kids deal with the bullying. If your kids have good ideas on how to deal with the bullying, then you can begin to forge a plan together. If your kids struggle to come up with good ideas on dealing with the bullying, then you can offer suggestions such as, “Would you be comfortable with my speaking with your teacher, principal, and/or guidance counselor to let them know that this bullying is going on and find out what the school can do about it?”
Help your bullied kids create a social buffer between them and the bullies. Classmates, teachers, friends, neighbors, family members, and others who are informed of the bullying can support and protect your kids. For example, supportive classmates may walk your kids home from school to reduce the likelihood that the bulling will occur on your kids’ walk home after school. Neighborhood playmates can perform a similar function for bullies closer to home. The old adage, “there is strength in numbers” is accurate.
Teach your kids to remain calm and play an “audio track” in their heads while the bullying is occurring. This audio track can be a recitation of all that is of value about themselves, a negation of the superficial standards employed by the bullies, and perhaps even empathy toward the bullies for the way they must be feeling to act as they do. So, as the bullies are shouting ugly taunts, your kids can tune out their words by focusing instead on an internal audio track that says something like this: “Dad says that weight doesn’t matter as long as it’s a healthy weight. The rest of the weight stuff is just vanity. Mom and Dad tell me every day what a nice guy I am, that I’m really smart, and I’m a good son and friend. These things are what matters. These bullies are valuing superficial stuff. I wonder if they’re that critical of their own bodies. They seem to have a lot of anger; I wonder if they are having personal problems that make them want to take out their frustrations on others. It’s too bad nobody has taught them to love themselves and others and value people for who they are and not for how they look.”
Teach your kids to document every incident of bullying. Documentation should include the date and time of the incident, the names of everyone involved (including witnesses), and who said and did what. Copies of this documentation should be submitted to school administration and/or law enforcement.
If your kids are being bullied physically, you are encouraged to enroll your kids in self-defense courses, prompt your kids to carry whistles which they can blow to summon help in the event of physical bullying, and perhaps even transfer your kids to a different setting that may be a safer environment.
By following the tips above, you CAN talk with your kids about weight in a constructive manner.