For parents, it is not easy to see children having difficulty with weight. A father or mother definitely wants to help their child in the best possible way, especially if the child feels pressured. For parents who are concerned about the impact weight issues can have on their child’s health and well-being, here are a few things you can do to support your child.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight, please consider consulting a qualified health professional, such as a family doctor or pediatrician. Health workers can direct parents to provide appropriate support to children and programs that may be needed and will benefit the child.
The weight gain that children experience can occur for a variety of reasons beyond their control or behavior. Not infrequently, the causes are quite complex. Children who have difficulty controlling weight are often the target of bias, stigma, and bullying. It’s important that parents don’t blame their children, but try to understand the bigger issues that are contributing to weight gain. Start with a better understanding so parents can provide meaningful support.
A child’s weight throughout his life can be influenced by the interaction between genetic factors, things that occur in the early days of life, and the environment. Weight gain can be expected when a child eats, plays, and learns in an environment that supports them to do less or less physical activity and consume energy-dense foods that are usually affordable and most readily available. This type of food has a high fat and sugar content and is unhealthy. Often, weight gain is the body’s way of responding to an abnormal environment. In addition, children can sometimes develop unhealthy eating patterns as a way to fight stress, boredom, or to cheer themselves up when they are feeling anxious or sad.
Talk to children, without judging them
Children need to know that their parents are there for them and are always ready to listen to their concerns or anxieties without judgment.
Don’t use words that contain stigma or make negative comments about other people’s bodies, including yourself. Words like this can have a bad impact on a child’s confidence and make them uncomfortable opening up.
As a first step, when talking about a condition of being overweight or obese, always put the individual who has it in front of the condition. This method helps highlight the human aspect of overweight and obese people, instead of focusing on their condition. An example would be: “A person who is overweight (NOT someone who is fat or obese).”
Next, have a conversation with your child and give them space to share their opinions and feelings about body image whenever the opportunity presents itself. If your child makes negative comments about their weight, parents should try to learn the reasons behind the comments. Be a good listener; do not underestimate the anxiety they experience. Children can also be bullied, both online and offline by other children or adults. If you find out about this, immediately deal with it directly.
Build your child’s confidence and praise them in things that are not related to weight. For example: “Mama/papa are proud, you have studied very hard for your exam,” or “Mama/papa are happy, you helped your sister a lot.”
Have a healthy discussion
In a rapidly changing digital world, we need to be aware of threats to children’s mental health and well-being, as they both affect self-confidence and body image. These threats can range from social media posts that contain stereotypes about weight or that can trigger eating disorders, to commercials for fast food and other unhealthy food ads targeting children.
Parents need to create a space that is conducive to healthy conversation by proactively offering opportunities to talk about mental health with their children, and how online behavior can impact their well-being and self-image.
Please try these tips to start a conversation about weight with your child:
- Ask your child open-ended questions (such as “How are you?” or “How are you at school?”) and encourage them to share their feelings.
- Thanking children for trusting their parents by telling their feelings. This can create a sense of security for the child.
- Recognizing that healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight are not easy, while emphasizing their benefits for better health.
- Be positive and supportive.
Focus on healthy behavior
Unless advised by a healthcare professional, focus on “health and healthy goals” instead of weight loss. It will take time, hard work, and patience, on both the parent and child side, to bring about lasting change. Drastic and sudden changes to a child’s diet and lifestyle actually have a low chance of success, and can even be dangerous to the child’s health. Successful change is one that starts with small steps, gradually, and involves all family members.
Show the best possible example. Choose healthy and fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, encourage exercise, encourage adequate sleep, and don’t make negative comments about yourself or others’ weight.
Regardless of your own weight, you can support your child by modeling healthy habits. For example, by studying the types of food groups with children, the nutritional content needed as part of a healthy diet, and by discussing the nutritional advantages of certain foods over others.
As much as possible, avoid ultra-processed foods and drinks that are high in salt, sugar, and fat, such as packaged juices and high-ionic drinks, packaged snacks that are savory or salty (such as pastries, chips), instant noodles, and sugary snacks. Avoiding does not mean prohibiting altogether, because this can actually be ineffective and increase the child’s desire for these foods. To compensate, make sure healthy and filling snacks, such as fruit, vegetable sticks, and nuts are always available. In addition, encourage children to drink more water than sugary drinks, and pay attention to what foods and drinks are available at home.
Prepare meals and eat with the whole family as often as possible. Mealtimes are a good opportunity to engage children in discussions about healthy food choices and demonstrate healthy eating habits. Meal times and snacks also need to be made regularly, so that children know that eating is done at certain times, not throughout the day.
Enjoy the time together
Invite children to play outside the house and do activities together as a family. Children aged 3 years or older need to be active for at least one hour each day. This total time can be broken down into short periods of 15-20 minutes. Playing catch or throwing and catching a ball can be an option for younger children. For older children, parents can take them for a walk or try a new sport together. Whenever the opportunity arises, choose to walk and bike instead of a car or vehicle. Encourage children to want to join sports teams around the house or school, so that physical activity becomes more fun because it is done with peers.
Healthy, not skinny
In the process towards a healthier weight, weight should not be the focus. Focus on the benefits of healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle for the whole family. These things are needed to support the growth of children into adulthood, increase endurance, and build emotional health. In fact, if made for all members of the family, the right changes can prevent children from having problems with eating patterns later in life.
The best way to support children to become happy and healthy individuals is to express that their parents will always be there for them, no matter what the circumstances. Show that parents understand, this process is not easy for children. However, by eating healthy foods and engaging in physical activity together, you can make your child feel supported so they can change their lifestyle into a positive and healthy lifestyle that isn’t just about weight loss.