Recently, a reader emailed a question that he had about his 11 year old step-daughter. He said that he and his wife were concerned about her weight, and fear that she might develop issues with her body image. Below is how I responded.
Kela’s response: Many parents have concerns about their child’s weight and body image, whether boys or girls, nowadays. It doesn’t help that our society has created inactive children who are prone to be overweight because of video games and television. When I was kid we had cartoons on Saturdays and the Atari, which came with like 3 or 4 built in games. We didn’t have Disney Channel 1 -35, 20 different forms of Nickolodeon and 35 different forms of Cartoon Network. We also didn’t have Wiis, XBox 360′s, PsP’s, Nintendo Ds’s, Ps3′s, etc. As such, it was normal for my brother and I to stay outside from sun up to sun down, and even when it snowed we were out building snowmen and making angels in the snow. Our generation was WAY more active.
Today’s generation is not only inactive, but they are also plagued with other stress that affects their eating habits. For example, children of divorce may be more apt to turn to food as a means of control. They may feel like they can’t control anything else that’s going on in their world, but what they do have control over is what they put in their mouths. As such, it may seem like they are overeating because they are eating all the time. The good news is that parents don’t have to sit back and watch it happen, and more importantly, can monitor the situation while teaching their children to be more in control of their choices by offering healthier choices and making lifestyle changes as a family.
You have to be really sensitive with your approach when it comes to talking to young girls and boys about their weight. My suggestion would be to not even broach the subject of weight. Kids are way too sensitive at the teens/tweens age and you might create some future body image issues. What I tell parents and have done myself, is approach it from a health standpoint. Emphasize how important it is to make healthy eating choices, and how important it is to do something active everyday. For example, I love the Wii Fit! Because it’s a video game format, it appeals to children. I encourage (okay I make) my son do 30 minutes on the Wii Fit each day. He isn’t an overweight kid or anything, but I noticed that he was choosing the wrong foods and not being as active as I would have liked, years ago. Daily exercise also release some powerful endorphins, which can help to relieve any stress that children might be experiencing.
The next thing I did was talk about his eating habits. We have a history of diabetes in our family, so I approached it from that angle; telling him how important it was to make healthy choices now, so he doesn’t have to deal with the disease that his grandpa passed away from and his uncle is dealing with now, in the future. I then realized how important it was for my husband and I to LEAD BY EXAMPLE! To this day, we keep a limited amount of junk food in our cupboards; usually healthy chips and popcorn. We don’t keep candy bars and snack cakes, or anything like that. So, when he does sneak something, it’s healthy and he can’t sneak a lot because we don’t keep a lot in the house. We have replaced junk food with healthy choices like fruit, nuts and chex mix. We have changed our lifestyle as a family; opting to go roller skating instead of going to the movies, as well as having Wii Fit challenges as a family. This overall lifestyle change has done wonders for not only our son, but our family as a whole.
It’s also important for parents not to worry too much about their child’s weight. As children grow, their bodies go through MANY different transitions. At some points they may be heavier and at others, thin as a rail. What’s most important is that you focus on healthy living, including healthy eating habits and regular exercise.
What about you? How do you encourage healthy lifestyle habits without talking about weight? Help this reader out.