How to talk to your child about their weight

dad and child

Weight can be a sensitive issue for anyone, not least a child. So how do you approach the issue with your own children? Perhaps you’ve seen their weight creep up, or they’ve been diagnosed as overweight or obese. Maybe, they’ve come to you and said that they are upset with their weight. This article will take you through some ways to broach the subject with them.

Identify healthy and unhealthy weight

Whether you are approaching your child or your child has approached you about their weight, you first port of call is to talk to them about what a healthy and unhealthy weight is. Sometimes, images of children at different weights can help with this. Sit down with them and help them identify what looks like a healthy child’s weight and what is too thin or overweight. It’s important that they learn about both ends of the weight spectrum and that they should fall somewhere in the middle.

If they are very young, it’s not worth explaining anything about BMI or body fat percentage. The key here is that your child should understand that weight is a spectrum and where they fall on it.

Solutions for weight issues

Now you’ve talked with your child about their weight issues and concerns, you need to offer solutions. If they feel they are too thin, consider looking at where you can improve their diet or whether they should do strength exercises. If they are significantly underweight, take them to the doctor to rule out any underlying medical issues.

If your child is overweight, sit with them and discuss their diet and exercise. It might be worth doing a food diary over the course of a week to see exactly what they are eating. Talk to them about the different food groups – what’s good for them and what they should limit. It’s important not to ban any foods because you’ll instantly make them even more attractive! Make sure you stock your kitchen with lots of healthy food that your child will eat. Take them to the supermarket and let them choose fruit and vegetables that attract them. Let your child know that only they can change the way they feel about their weight. They have a choice to make every time they choose to eat and when they are deciding whether to play on their Playstation or go for a cycle ride.

Don’t use negative language

I have a really vivid memory from my childhood. I was about ten at the time and overweight. My mum came up to me randomly and patted my belly and teased that it was getting rather big.

I’ve felt uneasy about my stomach ever since.

Be careful how you approach your child about their weight issues. Avoid using labels like ‘underweight,’ ‘overweight,’ and ‘obese.’ Instead, focus on saying things like “Let’s look at how you can be healthier or feel better.”

The same goes about how you discuss yourself and your body. If you’re constantly fretting about grams of fat, diets and your weight, your child is going to learn that behaviour. Instead of making weight the end goal, make it clear that your decisions are rooted in overall health and wellbeing.

Feed them information little and often

Don’t expect to have a big talk about your child’s weight. This makes it a big issue and can make them feel worse. Instead, take little opportunities when you see them arise. For example, cook dinner together and explain the different nutrients and value that the different bits of your dinner provides them. If you drive them to school, park a little further or forgo the car completely and use the time walking to explain that moving around helps them get healthy.

I’ve had several discussions with the child in my life about her weight. Opportunities arise all the time. We’ve discussed how to improve her current and future health, how she can play for longer if she ran around more regularly and a little bit about portion control. The most valuable conversation I think I ended up having with her touches on the next bit of this blog – losing weight shouldn’t just be about the way you look.

Don’t make it just an image thing

A little while back, the kid’s dad and I sent her a video of a boxing session she’d just done with her dad. She simply text back, “I look so fat.”

At that point everything in me cried for her.

It wasn’t just the self-derogatory comment or self-loathing evident in the text. It was how she’d done so well with the boxing and yet should couldn’t see past the way she looked.

Yes, losing weight will alter the way your child looks. But instead of emphasising that, you should explain how they’d be able to move around more, they might get into a team sport or find a fitness activity they’re really good at. They’ll sleep better at night and be able to go on adventures like climbing tree or even mountains.

Most of all, teach them that they should never hate themselves for being too big or too small. Working together, you can change the outside. But inside, that’s what makes them special. Never, ever let them forget that.

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