Need to talk to your kids about their weight? It’s not a scary subject unlike the dreaded “sex” talk after all, right? Or…is it?

If your child is overweight, talking to them about it is a touchy, sensitive subject. As caring parents, we know we have to address the problem, but we don’t want to hurt or damage our children. It’s a tough issue to talk to our kids about, obesity, and it ranks right up there with talking about sex.

A survey by Kelton Research revealed that parents of teens find talking about weight more difficult than talking about sex, and for parents of tweens (ages 8 -12) discussions on weight and sex stack up to an even tie. As a mother of 5, I can agree with results like these…

Sadly, 1 in 3 of our American children are obese, so it’s no surprise that discussing the subject of weight with our kids is becoming more prevalent and uncomfortable. Randy and I, too, have had to talk to our kids about their weight. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard either. Let me explain a little of our personal experience:

Our cherished, right in the middle only daughter, has the most flat and narrow feet I’ve ever seen, maybe the longest legs ever for her age and body size, and now her knees are turning inward and knocking while she walks. Add to this that she’s a natural bookworm, artistic, crafty kind of girl that would much love to sit all day reading or writing. Altogether, this combined with an inherited sweet tooth from her Daddy can weigh a little girl down sometimes.

Jody is not overweight, but she can and has put weight on very quickly if we don’t keep an eye on her diet and encourage her to move about. How Randy and I go about doing this is extremely covert, so much so that I hesitated to write about it today. That is not to keep it a big secret from all of you, but more so for my daughter’s feelings. However, I think it’s better to share our strategies in the case that any of you are wanting to talk to your kids about their weight and not quiet sure how to bring up the subject.

Here’s the approach we’ve taken with Jody:

We involve the whole family: No one is singled out. When it comes to making grocery lists, shopping, and discussing healthy food choices, I make sure to include the kids as much as I can. We even encourage their input with this blog! They enjoy helping, and they learn so much about healthy eating without really knowing they’re being taught!

For exercise, Randy takes them all outside together after dinner most every night to play. When he’s out running, he makes sure to load up Jody’s bike and take her along with him. Her knees hurt much after any walking or running, so biking is a great alternative for her. They go running/biking together through the park, and she loves it!

We use a positive and indirect approach: Anytime we see any of the kids making a smart food choice, we make sure to compliment them for everyone to hear. If they make a great catch, or kick the ball far, we lay on the praise. Randy always gives compliment to Jody about her very skilled bike riding too. This makes the kids beam with confidence, and they can’t wait to show us more. It works really, really well for us, and can make it a whole lot easier to talk to your kids with out touching on the sensitive.

We make ourselves active, good role models: For Randy and I, being good role models by eating healthy foods and exercising is the most influential and effective way we “talk” to our kids about their weight and good health in general. It’s definitely the least awkward, that’s for sure. They watch us working on health-actually and discussing subjects and comments. They see us eating vegetables, and juicing, and passing on fatty, sugary foods etc… You know the saying, “children learn what they live.” It drives us to set a good example for them. Role modeling is one of the easiest ways to talk to your kids without doing the talking!

As far as how to NOT talk to your kids when it comes to them being overweight, do your very best to avoid saying or doing anything like this:

Denial: Denying that your child has a weight problem, or lack of enthusiasm for eating healthy or exercise is only going to make the problem worse at the expense of your child. I know it’s hard to face, but you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge needs fixing. Both Randy and I were extremely athletic in elementary school with hopes for our daughter to be the same. But, that’s not who Jody is, so we’re working with what she likes – biking and hanging out with Daddy. Do the best you can to face the problem gently, and find an effective solution to suit your child. Trust me, while choosing to not talk to your kids about the heavy issue may be tempting, opting for this easy out is a bad, bad idea…

Enable: Serving unhealthy foods or dining out often with your over weight child, again, only makes the problem worse at your child’s expense. And, using candy or treats as reward or ice cream as an emotional band aid is the ultimate “no-no”. That “no-no” is still hard for Randy and I, and we still catch ourselves doing it at times. We try to remember, it’s not an act of love if what we’re doing is going  to encourage our kids to have a bad relationship with food. Talk to your kids about why they can’t have cookies all the time. Talk to your kids about why you’re making smarter choices for them. Sooner than you think, they will get it and want to make better choices for themselves.

Shame: Shame is the worst of methods in my book. Shaming a child into weight loss doesn’t work and can cause permanent damage. Constant criticisms of food choices, measuring weight, and harping on exercise are unforgettable for children and leave them feeling stressed out with lower confidence and can even lead to eating disorders. Growing up, I still remember my girlfriend’s mother constantly judging her weight and what was on her plate. It was awful. Can you imagine how she remembers it? Make sure that when you talk to your kids about their weight, they don’t feel put down in anyway ever. It makes for much happier kids.

If your son or daughter is overweight or in danger of being overweight, know that addressing the situation doesn’t have to be an intimidating, awkward conversation. It is a must have conversation, though, if your child is overweight. We all know that ignoring the problem will not make it go away, so get a game plan in order and talk to your kids.

Remember too, when you talk to your kids in a sensitive and loving manner about a weight problem, it is not the same as shaming.  Addressing the issue will not damage them. We all want our children to feel loved and empowered, so do your best to actively listen to all of their thoughts, and do what you can to make them feel better about who they are and what they can do.

Our American children are an untapped source of intelligence and strength in my oppinion. We don’t give them enough credit for how remarkably quick they are to learn or how incredibly resiliant they are. We do, though, envy their energy, so let’s get them taking advantage of it.

Talk to your kids about eating healthy and keeping fit. They’ll learn and embrace it faster than any of us old folks ever could, and they’ll have the energy to blow us all away on the track! I truly believe that – how could I not with 5 kids and 3 grand-kids showin me up everyday!

Good luck out there,
Amy – one long winded Mama/Nana