One of this nation’s biggest health problems is our overweight children. Excess weight in any school-age child means increased health risks and often exposes them to name-calling, discrimination and other social problems with their peers.
However, dealing with issues of excessive weight for anyone is never easy. Parents can play a big role in helping their children better face and, hopefully, deal with the problem.
A starting point is to help your child develop positive thoughts. Explain that physical perfection isn’t the goal, but rather that what really counts is not what the scale says, but all the other things he or she has to offer. You also want to be a positive role model yourself, both physically and mentally. Children learn from what they see and experience. If you’re also overweight, don’t condemn yourself or your child. Instead, look for positive ways you both can feel better about yourselves while also heading for healthier weights.
You might try encouraging discussions of feelings; especially stress issues that often lead to overeating. Emotional eating, which can make us feel calmer and more in control, is a common contributor to excessive weight. Help your child understand what is triggering such overeating, and to look for things other than food to help handle such emotions.
Planning for a healthier diet is also important. However, your job isn’t to become the food police, outlawing foods or requiring strict accounting for everything consumed. Such actions usually have negative consequences, leading to feelings of being deprived and encouraging hiding food or binge eating.
Instead, set a positive example. Insist on family dinners where nutritious foods and reasonable portions are served. Don’t serve different sized portions based on a person’s weight. Encourage conversation so that time is taken to enjoy what is served and that a feeling of being full has time to happen.
You also want to encourage more exercise, choosing enjoyable activities that encourage participation. Swimming, biking, playing team sports all work. Or try a daily after-dinner walk, an easy way to increase exercise levels while also having time for parent and child to enjoy one another.
Excess weight in a child can result from a variety of issues. Talk with your child’s physician about your concerns over his or her weight, and consider meeting with a counselor if you suspect emotional or family trauma issues may be contributing to an overweight child.
“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.