What To Do If You Think Your Child Is ‘Overweight’

I read an article yesterday that was written by a Mum who took her eleven year old daughter to Jenny Craig.  The reason given was because her daughter had low self esteem and she considered her to be overweight.  Together with her daughter the Mum gave up icecream and went for two, five mile hikes a week.  Like most Mums she outlined that all she wanted was her daughters happiness, but unfortunately relayed that her daughter suffered with disordered eating for many years post Jenny Craig and that she is aware that now as an adult she hates her body.  I did not learn if the daughter lost weight or not.

I read the article a number of times and felt sad that the supposed ‘answer’ to a child’s self esteem issues was a very expensive weight loss program.  I don’t wish to blame or disrespect the Mum in any way, but reading the article has prompted me to share with all of you some tips and ideas as to more positive ways to support your children who may be experiencing negative body image, low self esteem and concerns about their body and weight.  I hope you find them useful.

– It is very normal for your children to put on weight, (sometimes rapidly), particularly at the onset of puberty which can be any time from the age of eight.  This is nothing to be concerned about, nor is an increase in appetite to assist with the growing process.

– If your child is concerned about their changing body and weight it is important you support them by letting them know there is nothing wrong with them and that all the changes they are going through are part of an exciting time in their life and a sign they are growing up.  Be positive about their changing body, not embarassed or coy.

– If your child is being bullied about their appearance or weight, do not think this is a reason they should change or you should change them.  Bullying needs to be dealt with at the source, ie. the children who are doing it and the environment in which they do it (eg. school or a sporting club), and should not be seen as a sign something is wrong with your child.

– Help your child to deal with teasing and bullying by focusing on ways to help them build their self esteem, assertiveness and confidence.  Self belief and confidence are the greatest antidotes to bullying, particularly in a home environment where children feel safe to openly talk about their hurts, feelings and emotions.

– If you are concerned about your child’s weight, it is important that you ask yourself why you feel this way.  Is it because you don’t like the way they look?  Think it will improve their self esteem if they were thinner?  Concerned about childhood obesity?  While it might be challenging to hear, please know that none of these reasons warrant taking your child to a doctor where their weight is discussed in front of them.  Instead of being focused on their weight – focus instead on their health.  If they run out of breath quickly, binge eat or experience wild fluctuations in energy, that is the time to seek assistance.  If they show no health concerns such as these, then it is worth considering the underlying reasons why you are worried.

Diets and children are not a good mix.  They are in fact a very dangerous combination that can set a child up for a poor relationship with their body and food, potentially for life  Why?  Diets are filled with deprivation, food rules and do’s and don’ts, generally with a focus on weight loss, not health.  Childhood is a time for children to learn that food is an amazing life source and force, something that they need for our bodies to run, skip, jump and play with happiness and vitality.  If you provide your child with a balance of all food groups with a particular focus on fresh rather than processed food – that is all the ‘diet’ a child with no allergies or intolerances will ever need.

– Children, just like adults, come in all shapes and sizes.  This is something to teach your child to not only understand and be ok with, but celebrate.  Developing an appreciation for diversity and differences in others will see your child develop kindness, compassion and a love for others.  It will also help them to be at peace with themselves, no matter what their own shape or size.

– Punishing exercise is not something children should engage in.  Their bodies are not designed to be pushed to their limits where they sweat profusely or cannot speak from breathlessness.  Support your child to be physically active by playing any sport they love, but if not sporty, think about other ways they can move by doing things such as playing at the park, gardening with you, dancing to fun music, going for a bike ride or rollerskating.  They will love it even more if you do it with them!  Teach your child that being active is something to do for life because it supports our body to be healthy, rather than something that is done for weight loss.

– Find ways as often as you can to praise your child for not only their outer beauty, but all their unique qualities, talents and abilities.  A child can never receive enough positive reinforcement that supports them to believe they are special and have a place in the world where they feel safe and loved. 

– If your child is expressing hatred for their body or that they don’t like the way they look on an ongoing basis, this is not ok, no matter what the reasoning behind it may be.  The first step to adressing this is not a diet, exercise regime or weight loss plan, rather open communication with you to find out about the feelings and emotions behind their thinking.  If your child is finding it difficult to express what they are feeling or admit to being overwhelmed or very unhappy, consider consulting a counselling professional.  A good place to start is to have a session with someone yourself to glean some ideas and positive steps you can take to further support, and then ascertain if your child needs counselling themselves. 

– Finally, one of the most positive and profound ways you can help your children grow up to feel wonderful about their body is for you to foster the same feelings in yourself.  Set a positive example by never complaining about your weight, dieting, restricting food and openly express appreciation for the beauty of all the shapes and sizes healthy and happy people come in.  They will learn from your example and see their self esteem soar as a result.

Thank you Beautiful You.  I very much appreciate that parenting, while a joyous and amazing journey, can also be a challenge.  If you have made it to the end of this post I consider you to be a pretty amazing parent who is keen to learn ways to support their child feel comfortable in their skin.  If you have any other things you would like to share about ways you help your children to have wonderful self esteem and body confidence please leave a comment and share with us.

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