5 Things NOT to Say to Your Overweight Child

Too-Fat-For-Fifteen-Background_3-1Parents who struggle with a child who’s carrying extra pounds often feel caught between a rock and a hard place.  How do you encourage healthy eating without becoming the food police? When do your health and nutrition concerns become the source of a destructive power struggle? Where does your authority as family CEO collide with Kiddo’s need to establish self-control?

The path from heavy to healthy can be full of pot-holes, but if you avoid a few of these wrong turns you’ll be way ahead of the game.

Don’t make critical remarks. It’s hard not to comment when your child reaches for that second helping or makes a food choice that makes you cringe. Resist the urge. Instead, have a conversation at a neutral time about checking in with your hunger thermostat before food enters mouth. Become a background cheerleader for mindful eating and avoid pot shots in the heat of the moment.

Don’t compare to other kids. It doesn’t matter if her best friend is thin and fit or his older, taller brother weighs less than he does; it only makes them feel awful when you point out the obvious. We’ve heard parents offer suggestions like, “Just eat the same way Susie does and you can look like that, too.” Not helpful. Zip it.

Don’t make excuses. We’ve all heard ’em: “He’s big-boned.” “It’s her hormones.” “Everyone in our family is large.” The big, bad truth? Body weight is the result of calories in, calories out. If you eat more than you burn, you’ll gain. Do the reverse and you’ll lose. Simple.

Don’t offer bribes. Especially food (do we even need to say it?). It may seem motivating to offer a splurge at his favorite pizza place as reward for a week of on-track eating, but it defeats the purpose. We’re establishing good eating habits here, folks. Same goes for promises of money or toys: they quickly lose their luster and end up encouraging cheating. Instead, incentivize effort and accomplishment. Offer praise for progress, even the baby steps.

Don’t send a message of shame. Let’s get real: We all love to eat stuff that’s not good for us. Research shows that children treat food as fuel for about the first two years, but somewhere along the way it takes on lots of emotional power for many of us. Unless you’re completely without sin (and none of us are), don’t throw stones.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “5 Things NOT to Say to Your Overweight Child”

  1. Rachel Zahn

    Thank you! We’ll check it out …

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