Q. I’ve noticed that our 9-year-old daughter has gained weight, primarily in her mid-section. I would like to say something to her but don’t know what. How do I approach the topic of weight with my daughter without hurting her self-esteem or triggering an eating disorder?
A. Weight is a sensitive issue, but an important one. As a parent, a conversation about weight is anxiety-provoking; many parents avoid the topic. With the right approach, parents can have a positive impact on their child’s self-esteem and health.
First and foremost, focus on the positive aspects of healthy eating and exercise. Never call your child fat or “pudgy” or “thick.” It is better just to open a general conversation about health and fitness and talk about ways to improve overall health.
Always take a family approach. Instead of singling out one child, modify the entire family’s lifestyle. Increase activity by encouraging outdoor play before or after dinner. Modify meals by serving more vegetable and less starchy or fatty foods. Even if only one child has a weight issue, it is better in the long run for all children to exercise and eat healthy foods.
Until adolescence, parents can significantly control their child’s diet without much confrontation. Packing a healthy lunch for school can go a long way. Eliminate empty calories such as sugary drinks. Take a survey of the pantry and discard any foods that provide too much temptation, such as snack cakes and chips.
Finally, set a good example. Children often model their parents’ behavior. Thus, follow a healthy diet, avoid making critical remarks about your body and avoid criticizing other people’s bodies as well.
Children’s body types change with age, and these changes are not always indicative of being overweight. To know whether your child’s weight is within the normal range, it is important to consult with her health care provider.