It would be great if the deeply-sensitive issues children face could truly be solved with one simple conversation. Unfortunately, tender issues such as poor body image sometimes take a lot longer to overcome.
But the good news is that a lot of these things can be tackled -- like overcoming child obesity -- one step at a time.
It's been shown that using shame or making brash statements such as, “We need to do something about your weight,” or “You really need to go on a diet,” don't help kids at all. In fact, they can often have the opposite effect.
Instead, start the conversation by asking, “What does being healthy really mean to you?” Forego asking yes or no questions. Instead, with respect and gentleness, get them to open up about the reality of their situation.
One of the biggest mistakes that we humans make (especially parents) is to assume and assert our opinions. The root of true mental health comes with diving into the truths that live within -- those things that we're all afraid to share, but when we finally let them out lead to healing.
Teens who struggle with obesity need someone to coach them in a different direction. According to WebMD, “your teen might feel upset or angry about his weight, he may also not want you to meddle. As much as he may try to tackle his problems on his own, though, it’s important for you to be involved.”
Sit down together and make a meal plan the whole family can enjoy. Jerica Berge, from the University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, tells Parentology, "It is also helpful for parents to focus the conversation on the entire family versus a specific child. The parent can say eating healthy is important to our family so we can all live long healthy lives, rather than pointing out one specific child or family member."
It's also good as a group to plan regular physical activities such as walking, swimming, exercise classes, swimming, or even bowling. Make a list of hobbies your teen can do instead of turning to food. By coming up with a plan together, your teen will feel like they have your full support.
This may require a complete 180 in your family, but it can really help turn the tide of obesity. Instead of celebrating events and achievements with food, try something different. Perhaps, you could go on a family hike, go shoe shopping, or see the latest concert. Think of positive reinforcements to encourage your teen’s accomplishments that have absolutely nothing to do with food.
Take an ordinary food journal and turn it into a place where feelings and emotions regarding food can be recorded. Look for encouraging quotes, graphics, and articles to share with your teen that will boost their mood and lift their spirits. When progress is shown, celebrate it with them. When there's a setback, see if your child and you can pinpoint where it happened and how to prevent it in the future.
Perhaps, you can even encourage your child to make video recordings of their journey in overcoming obesity. This may provide a record of their successes that they can recount during hard times.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help if needed. Don’t let other’s opinions cause you to feel guilty for getting medical or psychological help for your child's obesity. In fact, the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychology says, “Obese children need a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician to consider the possibility of a physical cause.”
It’s a good idea to rule out any underlying medical issues so that you can work together with a trusted professional to give your child every tool available.
If three hours of television per night is part of your family routine, you may want to reevaluate. Perhaps too much media time is a cause of your teen’s weight issues. Set a timer and create a home atmosphere of activity instead of mindless inactivity.
Also, if your family is in the habit of grabbing fast food for dinner, try to preplan your weekly meals. Stock the fridge with healthy snacks and stop buying the things that lead to overconsumption. These are healthy changes that will benefit the entire family.
But when making these changes, focus on the child's health behaviors rather than on their weight, shape, or size.
"Talking about the need to eat healthy so their child has strong bones, muscles, or brain power, versus telling them they need to lose weight, is key," Berge notes. "Keeping conversations focused on health helps the child have a better idea of what 'to do,' versus what "'not to do.'"
No matter what, both parents need to encourage their kids with the same message. According to research done by the University of Minnesota, “overweight kids who had both parents talking to them and promoting healthy eating behaviors — rather than discussing their weight and size — were more likely to listen to their advice.”
Never make your child feel like he or she is alone. Make them feel like you are in it together, and provide the tools and resources to help them overcome obesity once and for all.
American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychology
Cleveland Clinic -- University of Minnesota research