Unless your child is significantly under or over weight it may be difficult to tell if they are a normal weight for their age and their height. Children do normally put on extra body fat before they go through a growth spurt and then as they grow taller they normally lean out.
Because it is difficult to identify if there is a real problem, getting a trend of their weight and body mass index for their age is important. If you identify that their weight and BMI is higher than what it should be over a period of six months then something should be done. However if they already fall into the obese category the problem should be addressed immediately. Children may feel targeted or judged if their parents are ding the weighing and so perhaps make regular visits to your GP or dietician for their weight to be done but play down the emphasis of their weight by telling them it is just for a health check-up.
If their weight is a problem, how do you address it?
So should you just hope the problem will go away on its own? Probably not. Research suggests that about 70 % of children who are overweight at the age of eleven will go on to become overweight adults. In addition, your child may already be feeling uncomfortable about their weight, as perhaps it has been brought up at school in the form of teasing. Without his or her parents addressing it in the right way, the child may go on to try unhealthy ways of losing weight such as skipping meals or dieting.
Many parents may be concerned about causing their child to develop an eating disorder or become self-conscious about their body image if they say something. This can be avoided if the right approach is taken, and if the home environment is supportive it is very unlikely that this will happen. The consequences of being overweight or obese as an adult are something serious to consider and so the problem should not be ignored.
If your child is younger than 8 or 9, they are probably too young to talk frankly with, as their comprehension of the topic will be low. Instead, home changes should be focused on and the parents should strive to make better choices as a family. Keep less junk foods in the house, improve on the whole family’s breakfast choices and be more active together, for example go for walks or bike rides after school and play soccer in a local park on the weekends.
If the child is older than nine years old, then a more direct approach may be an option. Talk with your child about general health but never directly address their weight in isolation. Make sure you talk on neutral ground, such as when walking to school and keep it casual and kind. If your child brings up their weight on his or her own accord then definitely address the topic. Ask them how it makes them feel and how you and their mother/father can help them. Offer support and make sure they know that they won’t be making any changes alone – and then get the rest of the family on board. You can’t restrict one child while another is allowed to eat what they want whenever they want.
At this stage of the game, it is really important to build up your child’s self-esteem. Do this by making sure they understand that you support them and that you want to help them to help themselves. They need reassurance that they can do it.
One very important thing to keep in mind is to try not to make the relationship between one being thin and being successful or attractive. Children are already under immense pressure from the amount of social media they see and are constantly bombarded with pictures and articles about attractive, wealthy celebrities and it is already easy enough for them to make the link between looking a certain way and success.
Another important term to avoid is “diet”. No child should ever feel pressured to follow a diet or feel they need one. To avoid this situation, rather put emphasis on an overall healthy lifestyle, with exercise, good sleeping habits and good food choices all given attention.
Involve your child in shopping, food prep and cooking and the chances are they will be more excited about eating a meal that they played a role in. this also teaches them good habits for when they grow up and have to do it for themselves.
When it comes to exercise, avoid taking your child to the gym with you. This can be very isolating for your child and certain gym-style exercises, such as using weights, can be detrimental to your child’s joints and ligaments if not done properly or at too young an age. Team sports are very important for developing social skills in children so encourage them to take part in these at school. If there are no team sports that they enjoy then make time to be active as family where it is not necessarily seen as formal exercise, but more fun. Set up a round-robin style grass tennis tournament in your garden, go for bike rides together or sign up for your local parkrun and aim to better your time each weekend.