Scale or Sex? Which one is harder to talk about with your kids? A recent survey called, "Raising Fit Kids" says it is the scale. The study found that being overweight is a more difficult topic for parents to talk to their teens about than drugs, alcohol, smoking and even sex. Wow! One quarter of parents side-step discussing their children's size with them.
Who could blame a parent? It's hard enough to talk to another adult about weight. It is a sensitive topic. What's the fear? Many parents are afraid of causing damage to their child's self-esteem. Think for a moment about a weight comment made by a parent, teacher, or friend about your weight. It's likely that the words still pop into your mind every now and then whether it was intended to be hurtful or not. Even positive comments can be detrimental (ex., she only likes me when I'm thin).
Here are some tips to make it a more comfortable topic of discussion:
1. Silence Speaks as Loud as Words: Not talking about weight and healthy eating can communicate to kids that you are uncomfortable, which will make them squeamish to talk about it. This is dangerous. Unfortunately, even young kids between the ages of 6-9 years old worry about their weight. It's on their minds even if they aren't talking about it to you.
2. Focus on Health not Weight. The message should not be about being "thin" it should be about being healthy. Healthy means being strong, eating nutritious food, and getting exercise.
3. Lose the D word. Stop talking about dieting. Start talking about eating mindfully. In other words, it is okay to eat treats. Just be aware of how much of the treats you eat.
4. Role Model. You may be talking to your kids about weight without even really knowing it. They absorb everything you say. If you are standing in front of the mirror saying to yourself, "I am so fat" your kids are listening and taking it in. Don't be surprised to see them look in the mirror and say the exact same words to themselves whether they are truly overweight or not.
5. Talk out loud. Describe your thought process. Explain why you'd pick an apple over a candy bar. This will help your kids later to think through decision on their own. Say something like, "a candy bar that has a lot of sugar which will make me tired in about an hour. An apple will keep me fuller and give me lots of vitamins and minerals. Also, they taste crunchy and sweet."
6. Teach nonjudgment and self-acceptance. Critical statements and guilt seem like they would motivate you to eat better but the bottom line is that they don't. Teach kids how to accept who they are. This will help them to stop fighting with their body later in their life.
7. Talk about body diversity rather than just thinness-curvy, tall, short, muscular bodies etc.
8. Create movement. If you are not ready to talk about it, just get moving. Take your kids for a walk. Ride bikes. Play on the playground. Less talking, more doing. Teach them ways to relax without food. (see 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food)
9. Be a strong role model. If you eat nutritious foods, your kids will eat good foods. This is much easier said than done. Before you try to help your kids, your best bet is to help yourself eat better.
10. Forget the scale. Ask your pediatrician. Kids grow in spurts and may have extra fat during puberty and various times during their childhood. Don't try to determine if their health is at risk. Ask an expert.
I hope these tips help to make the discussion about healthy eating just a little more comfortable. It's an important topic. Learning to eat mindfully is not only critical to your child's self-esteem, it may also add years to their life.
Susan Albers PsyD
Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is the author of But I Deserve This Chocolate!: The Fifty Most Common Diet-Derailing Excuses and How to Outwit Them, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and is a Huffington Post and Psychology Today blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health, Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV show. Visit Albers online at http://www.eatingmindfully.com.A