Speaking to your children regarding weight and health.
What is the politically correct way to speak to your children regarding weight and health related issues? How do you keep from crossing the fine line between your concerns for their health and well being and alienating them? As parents there is fear and guilt associated with doing the wrong thing and pushing them too strongly in one direction or the other. How do you as caring parents introduce the conversation to your children regarding their health, nutrition, and eating habits without calling undue attention to their appearance and becoming obsessed with their weight ? How do we accomplish our goal of helping them get in better shape for the long term without affecting their self esteem now? A positive caring environment is a good place to start. Create a comfortable atmosphere and establish an open forum for the family to discuss weight issues. . A simple straight forward health conscious approach is usually the best way to introduce the topic. The message should be about fitness and health, inside and out. Not what you look like but how you feel. Use the following list as a guide for discussion.
1. The unspoken language- Role modeling-. Leading an active and healthy lifestyle yourself is the best way to communicate the message you want your children to appreciate regarding fitness. “Do as I say not as I do” attitude – absolutely does not work for the discussions with children on eating and obesity. Set the tone yourself. Teach them by your example.
2. Compassionate- Demonstrate your understanding of the difficulties your child is going through from the pressure of being overweight. Be open to their concerns and feelings. Be supportive, non-critical, but realistic. If you want to establish substantial change involve your children in the decision making process from the start.
3. Patience- health and fitness is a life-long process. No quick cures or magical solutions are successful. You are there for them for the long haul. Prove it by being patient regardless of the circumstance, even if they falter. Use positive enthusiastic reinforcement as fuel to motivate them to stay on track.
4. Team work- Everyone is in this together. The health of one member of the family affects and influences everyone. Siblings and parents should join together in this effort. All family members need to understand that nothing less than health is at stake. You cannot have one set of foods for the obese child, while everyone else eats anything they want and expect success.
5. Change your family view. It is better not to approach your child until you understand the consequences of your message. You need to know the health reasons and risks associated with obesity and the importance of family lifestyle changes. Be consistent with the message you are sending.
Change your vocabulary!
Replace fat with fit. Change the a to an i and fat becomes fit. Being “Fit” should be the goal from
beginning to end.
Fat- is really a four letter word. Whether it is in food or in us, the message it implies is far more negative than just size.
Any word that is a code word for fat should be removed from your vocabulary. Big. Overweight. Heavy, lazy, slow, large boned , and couch potato. Avoid negative comparisons of any type. Do Not equate thin with being attractive. This simply draws attention away from the real issue of fitness and health.
Avoid words that include size- or referring to size, in body description, and clothes. We want clothes that are comfortable and that fit, the size is irrelevant. Of course we all need to use the numbers to purchase clothes, shoes, etc. Getting the right fit is our goal.
Diet is a not for children. Health is our concern not losing weight. Diet has negative connotations. It is temporary, something you go on and off, like a light switch. Our goal is long lasting health inducing changes. Discuss food in terms of nutrition and the value it has for your health.
Helpful words to replace fat- fit, healthy, energetic, fast, athletic, muscular, strong, smart, and creative.
Remember your goal is fitness and health. It is not about appearance and weight loss concerns. Starting the weight conversation with a caring approach may be the most important step in influencing your child’s health.
Warren Krantz MD