How to Talk to Your Child About Their Weight

child eating burger
Having a child who is overweight can be stressful for any parent. You want to fix the problem. After all, kids who are overweight are at risk for health problems, not to mention bullying and teasing. 

How can you help you child make healthier choices?

The secret to success might be simpler than you think: Talk about the importance of good health and engage the whole family in healthier choices. This could include family meal planning, activities, and commitments to fewer fast food and unhealthy snacks. As a parent, this is where you should lead by example.

The following ideas can help you know how to talk to your child about their weight so you both can make positive changes.

1. Ask your doctor what’s normal

Before you jump to conclusions about your child’s weight, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician. What you think is overweight or obese, may just be normal growth. Your doctor can help compare your child’s body max index (BMI) with height and weight charts for your child’s age and sex.

In fact, your child may not have a weight problem at all. If they do, your doctor can help you keep perspective and offer suggestions. Be sure to know the facts before talking to your child about their weight.

2. Keep it age appropriate

If your child is in elementary school or younger, you may want to avoid talking about weight entirely. Instead, focus on changing your family environment to be healthier. Children are the product of their environment, so making healthy changes for the entire family will work better than lengthy conversations about a topic they may not fully understand.

For older kids, it’s important to mention that everyone grows and develops at different rates. This is especially true as your child experiences puberty. Let them know they can talk to you if anyone ever teases or bullies them about their size. Include them in making healthier decisions at the grocery store, and put a focus on moving more as a family. Discuss what their current choices can lead to, and talk about your family health history.

3. Regulate your self-talk

You know this, but it’s easy to forget your kids watch everything you do and say. If you’re critical of your own body, it’s likely your kids will talk about themselves the same way. Do you skip meals? Overexercise? Instead of indulging in negative self-talk, keep things positive and set a good example. Make an effort to talk about yourself and your body in ways that encourage health. Let them know you love the way your body moves and functions when it’s healthy.

4. Say no to diets

Putting your child on a diet is a recipe for disaster. They will feel singled out and resentful. Even worse, weighing your child often can create eating disorders down the road. Instead of focusing on numbers, focus on habits. Even for teenagers, it may not be the best approach to count calories or limit food quantities. Hyper-focusing on numbers distracts from building healthy habits, and it leads to thinking about food in terms of good or bad.

5. Talk about health, not appearance

Keep health the topic of the day. When you talk to your child, discuss getting healthier rather than trying to lose weight. Talking about weight can cause embarrassment and shame. Instead, prioritize healthy habits and the amazing things our bodies can do when we’re healthier.

6. Praise effort, not results

What do you praise if you can’t talk about appearance? Instead of praising your child for how they look, praise them for making good choices. Emphasize how fun it is to spend time together being active, or making a healthy snack. Results will come from effort, but it’s much more important to praise that effort.

7. Most importantly, be patient.

Kids don’t always make great choices. Remind them they can always keep trying, even when they “mess up.” It will help them keep making good choices instead of quitting when they feel like they’ve failed.