I ran across a Q&A yesterday and, without even first reading how the qualified professional (in this case a licensed pediatrician) replied to the question, I came up with a response of my own; take a gander at the question first:
Q. I’ve noticed that our 9-year-old daughter has gained weight, primarily in her mid-section. I would like to say something to her but don’t know what. How do I approach the topic of weight with my daughter without hurting her self-esteem or triggering an eating disorder?
Okay, where to begin.
First, I’ll give props to the mother for being sensitive to her daughter’s weight gain and, in turn, seeking a self-esteem friendly way to approach the topic with her. These days it seems it’s okay to call children “fat” without any thought to how such names can potentially plant the seeds of low self-esteem and poor body image; so props to the mother in that regard.
However, that’s where my praise begins and ends because, assuming the mother actually spends all of her time living in the same house as said daughter, buys the food she’s apparently overeating, and has some level of control over the preparation and distribution thereof, then why would the daughter be facing this problem in the first place?
Look, I’m not ignorant to the fact that there are kids who sneak food when no one is looking. I grew up around family members who did that on such a regular basis, that my kinfolk were driven to actually padlock their refrigerator—No I am not kidding. There was literally a chain, a lock, and a key—but assuming this 9-year old isn’t being malicious, or living in a separate household, then it’s perplexing to me how this mother has no idea how to intervene in this matter without ever saying a word to her daughter.
If she’s like most mothers, she is likely the sole grocery shopper in the home; I am personally responsible for buying the food in our home, and I have full control over it’s preparation and distribution
My 6- and 8-year old children don’t have much say in how much of any one food they get—although they are welcome to as many fruits and veggies as they please—and candy, cakes and juices are viewed as luxuries; as such they are limited to how much of it they can have—and sodas are outlawed altogether.
Even more, because I’m such a fanatic about my own physical health, I make sure they are involved in some sort of activity—of their own choosing of course.
My point, in case you’ve missed it, is this: there’s little reason this woman shouldn’t have a better grasp on her daughter’s overall health.
As for how the doctor responded:
Always take a family approach. Instead of singling out one child, modify the entire family’s lifestyle. Increase activity by encouraging outdoor play before or after dinner. Modify meals by serving more vegetable and less starchy or fatty foods. Even if only one child has a weight issue, it is better in the long run for all children to exercise and eat healthy foods.
Until adolescence, parents can significantly control their child’s diet without much confrontation. Packing a healthy lunch for school can go a long way. Eliminate empty calories such as sugary drinks. Take a survey of the pantry and discard any foods that provide too much temptation, such as snack cakes and chips.
Finally, set a good example. Children often model their parents’ behavior. Thus, follow a healthy diet, avoid making critical remarks about your body and avoid criticizing other people’s bodies as well.
Good nutritional habits begin at an early age. Instill them now and, as your children grow into adulthood, they will be better equipped to make good choices. Does that mean they won’t overindulge in junk food and other such stuff? No, but they might be more mindful of what, and how much, they eat if they are taught early on that not all foods are created equal where good nutrition and health are concerned.
You, as the parent or primary care provider, have the right to instill those values, both by personal example and by prudent action. Don’t sit by and let bad health happen on your watch—that’s simply not pro-active parenting.