How to talk to kids about weight is one of the most common questions I get.
The question, more often than not, is really about how to help a child lose weight for their ‘health’ without causing body image issues.
The answer is this; we can’t. As soon as we suggest a child lose weight, harm sets in. I’m pretty staunch about this.
Harm happens for two reasons.
ONE: we have no protocol for weight loss that is sustainable over time for more than 5% of people. For the other 95% there will be initial weight loss and then long term weight gain – which often leads to trying again and again and again. And in the process of losing and gaining, heartache, mental health issues and body image hell can set in. We also know that 5% of eleven-year-olds that intentionally lose weight end up with a clinical eating disorder, regardless of what size they are when they start. Those aren’t good odds whichever way we spin them.
When we suggest our child lose weight, we are most likely setting them up to fail.
While failure is something to embrace in many situations, suggesting they adopt a health protocol with less than 5% efficacy rate, isn’t one of them.
But if health is what we’re really after – there are many ways to improve it without going down the nefarious weight loss path. Like, for instance, having robust body confidence and maintaining a stable weight (at any size).
TWO: suggesting a child should lose weight, even if we’re couching it in ‘health’ terms, sends the message that their body is bad and needs fixing. Our children will have seen message after message from the moment they are born intimating that bigger bodies are bad and smaller ones are good. The instant we say they need to be smaller is the instant they know we think their body is wrong. This can set them up for a lifetime of struggle.
But please, if you’ve already tried to help them lose weight – don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Nothing is irreversible. You can shift what you are doing and make a big difference. All the information in this blog series is designed to help you restore the natural sense of ease in your child’s body even if they have currently lost it. So keep reading, you’re in the right place.
Here are three ways to help them retain or regain body confidence, regardless of their size.
Understand the hidden challenge behind raising a body confident child.
We are often told it’s our job to keep a child within a certain weight range. With over 100 factors that go into a child’s weight, it’s almost laughable to think we have the power to control all of those things. Besides, our kids have free will, which means we can’t *make* them eat anything (barring manipulation and force) any more than we can dictate their size. So there’s that.
The next question then becomes, but if I can’t control what they eat or their weight, can I do anything about their health? The answer is 100% absolutely, and it will have far more long lasting (rather than the short term results that weight loss offer) effects. I’ve written about that here.
Talk to them about why kids can be mean to each other about how they look and set them up to feel empowered if that happens to them. I’ve written about that here.
Start noticing the language you use around bodies and stop using terms that pitch one size as being better or more desirable than another.
Here are two terms you can stop using:
Over-weight. Over which weight? We don’t say under-height and over-height and make people stretch or stoop to fit the normal bell curve of human size. We simply describe their height. Short. Medium. Tall. Try using slim, medium and big or super big as descriptors of size (many people are reclaiming the word fat to describe themselves and I’m looking forward to the day fat is a common descriptor that our culture no longer shies away from).
Obese. This term medicalises size. It makes it seem that as soon as you are over a line, you are sick. This is not the case. There are perfectly healthy people at all sizes. There are very sick people at all sizes.
In the Raising Body Confident Kids online course, you get over 40 practical tools to help you find words and actions that lead to better body confidence for the whole family.
I hope you check it out!
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