Talking to kids and teens about weight loss requires patience, care and sensitivity. An ill-timed conversation that evokes negative feelings about a child’s growing body can stick with them for many years, long influencing their food choices and eating habits.
Whether a child brings up their weight first or parents decide to broach the topic, the family needs to work together as a team to decide how to move forward and improve the child’s health, mental or physical, says Myles S. Faith, Ph.D., professor of counseling and educational psychology at the University at Buffalo.
Here, Faith shares his tips for safely talking to kids and teens about weight.
How should parents broach the subject with their children?
Pick a time with few distractions, like after dinner, when children are relaxed, Faith says. Ask open ended questions: “When it comes to our family’s health, what are some good choices we are making? What could we do better? What goals could we set, and how could we help each other?” This encourages kids to brainstorm and take ownership, he says.
How can parents avoid adding to a teen’s emotional stress?
Don’t talk about “dieting,” Faith says. Negative words about weight can be psychologically and behaviorally damaging for children struggling with self-esteem. Be positive and frame the conversation as an opportunity to embrace new habits.
How can parents get picky eaters to choose more nutritional options?
Let kids choose from a range of healthy foods, Faith says. Offer three options, like baby carrots, an apple and almonds, and ask the child to decide what they want. Choice is empowering for kids.
Should kids step on a scale?
It’s okay to weigh kids once in a while as a way to monitor progress, says Faith, but remember some weight gain is normal because they are still growing. Focus on day-to-day behavior changes. Set goals around things like screen time, fruit-and-vegetable intake and activity level and offer praise and rewards when those goals are met — regardless of any number on the scale.