Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing describe how parents can help their children lose weight and live healthy - click here.
With child obesity rates climbing every year, many parents worry about their child being left behind.
They may sign them up for sport teams, summer camps, and even weight loss programs, but many teens and kids still struggle with their weight.
So, why do our children find it so difficult to manage their weight?
Images of Perfection
Previous generations of boys and girls have struggled with body image, but these issues are at an all time high. Our children are inundated with images of physical perfection especially with our celebrity culture. The demand for perfect bodies has grown worse over the past two decades leading to weight concerns in boys and girls as young as six years old. But channeling energy into appearance and away from normal developmental tasks can disrupt, if not completely sabotage, a child’s self esteem and ability to tolerate stress.
The current generation of well-meaning parents are micro-managing their children's emotional and physical development. Being "ordinary" or just “okay” has lost its allure for too many of today's parents who insist on cushioning their children from the blows of reality. Frustration, rejection, and even failure may even be harder on the parents than it is on the kids. Parents project their own anxiety onto kids who need to deal with the consequences and solve problems on their own. Over protective parents can actually make children more anxious and likely to gain weight, and weight gain can be an unintentional consequence.
Sins of the Parents
Many mothers and fathers struggle with their own weight issues every single day. Children and teens often learn eating habits from home, and they may inherit their own weight issues from mom and dad.
Surging Hormones & Anxiety
Rates of teen anxiety and depression are at an all time high, so eating issues flourish when puberty hits and mood disorders descend. Many teens develop eating issues as a response to their depressed mood and anxious mind.
Parents, here’s what you can do to help your child:
Change Starts At Home
Since many kids learn eating habits at home, long-term change usually begins at the dinner table. Parents are especially influential on their children’s eating habits, so be mindful of what eating behaviors you are modeling. What you say and how you handle yourself emotionally and with food will set the standard for your child.
Learn The Facts
Most kids and teens don’t truly understand nutrition and positive eating habits. Make sure that they have all the information and understand the connection between what they eat and how it affects their bodies and their lives. Teach your child or teen what is good to eat and how to stay away from foods that will pack on the weight.
Focus On the Goal
Encourage positive attitudes toward your child's new self-image. Do not shame or embarrass them, but try to focus on the new body you can build together. Keep the focus on the goal of a healthy weight instead of their current situation.
For many kids, food is an escape from anxiety and stress. They can temporarily distract themselves from their problems with a sugary snack or calorie-laden drink. Try to coach your child about how to deal with negative emotions by talking them out instead of distracting with food. Remind them that setbacks are temporary and that they can cope with whatever they are facing. Emotionally resilient people don’t use food as a way to calm down or distract themselves.
Eating issues can lead to very serious eating disorders.
If you are worried about someone you know, please seek the assistance of a clinical psychologist.
The work of Dr. Martin Seligman
"Generation Me" by Jean Twenge
“The Beck Diet Solution” by Judith Beck, Ph.D.