As parents, it can be hard to know where to even begin when it comes to talking about body weight – but if one thing’s for sure, it’s that this is a series of conversations well worth having.
They don’t have to be big heart-to-hearts or anything like that, rather just gradual and casual conversations that make it clear to your child that it’s OK to talk about, and ask about, weight.
If we shy away from speaking about it, it can create shame and worry in kids.
And chances are they’ll be hearing about weight from lots of other places anyway, whether that’s school, TV or online. So at least by having these conversations yourself, you can help them see that what they hear about weight is not always right.
It’s no secret that childhood obesity in the UK is on the rise. Helping kids achieve a healthy weight, then – without shaming them – is crucial. Experts stress it can reduce their risk of developing diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, in later life. A more immediate impact is that it can improve children’s self-esteem and wellbeing.
A new resource from researchers at the University of Bath and the British Dietetic Association (BDA) is full of useful insights as to where parents can begin when it comes to what is – let’s face it – a bit of a minefield.
So how can you make a start on talking about weight healthily? Here’s what experts suggest.
1. Avoid criticising your own weight or appearance and that of other people – this can make children think this is how you will judge them too.
2. Greet people by saying how nice it is to see them rather than with comments about their appearance.
3. If you need to talk to your child about weight, frame conversations around the need for changes to help them grow and be healthy, to help prevent them becoming worried about their weight.
4. Talk positively about food and physical activity. Help your child to learn that eating a range of foods and being active are normal and enjoyable, not things to be done only to control our weight. For instance, you could say – “Great, you’ve eaten all your vegetables, those will help you be healthy and grow well” or “I feel better after that walk, don’t you?”.
5. Try and make sure your child sees you eating a range of foods and being active yourself.
And it’s not just on you to reinforce these messages, the guidance suggests other people – grandparents, friends, family members – can be chipping in too.
How to help your kid feel good about their body
If there’s one thing we want as parents, it’s for our kids to grow up as healthy and confident as can be. Here are some expert-approved ways to help them feel good in the skin they’re in:
1. Teach them that everyone deserves respect, whatever their body size, shape or ability – this will help them not to worry about their own body too.
2. If you talk about your child’s weight, let them know it’s because you want them to grow well and be healthy, not to look a certain way.
3. Talk about the amazing things our bodies can do, regardless of size.
4. Avoid saying that your child or other people should do or wear certain things because of their weight.
5. Praise your child for a variety of things so they know you love them for who they are, not what they look like or only when they do well at something.
6. Talk to your child about what they see online, on social media and TV – explain that lighting, make-up and photo-editing is used to make people look different from how they are in real life.
7. Children are more likely to keep doing things if they enjoy them – try and help children notice the benefits of exercise, like fun, energy and feeling good, and find the kinds they like the most.