It is essential to understand the emotional consequences that children are subjected to when their guardians fail to handle the issue of obesity correctly or with consideration. As Prof. Lubetzky, an expert on child nutrition, states, "Parents have the potential to inflict damage. All a child really needs is to be regarded with love, respect, and admiration. Even if one attempts to conceal their criticism, kids are typically quite perceptive and notice even the slightest eye-roll."
So, how should a concerned parent handle their child's weight in a way that doesn't damage their self-esteem? According to Prof. Lubetzky, the answer to this is complex. Avoiding the issue altogether can be more harmful. Even if a child is too thin or overweight, the parent's reaction is usually the same. They feel as though they have failed as parents, and may resort to strategies that are actually damaging. This includes trying to only provide healthy food options and not allowing them to have dessert.
The bottom line is, don't deny your child
Dealing with how to speak to a child regarding their weight is an issue that must be approached with both sensitivity and bravery. According to Prof. Lubetzky, there isn't a single answer that works for everyone, but there should be no deception about the situation. Lying about the problem will make it difficult to discuss and can lead to incorrect conclusions. It's important not to ignore the subject, but also not to make it the focus of the entire home.
According to Prof. Lubetzki, if a potential issue is identified, it is critical not to exacerbate the problem, but to bring it to light by saying, "I think there could be a problem with nutrition, body weight, physical activity, or the lifestyle in general, and if desired, we can talk about it or look into getting help." She further explained that it is essential to not use an apologetic or guilty tone when discussing weight, in order to avoid a sense of failure or shame.
We need to make it clear that any negative judgment and criticism needs to be taken out of the conversation. However, the matter should still be discussed candidly and honestly. Additionally, parents must bear in mind that they should not become their kids' personal nutrition experts. "Don't make the entire day about nutrition. When parents become nutrition advisors to their children, that is a recipe for disaster. I often tell the mother or father, whoever serves as the main dietitian in the house, to think of it as if they have two spouses, both of whom are giving dietary advice. This can be overwhelming and it often results in difficult situations," she elaborated, "All of this is done with the best intentions, but the outcome is not always favorable."
It is important to remind the child that they are in charge of their body
According to Prof. Lubetzky, it is not possible to control another person's diet, whether for gaining or losing weight. She also noted that any attempt to do so could have dire consequences. Her advice is that parents should take responsibility for what is in the house, what they buy, what they cook, and what they order. This is their territory, and they should not try to enter someone else's body and dictate what they can or cannot do. She clearly stated that telling a child they cannot be hungry is not legitimate and should never be done.
Prof. Lubetzky believes that parents should set up a system with reasonable rules, but without going overboard. Through this framework, they should provide their children with options for what they can eat and how much they want to eat. She further stated that it is not a wise idea to restrict the amount of food that they can consume because it will inevitably lead to distress. The proper way to deal with this is to let the child select their own food and amount from the selection on offer in the house.
"A personal example is also relevant. The power of saying 'come and see there's a cucumber here' becomes background noise, but if you eat a bowl of salad with every meal, and really enjoy it and not pretend, and serve as a positive personal example - at the end of the day, your children will eat a salad, even if it takes 7 years for it to happen," she added. "A personal example has an influential effect."
Ultimately, we must remember that the weight of children sometimes activates us disproportionately, and we should carefully examine why. "We are all a bit sketchy when it comes to eating. We are all exposed to the outside world and we all deal with it. The problem is that parents have tremendous influence over the child, and as soon as the child feels that the parent is not happy with their appearance or eating - this is a very difficult event for the child," Prof. Lubetzki concluded.