Relationship Connection: Handling Weight Issues with Children

Question:

My 8 year-old daughter has gained a lot of weight in the past year and is starting to talk about wanting to go on a diet.  I don’t want to her to worry about her weight at such a young age, but I’m also worried about her gaining weight.  I don’t want her to feel insecure about herself.  How should I handle this?

Answer:

Your primary concern should be making sure that whatever you do with your daughter helps her maintain a strong and secure connection to you.  Even though it’s her body and ultimately her responsibility to make sure she’s healthy, you will play a major part in helping her feel valued and loved through the process.

First of all, try taking a self-inventory of your own beliefs and habits surrounding your weight and worth.  Here are a few questions to consider:  Do you talk openly about your own weight issues?  Do you complain out loud that you hate your body or parts of your body?  Do you find yourself openly admiring others who possess the type of body you’re idealizing?  Do you spend a lot of time watching TV shows, movies, or reading magazines that feature women with what Naomi Woolf calls “the official body?”  Do you demonstrate a healthy balance of eating foods that are good for you?  Do you exercise regularly?

There is intense pressure on women to maintain high standards of weight and beauty.  For most women, the “official body” is impossible to achieve without cosmetic surgery, studio lighting, or Photoshop.  These pressures are perpetuated in movies, television shows, commercials, and magazines.  Research shows that the American cultural standard for weight, height, complexion, and other measurements is naturally attainable by only 1% of women.  Obviously, this should not be the goal you’re trying to set for yourself or your daughter.  As you ignore the pressures of the “official body”, your daughter will have a better chance at resisting them as well.

Instead, teach her to take great care of her body and learn what it feels like to be healthy physically and emotionally.

It’s important that you establish a family culture of healthy living that includes healthy meals, regular family play, exercise, and limited media consumption.  Schedule family play that promotes movement and fun.  You don’t want your daughter to think that these changes are only for her.  They will be good for everyone in the family!

Teach your daughter these healthy habits first by your example and then by including her in your routine.  You can let her know that you appreciate her desire to be healthy.  Emphasize that healthy living isn’t only about losing weight.  You can point out other benefits of regular exercise and healthy eating such as improved mood, increased energy, and increased self-confidence.  Make it fun, low-pressure, and consistent.

Remember to keep in mind that your daughter’s current weight isn’t going to stay the same as she grows and develops, especially when she enters puberty.  The one constant can be your commitment to provide a healthy atmosphere in the home that doesn’t put undue pressure on appearance, weight, or performance.  Instead, let her know you’re committed to healthy living and having a close and caring relationship with her.

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