It’s natural for every parent to worry about their kid’s health. Are they eating enough veggies? Protein? Are they getting enough physical activity? Are they overweight?
When questions are raised based on concern with their health, these questions are okay. What makes them not okay is when your words start to make a child concerned about their weight/appearance and learn to think of their body in a negative way.
- Don’t eat that; it’ll make you fat
- You’ve been gaining weight lately; should you really be eating that?
- I’m so fat
- I’m so bad for eating this cake
- I have to have a salad for dinner tonight to make up for my lunch.
Those are just a sampling of words that are harmful to say around children/teens.
Why should you watch what you say?
I get it. They’re your kids, and you should be able to say what you want. However, children really internalize what their parents say, even when we think they aren’t listening. Blatantly focusing on a child‘s size can lead to disordered eating patterns or even a full-blown eating disorder.
And eating disorders are the most fatal of all mental health disorders.
Teenagers tend to see themselves through the lens of a central focus. This can make them feel that everyone is staring at them, noticing what they do wrong, and if we focus on their weight, even critiquing and making fun of what they eat, these feelings intensify.
When a child or teen is prone to anxiety or has a family history of eating disorders, this makes them especially prone to a problem.
So how can you address their health and not say something harmful?
The simple answer is to leave their weight out of it. Speak through the lens of overall health. Will eating healthy foods help prevent the various health problems that plague your family?
Will enjoyable movement improve their athletic performance and reduce their anxiety?
Do you love to run and want a buddy?
Model the behavior you want to see in your child
You can’t expect your kid to chow down on some broccoli and salmon if you don’t do it yourself.
Rather than telling them to go on a walk, why don’t you go with them?
If they’re not too cool yet, set up a dance floor in the living room and rock out with them.
Let them see you snack on almonds, fruit, and veggies so they know this is normal.
Casually talk about how good you feel after you exercise.
Watch how you talk about weight
Avoid using words related to weight to describe other people, strangers or not. Instead of the plump lady over there, she can be the lady with the pretty hair or the lady with the awesome purple purse.
Talk about how funny, smart, or sensitive their friends are.
If your kids see you looking in the mirror, avoid saying, “Ugh, I’m so fat!” Instead, say things like this dress makes me feel girly, or my smile looks great today.
Compliment their style, how they comforted their upset friend or sibling, or how hard they studied for a test. Do NOT compliment them on how that shirt looks a little looser, etc.
Focus on health when talking about food
We eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lean meats because they are good for us, not because they make us fit in a certain pair of jeans.
Discuss how fiber can prevent heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. How fish is so good for our hearts and brains.
If they’re younger, focusing on colors can help. Red foods are good for our hearts, green foods make us strong, etc.
Seek out a qualified dietitian for help
If you suspect your child might be experiencing problems around food and appearance, a visit to their doctor and a dietitian is in order. They should both be consulted regarding red flags for an eating disorder and will have experience discussing these matters in a sensitive way.
Don’t be surprised if the doc or dietitian recommends a therapist as well.
If you’re worried enough to read this blog post, you’re probably already doing a pretty good job!
A few tweaks in the way we talk and interact with each other can make a world of difference in our kiddos!