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Your Child Is Fat (Straight Talk For Parents)
I could have said “fat”, “overweight”, “hearty”, “strong” or “chubby” instead of “fat”, but that would be word reformulations, which are nicer ways of saying “fat”. It’s like saying “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners, instead of torture. I think we all know what fat means and I think it best expresses how our children feel. Fat looks and feels ugly. Peers don’t call your kids obese, they call them fat. I realize this term is harsh but we have a current national health crisis and it is projected to get worse. According to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Human Nutrition, a 2007 study, “if obesity and overweight rates continue at their current rate, by 2015, 75 percent of adults, and nearly 24 percent of American children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.” Maybe we all need an “in your face” dose of reality. By the way, I would never directly tell any child that he/she is fat, but their peers will and even their siblings.
Parents, you may believe there is nothing you can do about it. The majority do nothing. If one or both of you are fat, you probably feel that you have no right to try to intervene. After all, your child will surely say to someone who sincerely tries to help: “Look who’s talking!” -and you know, your child is right. If you can’t deal with your overweight problem, you are not a credible source for counseling. Isn’t it? There is still hope.
If neither of you are fat, I assume you believe you are a credible source to offer support—more so than fat parents. However, there are many things to understand about your fat kids. They are emotionally hurt. They get frequent reminders that they are too big – their mirrors broadcast it; their peers at school make fun of them cruelly and television and teen magazines remind them of how they should look.
Children do not focus on health problems; they focus on how they are accepted by their peers. Thus, lecturing about potential problems (diabetes) does not make an impression nor does it provide much motivation to lose weight. They want to be included, appreciated and liked by their peers. They are aware that their fatness prevents them from achieving these powerful and normal needs. At this juncture, they have a greater potential for depression and anxiety, which can lead to more overeating.
Girls tend to internalize their distress through depression and poor self-esteem and boys tend to externalize, perhaps through acting out, fighting, drug/alcohol use, or other antisocial behaviors. They feel that their normal childhoods have been stolen from them, their dissatisfaction is enormous, and their futures are bleak. How do I know this? They shared these feelings with me in psychotherapy. I felt their pain as their therapist.
With the expected cautionary advice, children should receive a thorough examination to rule out any medical problem that may be contributing to their weight status. When there is a medical problem, it is the joint responsibility of the doctor and the parents to help the child. Consult with other professionals such as a nutritionist or dietitian. If no medical issue is seen in the etiology, parents should keenly observe lifestyle choices made by their youngsters and themselves. This is easy to say, but very hard to do. Understand that children, and those young people who are now called tweens (ages 11, 12 and 13), are not fully developed in self-disciples (psychologists call it self-regulatory traits) and perform poorly in controlling their own behavioral choices. It becomes the parent’s responsibility to help them without coming off as lecturing, nagging and creating power struggles. This is a difficult balancing act.
With the onset of puberty, the changing body of both sexes can be overwhelming for some. Recent research on the effects of puberty clearly indicates that for most tweens and teenagers, puberty is not perceived as a negative event. Puberty does not make your child fat. For those without a medical background, what causes our young people to get fat? Let’s examine what you already know.
Think about the word sedentary. Now think about television, cell phones, video games, movies, driving or riding in a car, school bus riding, reduction in physical education classes, increased hours devoted to sleeping and a host of other behaviors, and you realize that all these activities. are not active, but sedentary. With a huge number of Moms in the workforce, food preparation, planning nutritious meals and the determination to control their children’s consumption of fatty foods are weakened by the fatigue of modern life. Pizzerias, burger joints and fried chicken shacks line the main arteries of our towns and cities, begging the family to park their big asses and eat these things with fries on the side. Of course, all of this can be overwhelming!
With the advent of two spouses working, maids and lawn services are often incorporated. I’ve lived in several middle class subdivisions where lawn service workers descend on the neighborhoods to fence, cut, trim and maintain the lawns, while pre-teens and teenagers casually walk around with their cell phones glued to their ears, and of course, multitasking eating peanut butter/jelly sandwich on white bread. I don’t think kids are lazy, but just not being guided effectively by their parents. Think of the calories that could be burned pushing a vacuum cleaner or lawnmower or washing the car!
Parenting Do’s and Don’ts.
– As parents, don’t complain about your appearance. It is likely that your child will do the same. Also, don’t make negative comments about other people’s size, because our children will internalize the idea that if they look like the people you criticize, they will disappoint you. They don’t want to be a failure in your eyes.
– If one or both of you are fat, don’t teach your fat child to do what you don’t do. In other words, if you can’t model a proper diet or exercise program, keep your mouth shut until you can be an effective model. If you want them off the couch, you get off the couch.
– Without fuss, encourage physical exercise by making it a family activity. Make a request for your child to join you, never demand, as the latter could ignite a power struggle. If you don’t get what you ask for, want, or desire, you won’t be so upset if you don’t get what you demand.
– Avoid ongoing discussions about diets. Most children and teenagers are aware of diets. If you push the issue, they are more likely to become oppositional and defiant.
– As a family, learn about nutrition and exercise. They are more likely to cooperate.
– Debunk the myth that “looking good” is the most important thing in their acceptance by others. Honestly focus on their attributes regardless of their body type.
– Most healthy meals can be prepared in about thirty minutes, about the same time it takes to drive to go eat at a fast food restaurant. Try to eat most of your meals at home so you can cut down on fatty foods.
– Take your children grocery shopping with you. Choose foods together that they might enjoy that are part of a good diet.
– When you see your children making an effort to eat healthy and exercise, praise them.
– Whenever possible, eat together as a family. Try to have pleasant conversations. Eating becomes associated with positive activities as opposed to food and eating being associated with anxiety. Parents, never use food as positive reinforcement with your children.
– Plan parties around an enjoyable activity, not a food party where overeating can happen.
– If your child contacts you and confides that they are making fun of him; listen, console, don’t lecture, don’t threaten to go to school and face the mocking children, the principal, teacher; just listen and comfort. Ask the child if you can help, and accept his answer.
– If the child asks for help, act on it to the best of your ability. If you need help, find resources in the community. Behavior modification programs have been shown to be effective for weight problems.
– If you suspect that your child has an eating disorder, such as compulsive eating, bulimia or hiding food in their rooms; seek professional help.
Obesity in children, in most cases can be resolved. It requires a dedicated effort from the parents. Once unhealthy eating patterns are established, it is difficult, but not impossible, to reverse. Parents must be the ones to guide their children who have this debilitating disorder. This must be the mindset of the parents. Obesity can develop into a lifelong problem with serious consequences. If you trust the child to do something about it, you have established faulty thinking. If you think your child will “out” the problem, you are wrong. As parents, you must respond as if your child has a treatable disease. There needs to be a discussion between mom and dad, so both will be on the same page about it. what a coordinated plan is in place. You need to be in concert. More than anything else, model what you want your child to witness in your eating habits, exercise and lifestyle. Let them see you deny yourself the second helping of the potatoes, see that you must see. getting off the couch to go for a walk, taking the stairs rather than the elevator and washing your own car. Day by day, they will gradually witness good habits, and without a word being spoken, they will follow. Do that. Your child’s health, body image and self-esteem are worth this effort. Don’t you think so?
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