Did you know that almost one third of American kids and teens are considered either overweight or obese? We've read all the warnings that the long-term consequences of obesity are very serious. Not only does that child have much higher likelihood of having a hypertension, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea, but he also faces higher rates of peer rejection, low self-esteem, and depression.
Of course we know that we need to help that child lose weight and eat healthier, but what is a parent to do if only one child in the family is overweight? Do you single out just the overweight child or put everyone on a diet? How do you handle the inevitable sibling resentment ("Why does she get to have a soda and I can't"?) Do you serve the overweight kid carrots while the other gets Twinkies? Those are the questions I was asked by a mother of two tween-aged daughters: One thin and the other overweight. The "overweight issue" was causing family life to no longer feel like Home Sweet Home.
Here are the parenting solutions I shared to help this family not only one member shed weight but bring them closer together:
1.Start teaching healthier habits now. Young girls are more likely to become overweight in the ages of 9 to 12 than in their teens so the best time to focus on healthy eating habits is sooner than later. These are also the years to help children develop more sensible eating habits, becoming involved in learning how to choose food wisely, get adequate exercise so they learn lifelong habits. Don't wait!
2.Boost self-esteem. Your role is not only to help an overweight child control her weight and learn healthier eating habits, but also help her feel accepted and loved for who she is and not for the size you hope she becomes. Don't overlook the possibility that there may be an emotional trigger to your child's overeating--a distressing issue or a need for attention.
3.Don't nag about weight! Studies show that for both genders, being encouraged to diet by a parent roughly triples the likelihood of the child still overweight five years later. So switch your focus from calories, diet, or dress size to food choices, eating habits and exercise.
4.Don't compare. A key parenting commandment is: "Thou shall not compare." Doing so only increases sibling resentment especially when it comes to dress size and weight.
5.Find each child's unique strength. Any family with more than one kid is bound to have one who excels over the other be it in sports, school, music, the friendship arena, etc. The trick is to find a legitimate and unique strength for each sibling so each has a chance to shine.
6.Hide that scale. Constant emphasis on weight only boosts sibling rivalry and will backfire. A study of more than 2000 teens, who weighed themselves frequently, found that instead of losing weight, they gained nearly twice as much as those kids who didn't weigh in.
7.Aim for more relaxed family meals. Halting the talk about food actually helps kids eat more vegetables and develop more positive attitudes about food. And it makes for happier family memories. So focus on family members around the dining table and not on food.
8.Change your entire family's eating habits. Change is more likely if the whole family eats the same healthy foods. So switch your emphasis from "calories" to a "healthier life style." Start by trashing the junk food and stocking the fridge with healthier foods. Limit fast-food intake as a family. Involve your kids in meal planning.
9.Get active as a family! One study found that overweight kids who lost weight were successful because they participated in vigorous physical activity. So find an active hobby you can do together as a family. A mother-daughter exercise club, buy pedometers for family walks, or try an exer-gaming system. Research finds that activity-oriented video games that require kids to walk on a treadmill while dancing, kicking and dodging triples the energy expenditure of mildly obese kids.
10.Limit TV time. One study found that the single most influential factor that helps kids lose weight is reduced TV viewing time.
The Key Parenting Solution: Research finds that the most effective weight loss problems involve the whole family in diet change, developing an exercise plan and setting more realistic goals. The trick is to learn the new habits together instead of singling out the overweight member. The result: less sibling resentment, better family memories and a great likelihood of adopting healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Not only will it help your kid grow to be healthier, but also happier, emotionally healthier and even do better in school. So what are you waiting for?
Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions.