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10 Things to Stop Doing If Your Child Is Overweight

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Updated April 17, 2012

If you have a family member who struggles with weight—especially a child—the advice and suggestions can easily become overwhelming. Here's a streamlined look at how to help, and how not to: 10 things to stop doing when your child or teen is overweight.

1. Stop blaming yourself.

Childhood obesity has many causes and contributing factors, many of which are out of a parent's control. Wringing your hands and feeling guilty won't help, but seeing yourself as an essential part of your child's support network will.

2. Stop ignoring the problem.

While beating yourself up isn't effective, neither is turning a blind eye. If your child's appetite seems out of proportion; if you find yourself thinking "he'll grow out of it soon" a bit too often; and especially if his doctor or physical education teacher expresses concern, take action. If you're not sure, try this BMI calculator and discuss the results with your child's doctor; here's how to bring up the topic with your overweight child directly.

3. Stop fighting about food.

Banning certain foods outright, or labeling them as "bad for you," can easily backfire. Your child may seek out such forbidden fruit when she's away from home, or feel guilty or conflicted if she does have a bite. Be up front about healthy choices so your child has the facts; consulting a nutritionist can be very helpful. But once your child knows the facts, let her have some control over what she eats.

4. Stop enabling sedentary behavior.

Make walking or biking the default choices, instead of driving. Assign household chores that require some heavy lifting. Set limits on screen time. Give gifts that encourage active play.

5. Stop saying "Do as I say."

Your child needs a role model, so "do as I say, not as I do" isn't going to cut it. Kids watch our every move, so we need to show them that fitness is both fun to do and important to prioritize.

6. Stop punishing (and start reinforcing).

Instead of pointing out negative behaviors, try to notice your child's positive behaviors and reinforce them with praise: "It was great to see you helping your brother with his volleyball serve!" This strategy is not only more effective over time, it also builds your child's self-esteem.

7. Stop using food as a reward or a comfort.

Instead of offering an ice-cream cone for a good report card or stopping for a burger after a disappointing loss on the baseball field, provide words of praise and support. If your child sets a goal and meets it, reward him with a privilege, such as staying up a little later than usual. Or get him a small present that promotes physical activity.

8. Stop overlooking small victories.

Lifestyle changes work best when they start small. Help your child set incremental, measurable goals, such as adding 10 minutes of exercise a day for a week. Celebrate her successes, then brainstorm new challenges.

9. Stop limiting him to team sports.

Yes, playing soccer or basketball will give your child a good workout and could even help him drop a few pounds. But so could hiking or hip-hop dance, if he loves those activities and spends time doing them. Instead of assuming your child just doesn't like sports, broaden your definition of what is a sport. If it involves moderate to vigorous physical activity, and he likes it? That works!

10. Stop shining the spotlight on the overweight child.

Don't draw attention to the overweight child by focusing your lifestyle changes on her alone (such as by preparing special meals just for her). Instead, include the whole family when you update meal plans, add physical activity to your schedule, and so on. This way, everyone benefits, and your overweight child doesn't feel singled out.
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