Helping a Child Who is Overweight Have a Positive Body Image
By Mae Pulsipher
The need to accept our looks and feel comfortable in our skin is a message that is finally getting the news coverage and social concern it deserves! The thing is, no matter how comfortable we feel in our skin, everyone looks in the mirror now and again and finds something they don’t like. And our constant scrolling through social media and comparing ourselves to others does NOT help our body image. We are far more influenced by our friends’ and celebrities’ best lives pictured on social media than we care to admit. And when you’re overweight or obese, these influences can often hurt way more than if you’re at a healthy weight.
Now imagine you are an overweight or obese teenager or tween without a fully developed brain. That image in the mirror can be even harder to cope with, especially if you’re a normal kid worrying about what your peers think.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016 18.5% of youth (ages 2 to 19) were obese, the majority of those youth being school-aged or teens. As parents, we know being overweight or obese is not healthy, but we also don’t want our kids hating their bodies or thinking their worth is completely tied to their size or shape.
So what can we do?
1. Set an example
Negative self-talk and negative body image are not exclusive to teens. As parents, we need to model how to love ourselves even if there are things we’d like to change. In 2016, the CDC reported 39.8% of adults in the United States were considered obese. Along with that, in 2014 the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reported 32.5% of adults were overweight. In those percentages, there are definitely a lot of parents who don’t like what they look like.
Despite that, you can still show your kids how to have a positive body image even when there are things you want to change. For example, while you might still have negative thoughts about your own body, don’t express these feelings in front of your child. You can also model this by complimenting your child (and yourself) on more than their appearance. This will help them understand how they look is not the most important.
One thing you can do to help your kids is to let them know you have insecurities about yourself just like they do. Let them know even with these insecurities, you still work hard to accept yourself. Another thing is to not compare your imperfect self to someone’s perfect Facebook life. This goes for body image as well as life in general. If your kids see you comparing yourself to others, then they’ll think it’s ok. Whether they admit it or not, your kids see you as their role model. If you don’t model a positive body image then who will?
2. Make healthy habits as a family
So your kid is overweight or obese and wants to change that, but you’re afraid they’re going to start trying overzealous tactics to lose weight and fit in. An important step is to help your kids learn healthy habits. Just like they can’t learn positive self-talk without seeing you model it, they can’t learn healthy habits without you as their example. Try planning and cooking healthy meals together as a family and sitting down together for dinner. Thanks to Pinterest and tons of healthy cooking blogs, this is easier than you think! Planning and cooking together also helps keep you from eating out or eating in front of the TV. This also gives the added bonus of providing your family an open place for communication on a daily basis.
3. Set a goal together as a family. A lot of families like to train to run in races together. If you and your family are just starting on your health journey, maybe making the goal to finish a 5K as a family would be a fun goal. Anything that gets you and your kids making healthy decisions to become healthier would work.
Other ideas for healthy family goals:
- Make a healthy meal together as a family weekly
- Take a walk together a few times a week
- Start a garden together to be able to eat more fruits and vegetables
4. Help your kids understand wanting to become healthy doesn’t mean they don’t love themselves
Moving from obese into a healthy body range is not a bad desire, but it can sometimes come with some bad side effects. Some of these things are negative self-talk, eating disorders, and mental illnesses. The biggest thing to help your kids remember is even if they want to change to be healthier, it doesn’t mean they don’t love who they are now. Keep reminding your kids that while getting healthy may be important, they should also be grateful for what their bodies can already do.
Some ways you can help your child be grateful for their body, no matter what state it is in, is to remind them of how they can still do so much. Ask them what they love most about what their body can do. Remind them they can see, hear, feel, touch, hug, clap, talk, hold hands, and so many miraculous things with their amazing bodies.
Help them be grateful for who they are and continue discouraging comparisons to others. For example, if your child is upset they aren’t as fast as another child, remind them how good they are at jumping rope or something else their body can do.
5. Practice positive self-talk in the home
Along with helping them reach their body goals in a healthy way, you can help them practice positive self-talk in the body they are in. Remind them of the things they can do right now. Have them stand in front of a mirror and pick out things they like about their body. This helps your child tell themselves they are great while also emphasizing the body gratitude you implemented before.
Positive self-talk doesn’t just stop with body image. Teach your children to be kind to themselves. For example, if you hear your son say he thinks he’s stupid, ask him why he thinks that. Then, help him realize why that statement is not true. As children are able to talk positively to themselves, they’ll more easily be able to look at their body in a positive manner.
Teaching our kids in this digital age can be difficult, especially when we might not have been taught what our kids need today when we were kids. Even though it’s hard, it’s not impossible! There are so many resources in books and on the internet that can help us as parents learn how to have our own positive body image along with how best to teach it to our kids.
Questions to think and talk about with your kids:
- What are ways you already practice body gratitude?
- How can we help others feel grateful for their bodies?
- Why is it important that we feel positive about our body, even if we might not always like how we look?
- Does how we look decide if we are a good or bad person?
For more great conversations and an engaging read-along story, check out Messages about me: Wade’s Story, A Boy’s Quest for Healthy Body Image and Messages about me: Sydney’s Story, A Girl’s Journey Healthy Body Image.
Ready to hear a great podcast where our CEO discusses ways to instill a healthy body image in kids? Check out the About Progress Podcast.
Mae Pulsipher is a graduate of Brigham Young University – Idaho with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies. She has been married for almost four years and has a sweet two-year-old son. She aspires to be a counselor for children and adolescents so she can help children and teens work through these difficult concepts.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Prevalence of obesity among adult and youth: United States, 2015-2016 [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf