No matter how you slice it, talking to your child about losing weight can be a difficult task, especially when they're already feeling a little uneasy about the way they look. Scores of studies have shown that it is quite common for children and teens to struggle with body image issues, so it almost goes without saying that you'll need to exercise quite a bit of compassion and care in terms of your approach. Fortunately, there are several ways you can discuss the subject of weight loss with your child without hurting their feelings; just keep the following tips in mind to help you address the issue with an even-handed approach.
1. Try not to make it a "big deal."
Just because you're dealing with a serious topic doesn't mean that you have to approach your child with a somber face and solemn tone. No need to overplay the moment by setting aside a specific time to sit in a quiet room and have "the talk." Truth be told, that's far too much pressure for either one of you, and it may come off as being awkward or contrived.
The best strategy is to look for very natural, casual opportunities that might arise during a given day. For example, riding in the car is one of the best times to have this type of conversation, because you'll basically have a captive audience with very few distractions. The conversation will probably happen in bits and pieces over time instead of all at once, which is just fine. Be willing to go at your child's pace on this one; after all, it's not like they're in danger of gaining 100 pounds over the next month.
2. Start off by asking questions, not making statements.
A few well-placed questions can do wonders for opening your child up to a conversation, and they're usually much more effective than making statements such as "You look like you're gaining a little weight," or "You need to exercise more." Most kids won't really let you in on what they're feeling or thinking about something until you ask, so start out by asking questions such as "What are some things you can do to stay healthy?" or "How do you feel about eating healthier foods?" Remember, the point is to get your child in a mindset of thinking about their overall health, which will open the door for further dialogue.
3. Emphasize health, not looks or weight.
Approach the conversation from a health-focused mindset, and avoid placing emphasis on the way your child looks, or how much they weigh. Steer clear of words like "fat," "thin," "obese," or "overweight," and instead talk about how important it is to make good food choices, and to exercise on a regular basis. Explain to them the importance of putting the right fuel in their bodies, and even show them how damaging it is to eat carb-heavy or sugar-laden foods all the time. The more you provide your child with a clear understanding of why it's important to eat healthy and exercise, the more they'll see the logic in pursuing that path.
4. Set the example.
It's going to be tough to convince your child about the merits of eating right and exercising if they don't see you do it. Children may not always listen to what you say, but they will definitely pay attention to what you do - or don't do. And when they see you making an earnest effort to bring the right foods into the house and get some exercise on a regular basis, they'll get the message that living a healthy lifestyle is a decision that the entire family takes seriously, and they'll feel far more supported in their own efforts to stay healthy.
5. Always offer support.
It's much easier for a child to be receptive to conversations about sensitive topics like weight loss when they know that you're on their side, and that you love and support them for who they are, not how they look. Be sure to recognize any steps your child takes in the right direction (e.g.,"I think it's awesome that you chose an apple for your snack!"), and let them know that you're there for them no matter what. By adding a healthy dose of compassion and support to your family's health and fitness efforts, you'll create a positive environment that will make these new changes easier for everyone to stick to.