Weighing in: How to approach a touchy subject with your child

Discussing healthy body norms with your child.

As a child grows, a parent does not want their child to endure any pain or discomfort. Parents protect their children by encouraging them to not run too fast or swing too high or ride their bike too fast. However, as a child becomes more aware of how they feel about their own body image, they may have questions for their parents. Discussing a child’s physical appearance with them may be difficult, but sometimes it’s the difficult conversations that are the most important to have. Michigan State University Extension encourages parents to discuss physical activity, nutrition and healthy weight with their children.

Physical activity is a way for your child to keep or gain a healthier body. Your child may not be able to run a marathon and they may never wish to, but physical activity needs to be put into perspective. All goals that you help your child set should be SMART.

Specific: Identify an action.

Measurable: Something that can be quantified or measured.

Achievable: Create a goal that is realistic and reasonable.

Timely: Include a timeline or deadline for your child’s goal.

Realistic: The goal should push your child, but is attainable.

SMART goals can also be applied to nutrition. What does your child believe are healthy foods? Are they eating these healthy foods? Have your child compare their diet to the example of a healthy plate as described by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate. Use the tip sheets and ideas to create a healthy perspective with foods.

Focus the discussion on how to be healthy. You may want to consult your child’s pediatrician for your child’s specific health assessment. However, if your child brings up the topic of weight, begin the discussion with a focus on health. Ask your child what activities and foods they believe are healthy. It’s also important to learn who or what your child may be comparing their body to. If your pre-teen daughter is comparing her body to the models who are air brushed on the covers of magazines, it’s important to discuss reality with your child. Yet another item to keep in mind, as mentioned by the American Academy of Pediatric’s Bright Futures Guidelines is that “people from different cultures can view body weight differently. Keeping a child from being underweight can be very important to people from cultures in which poverty or insufficient food supplies are common. Families may not recognize that their child is overweight according to body mass index (BMI) tables or may view excess weight as healthy.” Help your child to create realistic expectations in regards to their personal health and body, while considering cultural and social norms.

Most importantly, be a role model for your child. Be a coach. Support your child’s goals so that they can lead healthy lives that they feel comfortable living.

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