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The Overweight Child
Mom with a View

The Overweight Child

What's a parent to do?


"Do I look fat?" says my 10-year-old son as he stands in front of the mirror.

"You look just right" I respond with a big hug and kiss. But I don't think he believes me.

"Should I go on a diet?" asks one of my teenage daughters.

"You don't need to diet but it's always good to eat healthy," I carefully respond. I don't think she believes me either.

With "Lose weight quick" and "The new new diet" and "Eat all you want and be thin" bombarding us wherever we go, it's hard to treat weight as a non-issue. Our children are not immune to this societal pressure and the ensuing peer pressure. Far from it.

In my family some of the kids got my husband's genes -- the quick metabolism, eat all you want and stay thin (and have many others hate you) kind. And others got my genes -- the slow metabolism (gotta blame something), eat very little (and hate the rest of the family!) kind. What's a parent to do?

Just as my protestations that it doesn't matter are irrelevant (it's an all-pervasive cultural value in which rich women are now expected to be the thinnest -- with the most spa trips and personal trainers -- as opposed to the fattest -- with the most food and indolence). Since we don't live in those earlier times (where there was no penicillin or children's Tylenol but it was attractive to be plump!) we have to deal with our world. It's not a non-issue for our children so it can't be a non-issue for us.

Nagging is not the way to go. It simply never is.

On the other hand, nagging is not (let me repeat, NOT) the way to go. It simply never is. Ask yourself if nagging has ever convinced you to change or has only led to deepening resentment against the nagger. But even more than that, anyone (adult or child) who is significantly overweight in our society knows it. It is a constant source of pain and frustration. Thoughts of what to eat, what not to eat, what they should have eaten, what they shouldn't have eaten, crowd their minds. It's an obsession. And it affects our children's sense of self-worth. Particularly our daughters.

The last thing this child needs is a parent pointing this weight issue out to him or her. You really thought she was oblivious? He just needed you to tell him? A child whose self-esteem is already in jeopardy needs support (this is actually true of all issues), not criticism. In fact, even a confident child needs support, not criticism.

It's painful to watch our children struggle. We hurt when they hurt. Not-so-subtle hints, exercise programs, diet coaches may make us feel like we're doing something constructive. But here's an important parenting tip. It's not about how it makes us feel. It's about how our children feel. And how do they feel after those oh-so-helpful suggestions? Lousy -- and alone.

There are, in my imperfect experience as a parent and as an overweight child, only two things a parent can do. Three if you include the ever present need for prayer.

The first is to fill the house with healthy alternatives. I don't advocate removing treats because I think it creates out-of-control cravings (hoarded chocolate, eating cookies in the closet – you've heard the stories) but there should be a lot of fruit and vegetables and healthy snacks around. Our children should have choices. But how they exercise them is still in their hands.

The second -- and harder, yet more important --– tip is to have patience. Of course this applies to everything in parenting and is a constant challenge. Most of us will reach that point in our lives where self-discipline is an easier muscle to flex. Some of my girls changed their weight -- and themselves in other ways too -- as they transitioned from elementary school to high school. Some did it in seminary in Israel (although for others the opposite was true!) And some as they approached dating and marriage.

It wasn't a result of nagging or pressure. It was just the right time. We've all experienced in our own lives times when self-control seems easier than at other times. When it does we have to grab it and hold on for dear life.

This is not a promise. Some of us will struggle with weight and food issues our whole lives. Some of us and some of our children will not succeed in conquering it. Yet the job of a parent remains what it has always been -- to be loving and supportive. And to ask the Almighty for help.

May 26, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) J, April 12, 2014 1:21 PM


What to do. I am divorced. My daughter is 17. Incredibly bright and
a wonderful person. She is also obese. But I have the problem too! Not obesity but being angry when I see her. I suppress it but feel horrible at the way she looks. Yes concerned about her health but, admittedly more upset how it reflects on me! She lives with her mother who is not a terrific role model How do I get passed the anger? And back to the place where I love my daughter when I see her? Any suggestions?

(15) Anonymous, May 21, 2013 5:37 PM

Parents can help

Two of my four kids have had weight problems. While it upset me every day to see THEM upset about it, I didn't want to draw attention to it or make an issue. When my daughter was 8 I suggested we get help. I took her to a nutritionist who gave her a simple diet to follow. She lost 15 lb very quickly and was thrilled at her own success. She is now 16 and able to maintain sensible weight, is not skinny and has a very good self image. My son is 8 and I recently took him to the same lady. She was wonderful with him. He was fascinated by the diet and lost 17lb in a matter of weeks. He now knows his limitations. I am not overweight myself, am a very healthy eater , cook healthily for my family and exercise . It upsets me that people see a large child and assume he eats all day! I think we had got into the habit of eating larger quantities than is necessary. In a healthy family, a child should realise that his parent wants to help! Kids don't like wearing frumpy clothes or being teased by other kids or being unable to keep up with friends on the football pitch. It's all about how you discuss it. If it comes from a place of wanting to help them, not criticising , the child will be willing .

(14) Katherine Lipkin, October 11, 2010 8:52 PM

Excellent article

This should be read by every - and I mean EVERY - parent who has a child with a weight problem. Best article I have ever read on the topic. This philosophy could also be applied to many other issues of childhood. Way to go, Mrs. Braverman!

(13) Tova, June 20, 2007 12:52 PM

set the example

As the mother of 2 teenage daughters and a complusive overeater myself I feel qualified to share my experience too.
A few years ago I lost 85 lbs. Around the same time my daughters were entering adolescence and with it came the era of body image. After I had lost around 50 lbs my family really took notice and decided they wanted what I have so we all went on a food plan. At one point we had lost 175 lbs between the four of us (including my husband). Through this my daughters learned good nutrition and healthy body image from our many "round table" discussions. Today they don't fear gaining or losing weight b/c they know of a healthy way to control their weight. Yes they can have snacks, holiday dishes etc. but in moderation. And if they do gain a little weight they go back to basics until they lose it again.
So my advice...set the example. Children do what we do not by what we tell them to do.

(12) Anonymous, June 8, 2007 11:54 AM

Supervision is the Key in the Early Years

This is a painful period in almost every child's life. I believe the most critical time is the first 12 years. Speaking from experience, kids don't have a sense of which foods are right, or what portion is right; all they know is that it taste good. This is how a parent can take charge & gently direct or supervise whenever possible. Case in point is my 10 year old niece who is slim, but has a tendency to gain weight. During 2 instances, my niece needed guidance in the foods she chose; she wanted a whole Éclair & a large Chocolate Donut at the same time. Her mother offered only 1 choice, then said she would cut this choice in half since the pastries were so large. My niece chose the Éclair, which was cut in half, then instead of drinking whole milk, she was given 2%. Another time we were at a restaurant, where my niece ate a large croissant with butter; she turned to her mother & asked if she could have another one; the answer was No, but, since dinner had not been served yet, her mother suggested having crackers with her cup of soup, followed by a small salad, meat & vegetable sides, & mixed fruit as dessert. I know it is not possible to have parents supervise kids all the time, but, as I told my niece; there are 2 types of foods; essential foods we need to live, & fun foods we eat after we have eaten the right foods first. The whole focus is identifying these foods first. This is the simplistic explanation; we know it is more complicated. Parents can be examples for their kids; why tempt your kids with junk food in the house in the first place? It all begins with Mom & Dad. Once these kids grow up, they can make their own food decisions, hopefully making the right choices. If kids don't have this foundation to fall back on, then, they will continue to make wrong food choices.

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