Most parents just feel helpless. They want the best for their kids, but in spite of everything we know about nutrition and exercise, most parents hope for the best and do little about their overweight kids.
My daughter Pari was small at birth, but quickly became a heavy baby. By the age of two, our pediatrician began intimating that Pari was putting on more weight than she needed. Until kindergarten, kids from our neighborhood, her day care or nursery school accepted Pari just as she was, and her size never came up. But when she started school, there was a whole new set of kids, and some would make comments about Pari’s size.
Some were innocent observations; some comments were just down right mean. In first grade she was invited to a slumber party of a new friend, and told me she would be uncomfortable changing in front of the other girls because she was fat. This was a shocking moment for me, because now I understood that she felt badly about herself, that she had been giving thought to her size, and comparing herself to other children. What could I do? In my case, there were few resources, but that has changed.
As the author of Seven Steps to Get Your Child’s Weight on Track and creator of The Pari Plan, it’s clear to me that parents don’t understand the pivotal role they play in the solution to a child’s weight problem. In helping families across the country beat childhood obesity, I’ve identified the three crucial mistakes that parents make and the key actions parents must take to get control and start their child on the path to improvement:
Mistake #1: “She’s Not Heavy.” This is plain denial. Many parents refuse to be honest with themselves about their child’s weight. They see the beautiful perfection of their child and turn a blind eye to a problem that is likely causing emotional pain in their child’s life lowering the child’s self-esteem and getting in the way of their child achieving her true potential.
Action Plan: Learn what a healthy weight for your child should be. Compare where your child is to where your child needs to be. Acknowledge this goal openly.
Mistake #2: “He’ll grow out of it.” If only parents knew: Studies show that 50% of obese school-aged children will become obese adults. Children WON’T grow out of their weight problem.
Action Plan: You don’t need to put your child on a crash diet, but you do need to get them on a healthy path with better food choices and exercise activities that will help them as they grow. Losing weight is not rocket science. But changing the habits and lifestyle of a family in today’s busy world is difficult. Especially when the emotional well being of a fragile overweight child is at stake, parents need a plan and they need perseverance.
The good news is that the easiest time to get your child on track is between the ages of 4-12 when they are growing and still totally reliant upon their parents for their food and activity.
Mistake #3: “I’ve Tried Everything.” Most parents simply give up. They may try something but usually not the right things – in the right way. Then they give up.
Action Plan: The secret is that you must put it all together in the correct way and you must commit to being successful. You must acknowledge that you are the only one that can make the difference and you must rally your entire family around your child’s success. You can have a healthy child but only if you decide to make it the number one priority in your life.
As a mother of an overweight child, I made all these mistakes and more. I’ve experienced the helplessness and heartbreak a parent feels watching their child struggle with weight. But there is an important flipside to that pain: The joy of helping your child shed their weight, build their self-esteem and realize the potential you always knew they had.