Parents often worry that addressing their child’s weight issue will decrease his or her self-esteem. Have no fear! The truth is that teaching a child how to make healthy choices will actually increase self-esteem - if it is done in an emotionally supportive manner! Here are five tips to increase your overweight child’s self-esteem.
1. Help your kids quiet their inner negative voices.
We all have that little voice in our heads telling us that everything we do is wrong: "You shouldn't have eaten that." "Why didn't you go to the gym today?" This voice makes us feel worthless. Tell your kids that you have that voice, too, but have learned how to overcome it. When that voice arises, advise your kids to tell the voice to go away; sometimes simply recognizing the fact that the voice is there is enough to silence it, at least temporarily. You can also teach them to counter back with something positive: "Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that, but I only had a half portion. To make up for it, I will cut back on my afternoon snack." "I really didn't feel like going to the gym today, but I will go tomorrow even though tomorrow is usually my off day.” The more you challenge your inner voice, the quieter it becomes.
2. Teach your children to like what they see in the mirror.
Make a point to notice your children’s positive body qualities. Compliment them on their great legs or strong arms. Remind them that their bodies have many wonderful attributes. We only get one body and we need to learn to appreciate it. Plus, dieters with higher self-esteem lose more weight!
3. Celebrate small milestones.
You don't have to wait until goal to congratulate your kids on their achievements. Set smaller mini-goals so they feel a sense of accomplishment. The best goals are not related to the scale. Rather than setting a “Lose Five Pounds” goal, choose an action-oriented goal like “Exercise Four Days a Week.” Your child can’t control the scale but she can control whether she gets her exercise. Be sure to pick a (non-food) reward. Let your child buy that new shirt she’s been wanting or allow her to see a movie on a school night. The key is to find something your child wants (or wants to do) that they want that doesn't involve food. It needn't be expensive!
4. Teach your child to handle stress.
Losing weight can be stressful and most people instinctively turn to food to soothe themselves. To keep your kids relaxed, happy and out of the kitchen, help them find ways to manage stress that don’t involve eating. Some people like yoga. Others try deep breathing. I like taking a long, hot bath with a good book! Your child may want to spend a few minutes playing a game or talking on the phone. Exercise can also be a stress release. If you teach these strategies in advance, your child is much less likely to turn to food when feeling challenged.
5. Teach your children to enjoy food!
It may seem counter-intuitive, but if your child really enjoys a meal, he may eat less of it. When we rush through a meal without taking the time to focus on what we are eating, we don’t realize we are full until we have taken in many extra forkfuls. Not only have we eaten tons of unneeded calories, we didn’t even enjoy them. When we eat slowly and savor each bite, we are usually satisfied with less food. We also notice when we are full and can stop eating right away, eliminating unnecessary calories.