[Reprinted from Get a Healthy Weight for Your Child: A Parent's Guide to Better Eating and Exercise by Dr. Brian W. McCrindle and James G. Wengle; Copyright © 2005 The Hospital for Sick Children; (Published by Robert Rose Inc.; 0-7788-0114-4.) Permission granted by Robert Rose Inc.]
- Be an Effective Role Model or a Good Example: When you are physically active, your child is more likely to be physically active. Find activities that you are comfortable participating in and have your child join you.
- Be a Fan: When your child gets praise and positive feedback while they are being active, they are much more likely to keep going with the activity. When we have fans cheering us on, we often become more energized and try harder. Offer encouragement to your child whenever they take part in any sort of activity.
- Be a Coach: Show interest in your child's activities. Help them find activities they enjoy or do extremely well at. Frequently check how they are doing and make sure they have the proper equipment. Help them to get the skills they need to take part fully. Make charts and records of their successes. Go watch them play.
- Be a Proud Parent: Show enthusiasm and give appropriate rewards. Take pictures of your child while they are being active or make signs and banners and put them on the fridge. Mention your child's successes to your friends while your child is around and able to hear.
- Be a Leader: Get involved with your child's school and/or community activity programs. Get connected with other parents at school and try to influence the school for more physical activity opportunities. Get together with neighbors and start a regular group activity plan for all the children on your street. If you see an opportunity for starting a new activity in the community, volunteer to help.
- Be a Chaperone or Chauffeur: Walk your child and other children in the neighborhood to places where they will be physically active. When necessary, provide transportation to community centers or other locations of physical activity. Share the responsibility with other parents in your neighborhood. There may be opportunities for your child to become friends with other children who are physically active.
- Be Creative: Organized sports are great, but it is just as important to help your child find ways to be active in and around the home, and by themselves. Get your children involved in weekly chores. Also, find creative ways of encouraging physical activity, such as making a room in the house the active playroom. Look for presents and rewards that encourage active play outside the home, such as skipping ropes, Frisbees, balls and racquets.
- Criticize: Criticizing your child about their poor eating choices or their lack of activity will often backfire and could lead them to resent healthier eating and physical activity. Instead, praise and applaud them when they make healthier food choices and when they get involved in any physical activity. Always offer healthy options to less healthy food choices and periods of inactivity, but never criticize.
- Discourage: It may seem obvious but it is easy to be unaware of how some comments can be discouraging and sometimes hurtful for children. For example, if your child overhears you telling your friend about how your child is always eating less healthy food or is lazy, it can be very upsetting. As their parent, you must support your child. Praise them and bring to everyone's attention the healthy behaviors of your child and try not to pay as much attention to the less healthy behaviors. The attention that the healthy behaviors get will go a long way toward encouraging more of the same.
- Nag: Constantly nagging your child about what they are eating or about being inactive will not help them to change. Imagine how you feel when you are nagged or harassed by others.
- Blame: Children are not directly responsible for their weight, their food choices or their activity habits. All of these things come from their environment and from their genes. Their environment is partly controlled by you and your family. Children can learn eating and activity habits from the family. The foods that they eat the most are clearly determined by which foods the family keeps in the house. The time they spend watching television and on the computer is also determined by what the family allows. The family's level of activity partly determines whether your child will be active or inactive. Because your child's eating and activity habits are most often determined by conditions they have never had any direct control over, it is never proper to blame them.
- Tease: Teasing doesn't just come from other children, but can come from adults and family members as well. Teasing will not make your child more interested in healthy behavior. Teasing from other family members or children at school should not be tolerated.
- Restrict: Research shows that completely restricting foods only increases their appeal and the likelihood that your child will want to have the restricted foods, particularly when you are not around. Instead of strictly limiting some foods, focus on decreasing the amount of those foods that are available to be eaten. You may choose to limit the types of foods you keep in your house, and instead make special trips or create special occasions for eating those foods outside the house. Restricting physical activity, unfortunately, does not have the same effect of increasing its appeal, and only results in decreasing further the amount of energy your child uses up in the day. Punishments should not involve limiting opportunities for physical activity or particular foods.
- Use Food as a Reward: Food is all too commonly used as a reward these days, especially less healthy foods. Parents soothe their children with sweet snacks, they limit dessert until dinner is eaten and the plate is clean, and they use treats as presents. In these cases, children can begin to see the less healthy snacks as more pleasing and healthy foods as less tasty and less attractive. It can be very difficult for families to change their habit of using food as a reward because most of us grew up viewing some foods in this way. Food has been a way that some parents express love and caring. In some cases, parents feel guilty that they have less time to spend with their children because they work long hours. When you wish to give your children more than praise for their accomplishments, or just to show that you are thinking about them, choose non-food rewards, such as toys, sports equipment, stickers, or tickets to some event.
- Be Inconsistent: Children need boundaries and limits. This also applies to their behavior around food and activity. Stick to whatever boundaries and limits you set. If you decide as a family that the television should not be turned on during dinner, be consistent with this decision. Limits and boundaries should also be set equally for all members of the family, including parents. Sometimes there may be a legitimate excuse for a difference, but a healthy weight is not an excuse for siblings or parents to eat less healthy and be less active.
- Show Favoritism: You may have already found yourself treating your overweight child differently than their siblings. This can cause your child to feel guilty and responsible for their less healthy body weight. Try not to single out one child while making changes to the food available for everyone. For example, it is not okay to feed your family chocolate cake for dessert but not allow one child to have any.
- Do as I Say, Not as I Do: Asking your child to eat healthier and be more active is far less successful if you yourself don't do so. Your children will find it much easier to change their habits if others in the family are making the same attempts. Be sure that you are trying to improve your own nutrition and physical activity levels at the same time as your child.
- Lie or Trick: These are always poor approaches with children. Children can often tell when we are lying or tricking them, and when they do figure it out, we lose all trustworthiness. We encourage you to be creative in finding helpful ways of encouraging healthy behavior, without resorting to tricking or deceiving your children.
- Punish: Don't use punishment (or threats of punishment) to try and change your child's eating and activity habits. Punishing children for less healthy eating or lack of physical activity is not a successful strategy for teaching anyone to enjoy eating nutritiously or being physically active. Threatening to take away dessert because your child is misbehaving teachers the same improper relationship to food as does rewarding them with food, and makes those less healthy foods more wanted. Threatening to increase the amount or types of physical activity your child performs as a punishment will make those activities seem like punishment at other times and make them less enjoyable.