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How to talk to your child about being overweight without hurting her feelings and self-esteem

by Vidya Sury February 5, 2018 23 comments

The sight of that chubby kid always draws the comment “how cute!” but the same kid ends up facing unpleasant situations as she grows up.

My son was that “cute kid” and his classmates loved to pinch his cheeks. He’d be good-natured about it. But he had an unexpected growth spurt along with an accident that broke his shoulder blade when he was 6 years old, and the two-month recovery added on some extra weight. He wasn’t lazy. In fact, quite the opposite. Loved to run around the school ground, take the stairs to the third floor, and always ready to run an errand. Yet, he never shed those extra pounds.

Then people started talking, and his peers called him names. I think until he got to middle school, he didn’t care. Around the sixth grade, even the teachers were occasionally mean. It almost seemed like bad luck that he was the tallest in the class and quite healthy-looking.

Thanks to the teasing, he refused to take part in sports, although he was happy enough playing football even if he wasn’t good at it. He preferred chess.  And he was attending Karate class.

He ate healthy and was as active as any kid. You wouldn’t believe how much he could walk. When we went to the doc for the usual vaccinations, he told us there was nothing to be worried about. Nevertheless, we were concerned—mostly about his self-esteem being hurt.

Maintaining a healthy weight is the foundation for long-term health for all ages, but especially for children. If you think your child is overweight, you have a right to be concerned simply because it opens the door to the risk of lifestyle diseases such as as diabetes and heart disease. While most children shed their “baby fat” by the time they’re in middle school, some do not because of various factors. Today, child obesity is on the rise and the consequences are frightening.

And of course, weight is a sensitive topic with anyone and tackling it with a child is a real challenge. It can be very tempting to be in denial but the consequences are too serious to avoid the topic.

How to talk to your child about being overweight without hurting her feelings and self-esteem and without triggering an eating disorder?

As a first step, some crucial things to remember before talking to a child about losing weight are:

  • Your child cannot do it without your support. Overweight children must be lovingly coached to eat healthy.
  • Overweight kids almost always face teasing from their peers. If you don’t talk to them, they may get the wrong message that talking about being overweight is taboo. Worse still is the assumption that it is okay to be overweight.
  • Young children do feel bad about being overweight and may try something bizarre to lose weight. This can lead to eating disorders. It is better to discuss it with them openly and assure them your support.

Here are some pointers for preparing the ground to talk to your child about being overweight

  • Check to see if they are actually overweight. Seek your doctor’s help.  This may involve weighing them regularly, usually once a week to monitor their weight. Fast track weight loss is not recommended for children except in special cases under the doctor’s supervision.
  • If your child is 7 years or less, think about what you expect them to do about it, as their food and activity is in your control. At this stage, you can manage your child’s weight by ensuring that they eat a balanced meal and get plenty of chances to be active. The best way to approach your child is to talk to them about healthy habits.
  • Children in the 7 to 11 age group have the ability to make choices and the best way to help them manage their weight is showing by example. Explain the benefits of why they must eat healthy.
  • Children 12 years and above already have their own views about body image, nutrition, and health. They have a reasonable control over what they eat and how they spend their time. This can be leveraged by involving them in coming up with imaginative ways to manage their weight.

How to introduce the subject of weight loss to your child

Now, just sitting your child down and discussing the issue won’t really help. A better way is to pick opportunities to introduce the subject of weight.

For example, ask your child how she feels when:

  • Well-meaning friends or family comment on how big she is
  • You have to buy clothes intended for an older child or adult
  • She is teased at school about her size

Ask her: do these situations upset her? Would she like to do something about it?

As parents, obviously we are full of good intentions but it can be tough to handle an overweight child without getting frustrated. Like every other parenting situation, here are some dos and don’ts to follow when you do talk to your child about managing extra weight:

  • Don’t tell your child she’s lazy or greedy. Instead, tell her you understand that it is really hard to make healthy choices sometimes.
  • Don’t ever trigger guilt about eating habits. Instead, praise her when she eats healthy to encourage her.
  • Never tell her she’s not helping herself. Instead, ask her how you can help her to make healthy choices.
  • Don’t let fear be the motivator to lose weight. Instead, explain why healthy weight matters.
  • Don’t whine about how tough or boring your own weight loss plan is, if you happen to be on one. Instead, set a good example because children see, children do.
  • Do appreciate the good things about your child’s appearance. Never stop reminding her how much you love her.
  • Don’t blame your child for being overweight. Nagging will only make it tougher.
  • Do explain that it is harder for some people to deal with being overweight than others. Always focus on the positive.
  • Don’t use shaming language or harass the child. Don’t shout at her.
  • Do look for opportunities to involve her in making healthy choices. Take her shopping and teach her to choose healthy foods. Walk/bike together, take the stairs together.
  • Do encourage her to go outdoors and play.

It is crucial for parents to understand how to approach the topic with their children and know that nutrition is more important than those numbers on the weighing scale.

We focused on modelling good behaviour that our son could follow, and made nutrition, healthy eating and exercise first priority. The losing weight was secondary.

Our strategy was love and logic and we also made some general rules for the whole family.

  • We avoided snacking on empty calories like chips and cookies and biscuits and switched to healthy options like fresh fruit, salads and healthy homemade dessert—our folks have a sweet tooth, you see!
  • We made sure our three meals a day was filling and healthy—which meant a balance of protein, fiber, carbs and fats. I am glad to say that even today, my son is not much of a snacker in between meals.
  • We didn’t encourage eating while watching TV except when we planned it. Ask me about losing track over that snack while watching a movie!
  • We made a “no soda” rule. I am proud to say none of us are into fizzy drinks. In fact, I was the only culprit but since being diagnosed as a diabetic, I completely stopped. For kids, sodas and juices can fill their tummies and keep them from eating a healthy meal.
  • Since sitting is the new smoking, we avoid sitting for too long, especially while watching TV or using the computer. In fact, thanks to the frequent commercials we end up getting up and doing something. For kids, not only is sitting for long periods unhealthy—but those commercials tempting them with high calorie junk food? Ugh!
  • We walked together every day for almost an hour and a half—one hour of brisk walking and half an hour of strolling together, catching up on our day.

As I said before, nagging, criticizing or ridiculing a child about extra weight will only make her resentful and rebel. The last thing you want her to do is sneak out and enjoy those very “goodies” you are trying to avoid. The best way to tackle the problem is to lead by example and steer her lovingly towards healthy habits—and a healthy future.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.


Maintaining a healthy weight is the foundation for long-term health for all ages, but especially for children. How to talk to our child about being overweight. #parenting #weightloss #healthykids #obesity

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Varsh February 5, 2018 at 11:36 pm

I’ve always been pleasantly plump and can identify with every single thing you said, Vidya. Having grown with serious self-esteem issues I know that weight does a lot of emotional damage too.
Now I know better. I’m not waif thin but now my intent is to workout regularly and be healthy. Kids need to be told this, gently.

Cathy Taughinbaugh February 6, 2018 at 9:07 am

This is such an important topic, Vidya. There are many kids who are overweight. As you mentioned it isn’t healthy, yet parents have to be careful when discussing it. I have not had a weight problem when I was young, which was good, but I know it is a problem for many families and the food disorder issue is a problem as well.

Soumya February 6, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Okay you could have written about this topic, Vidya. I know exactly whom to share this post with. A friend of mine has been worried about her “healthy” kid, he eats like there is no tomorrow and that too only junk. He throws a tantrum else. They have been finding it difficult to keep him in control.

I was a chubby kids too, but as I grew up I became skinny. Way too skinny! Then hormones struck and I got way too chubby overnight! Finally after a lifestyle change and healthy eating I am like what I am today.

Parents need to be very wary about their kids health these days. Being overweight can lead to so many other diseases.

Loved the post, happy hot bun <3

Birgit February 6, 2018 at 8:20 pm

You said it all in my opinion and I wish this could get out to more people. You could easily be a motivational speaker. I have seen many kids here who are so overweight and I do blame the parents because they are responsible for his or her well being. I know some children just are built in a manner where they are naturally heavier but I can see a difference between children who have a bit more padding but run and laugh and have fun. I see too many other kids with guts eating ice cream or some junk food and carrying a “big gulp”. This is a sweet…super sweet drink That is so huge they often have. Hard time carrying it. We live in the land of hamburger joints, pizza places, convenient stores filled with junk never mind restaurants that have too big meals usually breaded and fat Carrying carbs. All of them drink soft drinks and this is just wrong. Parents need to be educated on how to make better foods fun. I drink orange juice and soda water together. Soda water has no sugar but gives the fizz that I love and the juice has no extra sugars. These kids have to deal with ridicule from their classmates and people looking at them with judgement and I have been that person at times but I look more at the parents. I am just being honest here. When the entertainment industry promotes too thin people calling it healthy but staying obese people are curvy, is giving the wrong message. I believe you could really change the world Vidya because you have that gift…just a thought

Menaka Bharathi February 7, 2018 at 6:15 am

SO well said Vidhya, communicating without hurting is one thing I am into these days, specially because my son is entering his tween soon and I need to be ready mentally. I am going to keep this post bookmarked so I can keep coming back when I need to deal with him. Infact though I dont have to deal with over weight problems with the boys, its does go good with many other issues we deal on a daily basis with the kids.

Leana Lourens September 12, 2019 at 11:15 am

Hi Vidya. What a nice way to adress a child. It is so sad to hear nowadays that another child calls another child “fat” and it can hurt so much. These are lovely tips, thank you 😊🤗

Nabanita Dhar February 7, 2018 at 9:22 am

Everything needs to be done with love and lot of kindness. Tricky, but parents definitely need to read this. Being overweight is a topic that needs to be dealt very carefully so as to not cause self-esteem issues in kids. Very pertinent post, Vidya.

Rajlakshmi February 7, 2018 at 11:44 am

I can only imagine how delicately this topic needs to be handled with kids. Too much coercion can impact their self confidence and appreciation of their body. Most kids grow up with insecurity regarding their skin color and weight. I absolutely loved your post. Loved the detailed tips and advice.

Shilpa Gupte February 7, 2018 at 5:09 pm

It’s just the situation at home – my 8 yo nephew is overweight. We stopped all snacks and he is not into fizzy drinks. He loves playing with his friends, esp football, and is also enrolled in a karate class. He loves cycling, but all these activities aren’t helping a bit in reducing his weight. We speak with him very frankly as to how his weight needs to be brought down for him to feel healthy from within. He, too, understands that and agrees with us. Eats all the right things and yet we don’t see any change in his weight. Now, just waiting for him to grow older, shed his baby fat (which I hope is what it is) and feel good!

Modern Gypsy February 7, 2018 at 7:59 pm

I’ve always been overweight so I could identify with everything you wrote. For a very long time I’ve had serious body image issues. I’m just beginning to come to terms with it. Now, my focus is purely on eating healthy and without sending myself on a guilt trip for an occasional indulgence and regular exercise. I don’t know if I’ll ever lose the weight, but I’m shifting focus from my clothes size to how fit and healthy I feel.

Darla M Sands February 7, 2018 at 9:19 pm

I admire folks who raise their kids right, like you. ~hugs~ My decision no to have children proved wise because I never had the will or energy. Nutmaste, my dear. Heh…

Paige Burkes February 8, 2018 at 9:20 pm

This is such a critical issue these days, given the high levels of bullying and ridicule that occur in schools these days (one of many reasons we homeschool our kids). The food and exercise habits that kids adopt when they’re young will live with them for the rest of their lives. There are many health issues that people say are hereditary because multiple generations have them. The younger generation, in many cases, isn’t doomed with bad genes. They’ve simply adopted their parents’ food and exercise habits and beliefs which can be changed to improve their health.

Sanch @ Sanch Writes February 9, 2018 at 3:38 pm

You’ve highlighted some very important points. In my work I can see the extremes — kids with eating disorders, body image issues as well as those who are obese. A healthy lifestyle is the way to go. I was a chubby kid and put on more weight after the 10th when I ate heaps in the holidays and that too, junk food. I’ve become a lot healthier in the past five to six years but it is hard work! Parents need to model healthy lifestyles for their kids and that includes not buying too much junk food and exercising themselves.

Elle Sommer February 10, 2018 at 5:57 pm

This is a tough topic Vidya…one that you handle with grace and diplomacy. A healthy lifestyle definitely would seem to be the way to go and I totally agree with Sanch when she says parents need to model healthy living for their kids.

Sandra Pawula February 11, 2018 at 3:38 am

This is so important. Thank you, Vidya. And of course, there are some great tips for us adults who need to watch our weight too. You’ve handled this so thoroughly and with such sensitivity.

Betsy February 11, 2018 at 4:50 am

Thank you for an some great tips, Vidya! It’s such an important topic for kids today. I, too, agree that parents need to model good health.

Anita September 11, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Thank you for this very insightful article Vidya. I have seen many children that grow up to be people with complexes about their weight due to things that stem from their childhood through fear and nagging and berating them.It would be so much easier to award praise when they were doing something right,and in that way avoid the child growing up to be an adult with issues.

Felicia Austin September 11, 2019 at 6:18 pm

Wow Vidya this is such an amazing informative article. I enjoyed all of the examples you gave to help parents talk to their children. We often forget sometimes they are children and still can be molded. Thank you for all of these wonderful choices.

Sarah Barker September 11, 2019 at 11:04 pm

I liked the tips for sitting. Finding a sport that kids like has always helped my kids.

Julie September 12, 2019 at 11:41 am

So refreshing to see this sort of approach!

Nicole Steyn September 12, 2019 at 10:40 pm

I was an overweight child and went on my first diet plan at the age of 11. It was always a sensitive topic between my mom and I, in fact it still is sensitive to talk about. It’s so important to teach our kids the importance of a healthy lifestyle from a young age and from a place of love and compassion. Thank you for this post. I hope that it makes a big difference for many children.

Raina Camille September 13, 2019 at 2:23 am

This is a great post! Weight loss, in general, is a sensitive subject that needs caution to talk about. My older son has always been chubby since birth. He was breastfed for a year but did not start eating solid or baby food until he was 8 months old. His doctor had told us that his weight was no issue since he was on breast milk only and that he will lose weight eventually. That did not happen. Now that he is in 6th grade, I worry that kids will be mean to him. He loves to swim and can live in a pool if allowed to. Running is not his favorite activity, but he loves to walk. I want to talk to him about walking more and ask how he feels about himself, but I don’t know how to bring up the subject because he’s an emotional person, I’m glad I came across your article.
Raina Camille recently posted…Types of mental health issues, types of mental illness

Writers Note November 4, 2020 at 10:37 pm

The BMI is one approach to tell whether you are at an ordinary weight, are overweight, or have corpulence. It gauges your weight comparable to your tallness and gives a score to help place you in a classification:

ordinary weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9
weight: BMI of 30 or higher


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