Parenting is the most difficult, most important job you are ever going to have. While there are many happy, feel-good moments, there are also painful and uncomfortable moments; it’s all part of being a parent. Traditionally, one of the most uncomfortable moments for a parent was thought to be the discussion of “the birds and the bees”. While talking to your kids about where babies come from may be difficult, a recent study has revealed that there is another conversation that parents dread more.
The idea of talking to your kids about maintaining a healthy weight is so frightening for parents that more than 20 percent admit to never broaching the subject at all, according to research from the Raising Fit Kids study, a partnership between webMD and Stanford University. Compare that to 5 percent who are uncomfortable discussing alcohol, drugs, and smoking; 10 percent of parents who are uncomfortable discussing sex; and nearly 25 percent of parents who are uncomfortable discussing weight and health. It is probably the same 20 percent of parents that seem to believe that the pediatrician should be the one responsible for discussing health and weight with their children.
I am going to count it as good news that 80 percent of parents do not believe the pediatrician should be responsible for having such an important conversation with their children. Parenting is a tough job, but it is your job. The goal of parenting is to raise healthy, capable, confident adults who are able to parent themselves. That means it is your responsibility to teach your children proper nutrition, how to prepare food, and the benefits of exercising, in addition to safe driving, sharing well with others, and how to have healthy relationships. Pediatricians, therapists, and other professionals can assist you when you need information or struggle with a particular subject. But you are the one responsible to your kids. No adult comes to see me blaming their pediatrician, therapist, or teachers for not preparing them appropriately, but they do blame their parents. Although at some point, we have to take responsibility for ourselves no matter what life has or hasn’t thrown our way. If your children do not learn this from you, the potential risks include diabetes, heart attacks, infertility, joint replacement, death, and more.
Healthy habits need to be modeled. You can also start talking about such things from day one, talking your kids through your choices at the supermarket, preparing meals, and choosing to be active. Such discussions can easily become an easy part of your daily dialogue. At first, you simply need to narrate the healthy choices that you make and your reasoning behind those choices. As your children start exploring the world more, you can point out to them how good they feel after exercising or sleeping for an extended period of time. If you make exercise a part of the daily routine, a conversation about exercising will never be required. Kids can learn about making healthy choices as they help decide what they will eat in their lunches at school. As children reach adolescence and begin struggling with identity and self-esteem, it’s the perfect time to distinguish health from weight. If weight is a concern work with them to make healthier dietary choices and increase physical exertion, but remember to keep the focus on health more than appearance. Adolescence is also a great time to start sharing health-related research that you have read.
It becomes more difficult when your household has not had the healthiest habits and you are concerned about your child’s weight and health. Talking about the reasons why you have decided to change your habits can inspire kids to follow in your footsteps. In tough situations, food choices, like sending snack money to school, can be considered a privilege just like anything else. Children are not allowed to play with others if they cannot do so kindly. If children cannot make healthy choices, perhaps they do not need the privilege of making food choices on their own just yet.
Talking to your kiddos does not have to be a frightening endeavor. Start small and naturally, and you will likely find that the conversation flows on its own. If there are more complicated factors with your children, I am happy to coach you through the discussions or you can find a counselor in your area who can help facilitate a discussion about health with your children.