Weight gain in children is always a concern. Parents don’t know how to handle the issue without being judgmental or hurting their children. I mean, let’s be honest, would you really be able to tell your kid ‘honey, you look bigger, you need to workout’? Fortunately, the situation can be turned around quite easily without hurting anyone’s feelings. Here are some pointers to guide you through it.

First of all, remember that you should expect some weight gain as your child hits puberty. Since each body is unique, children of the same age and height may have different weights. It takes a while for kids to adjust to their new body structure but it shouldn’t be a matter of concern as long as weight, height, body mass, muscle and bone are in the right proportions. Regular checkups with a doctor or a nutritionist will help you dissipate fears and sooth anxiety regarding these weight fluctuations. After all, if your kid is proportional but a bit chubby, this is not something that poses a health risk, so you need to control the urge to let him or her know that you’re noticing a weight fluctuation. Children could get harmed easily if they feel criticized.

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However, if you notice your child continues to put on weight outside of expected ranges for his/her age, then something may not be right. For example, depression, anxiety and stress increase appetite as a way to cope with disturbing feelings. Food can be a way to find comfort during agitated times such as pre-puberty and adolescence. Emotions such as anger, low-self-esteem, guilt and failure to meet expectations are proven to increase appetite. Behavioral changes are really big red flags. Do not overlook them.

If you notice any changes aside the weight gain, have an honest conversation with your child and ask him/her what is going on. A therapist or a counselor may be of great help but you may want to suggest that after your child has opened up to you in the first place.  Piece of advice: Focus on the emotional/behavioral red flags rather than the weight increase itself. If your child is dealing with low self-esteem issues, reminding him/her of those extra pounds gained during the last few weeks won’t do any good.

Weight increase is also related to poor eating habits and lack of exercise. It may be beneficial for the whole household to review these aspects of everyday life. High calories, saturated fats, bread, sugar, sodas and snacks alongside a sedentary lifestyle can lead any child to gain weight. Here are some simple suggestions that will enable you to develop better eating habits:

  • Small changes make the difference. Start slowly and you’ll get a better response from your kids.
  • Less fruit juices and sugary beverages. Increase the water intake and cut down all artificial drinks. They are mostly sugar.
  • Increase fiber and protein intake. Less white bread, more integral cereals, oats and wheat bread.
  • Limit sweets. Especially for little ones, try to stick to no more than 3 per week.
  • 60 minutes of daily exercise. Try a family activity like walking. Incorporate little walks in the evening or in the afternoon. Kids love some sightseeing.

Dealing with weight issues is never easy. Not for your kid and not for you either. Remember these three words as you take action: Sensitivity, kindness and empathy. Regardless of the cause of your child’s weight gain, it is crucial for them to know they can turn on you for love, support and understanding.