If only kids came with instructions, we could be perfect parents. Regrettably, there are no instructions and therefore no perfect parents. We try to do our best raising our families, but the busyness of life gets in the way. The problem rests in the fact that sometimes we do not have enough information to make the best decisions. I am a firm believer that "when you know better—you can do better."
When a baby is born, we are so excited. Counting their fingers and toes, we ask the doctor if the baby is healthy, and if we are lucky, the doctor says yes. We expect this initial pronouncement of health means that for the next 21 years our child will be well. But no one explains to us the important part that we must play, and we receive little if any specific training for the most important role of our lives. As parents, we consider just two possibilities, sickness and health—the spectrum in between is lost. We need to pay attention to the gray area.
A parent lovingly fulfills every basic need for an infant, and as the infant grows, he or she learns to do these tasks by mimicking the way of the parents. As mothers, when babies cry from hunger, we pick them up to comfort them, speak soothingly to them and feed them. It is an enjoyable time between mother and child. But some babies come to associate food as the comfort. Unless we expand upon this coping mechanism, this baby is destined to a life of emotional eating.
Choose an enjoyable activity that models for our children how to cope with daily stress.
Try walking, biking or dancing to deal with frustrations instead and include your children in this activity. Children copy what we do, not what we say.
The childhood obesity epidemic is a complex problem for society, but truly as parents we are much more concerned about what occurs within our own four walls. Many families believe that their chunky child will outgrow their baby fat, but it takes only a few extra pounds to weigh a child down. Then the child does not feel well participating in activity, so they become less active and the pounds begin to pile up. Kids are cute, but they are cruel to each other. The old saying of "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was never farther from the truth. The words are forever etched in our children's brains and hearts, and the pain is far more debilitating than broken bones. Their spirits become broken instead. This prevents our children from becoming who they were meant to be. The vicious cycle is set because more than 8 out of 10 of these children will go on to become overweight adults, carrying with them forever all the baggage from childhood. That is if we continue to feed this vicious cycle.
Ask your pediatrician what a normal weight range is for each of your children.
Parents are forced out of denial and empowered by this knowledge. No longer will weight be a forbidden secret, but a symptom that can be healed by the family.
Many pediatricians feel helpless dealing with this obesity epidemic because it requires intense education and assistance to put the family on a healthy path. Time that most of them do not have to give. Most pediatricians have not even taken nutrition courses, so they do not feel comfortable being the expert either. But they can refer you to one.
Look at the back of your child's neck today and see if you notice a darker pigment where the skin has thickened, looking leathery with crevices - it actually looks dirty, but cannot be washed away. This may be acanthosis nigricans, which means your child is insulin resistant and is heading down a path toward illness. It is a warning sign that your family is not making the best choices. But you have the power to reverse this by helping your child to lose weight and by improving your family's diet and activity level.
Ask your pediatrician for a referral if your children are not within their normal weight range or have developed complications related to obesity.
Remember when our children were toddlers and we were in a hurry? We would tell them to hurry up, but instead they would only go slower. We did not understand that our anxiety of being in a rush was picked up by our kids and this alarmed them. Their response was to go slowly because that was their comfort zone. And this in turn frustrated us all the more. If we understand how kids work, then we can control situations better.
As parents we need to accept our part in our child's battle of the bulge. The chunky child is not to blame or shame. In order to conquer the childhood obesity epidemic, we must make a difference one child and one family at a time. To start, we must teach that food is fuel. Similar to your car, we need the right types and combinations of fuel for our bodies to run efficiently. Good nutrition, or lack of it, will affect a child long after a parent is gone. We need to set our priorities straight. The brand of tennis shoes is not nearly as important as the type of protein we buy our children.
We need to slow down because we move through life too fast. All the conveniences of the 21st century have not given us what we really want: more time. We get caught up in a whirlwind and do not know how to get out.
Take stock of what is really important to you.
And begin to spend our time and efforts in this area. We must pick and choose. We must learn to say no to things that do not further our priorities. If we say our family is most important to us, then we need to put our time and efforts with them. This is not easy in our world, but it can be done once you are conscious of your wishes.
Over the years, it has been convenient to place the blame on genetics for our children being overweight. It is far easier to accept when you can point the finger to someplace other than looking in the mirror. But the same genetic pool can turn out two very different children. Many would say the skinny one is lucky and the chunky one is not. But in reality, the opposite may be true. It is recognized by many that being overweight is a symptom of being unhealthy. So the chunky kid actually is getting the wake up call to do better. The skinny kid may very well have the beginning stages of heart disease from eating the same foods that weighed down the chunky kid, but the skinny kid is living in false hope that they are healthy. Therefore, parents are not punishing the skinny kid by keeping junk food out of the home. Our homes must remain the safe zone by stocking only foods with benefits. Snack items should be string cheese, low-fat pudding or fruit, to suggest a few.
Genetics may predispose a child to obesity, but it is truly lifestyle that causes it. Let us set our families up for success by creating a safe environment and a fundamental base for the family's healthy development.
Resolve not to buy junk food for anyone in the house.
Remember that your kids love you, too, and want you around for many years to come. Once in a while, make it a special event to go out for ice cream ... although frozen yogurt may be a better choice, but you do not have to be perfect. Just choose wisely more often than not!
Every New Year, we get the opportunity to reflect on what we have done and where we are headed. So many of us have put our children on a path to illness instead of our innate wish to head them on a "happily ever after" version of life. Now that we know better, this New Year let us resolve to "do better."
* Remember that you do NOT have to be PERFECT to be WONDERFUL!
© 2005 American Camp Association Inc. Founded in 1910, the American Camp Association is a national community of camp professionals and is dedicated to enriching the lives of children and adults through the camp experience.