David Schultz Ph.D., M.Div.
Assistant Professor, Applied Developmental Psychology
University of Maryland - Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD

Fitness Food Fun Feelings

Q:  My daughter gets teased at school because she is overweight. How can I help her?

Q:  My son likes to play sports, but sometimes feels bad because he's not very athletic and often gets picked last for the team. What can I do to prevent him from giving up?

Q:  My child is slightly overweight and I sense that it bothers her. What can I do to help her feel better?

Q:  My children don't seem motivated to be healthy. How can I motivate them to be active?

Q: My daughter gets teased at school because she is overweight. How can I help her?

A:  It is natural for you to feel concerned when your daughter is teased because you don't want to see her hurt. The teasing comes at a delicate time when her self-esteem is developing.

Make sure your child knows that she's a terrific person no matter what her size and that you love and support her. Don't suggest that she lose weight to stop the teasing. That suggestion may confirm her fears that there's something wrong with her.

Listen carefully to your daughter's account of the teasing and then discuss possible reactions or responses she can make to diffuse the teasing, such as staying calm and neutral rather than getting visibly upset. For example, you might say, "Staying calm on the outside makes the teaser think they did not upset you, even if they did on the inside, so they are less likely to tease you again." Ask your daughter what her ideas are for responding to the teasing. She probably has some good ones, and your encouragement might help her to act on them.

Help your daughter see that the situation may not be as bad as she thinks. Although being teased feels awful, the teaser is typically only one or a few of the many kids she knows. If she makes general negative statements such as, "I'm fat and nobody likes me," gently help her see that she may be bigger than some kids right now, but she has many positive qualities that other children like.

Be available to talk with your daughter about the situation whenever she needs to but don't pressure her to talk. Most importantly, make sure to give her plenty of positive feedback about her strong points, such as her good grades, kindness to others and sunny smile.


More information:
Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem
Four Steps for Helping an Overweight Child

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Q: My son likes to play sports, but sometimes feels bad because he's not very athletic and often gets picked last for the team. What can I do to prevent him from giving up?

A:  There are several things you can do to keep your child's "team spirit" high.

Most importantly, give your child lots of positive strokes for participating and achieving his own personal best, rather than focusing on the end result, such as how many points he scores or runs he drives in. Remark on improvements he makes in his own skill level and not how he compares to the star player. Be specific. For instance, compliment him on how his jump shot or swing has improved because of all his hard work.

Tell him about similar experiences you had with sports when you were growing up. Describe what you enjoyed about team sports even if you weren't the best player on the team.

Focus on the fun of being part of the team, such as making friends and going out together after the game. If your child still feels bad about his performance, ask whether he's interested in a different sport or an individual activity, which may be a better match for his skills. The bottom line is that your child can greatly benefit from team sports when he knows you're proud of him, whatever his performance.


More information: 
Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem

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Q: My child is slightly overweight and I sense that it bothers her. What can I do to help her feel better?

A:  As a first step, make sure your child knows that you love her just the way she is and that she possesses many wonderful qualities. Her opinion of herself is strongly tied into the "vibes" you send regarding your feelings about her. Promote an open and supportive environment so she feels secure in talking with you about her feelings, if she chooses. Make sure she knows you are comfortable talking about difficult issues. Sometimes well-meaning parents do not state the obvious about their children (e.g., their weight), and children then mistakenly believe their parents do not want to discuss such issues.

Don't make your child's weight into a special matter among the family. Doing so can heighten her self-consciousness about her size and make her feel "different." Instead, encourage a healthy lifestyle for the whole family, including lots of physical activity and healthy eating habits.


More information:
Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem
Four Steps for Helping an Overweight Child

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Q: My children don't seem motivated to be healthy. How can I motivate them to be active?

A:  

Kids often find it difficult to understand the benefits of exercise. Many of the rewards for exercise and good nutrition that are important to adults require children and adolescents to think in a longer-term manner than they are accustomed (e.g. reduced risk for certain medical conditions) or to display a more sensitive awareness of their bodies than they typically do (e.g., feeling alert following regular exercise). More typically, they engage in different types of physical activity because it allows them to spend time with family and friends, is "fun" for them, and/or provides a new experience or sense of mastery over something (e.g., gymnastics, karate). Helping your children organize regular physical activity with friends will help them sustain interest.

Sometimes a good idea is to involve your children's friends in activities. Have your children invite a friend or two along to check out a new playground or park or offer to drive your children and a group of friends to the skating rink, pool, etc.

The approach you use is important, too. Instead of nagging your children to get outside and play, why not encourage and reward their behavior instead?

Sometimes children have hidden interests they do not express because they fear even their parents will think they're unusual or that it's something they'll never actually do (e.g., karate, salsa dancing). You might conduct a "poll" with your children and include a question like, "What's one physical activity you've always wanted to do that I/we don't know about?" If you can get your child and a friend to engage in this activity twice a week, you're on your way! Or, try going with them to the gym regularly and either engaging in a group exercise (e.g., racquetball) or similar individual activities.

Most important to remember is that your kids look to you as a role model and love spending time with you. So, get out there and play with your kids. It's the best exercise of all!


More information:

Getting Kids Active–10 Minutes at a Time!
Make Fitness a Family Affair

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