Q: My kids are unhealthy, fat and lazy. They spend their allowance on junk food and prefer staying indoors in their rooms. I’m embarrassed and don’t know what to do.
It is a worry when children are overweight, and any parent would be right to try and help their child engage with a healthier eating and exercise habits. However, I sense a real disconnect here. I feel the way you describe your kids in your email is accompanied by a very unhealthy dose of judgement on your part. I’d really like you to think about the fact that you say you’re embarrassed by them and how this must make them feel. Self-esteem and confidence are two things that underpin the growth of happy, healthy kids. One of our roles as parents is to foster these core attributes in our children. I call them ‘spine straighteners’ as they make kids walk tall and feel a sense of their own worth.
The behaviour that your children are displaying – eating nutritionally bankrupt food – are signs they are struggling with issues they need help with. Far from judging them, you should be doing everything to encourage them in a positive way. Applying the labels ‘fat’ and ‘lazy’ to any child will never make them the opposite. It will reinforce their feelings of worthlessness. The more you say it to them, the more it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead of trying to make them like yourself, I think you need to start to see them as individuals. Talk, don’t dictate. You need to get to know them. What do they enjoy? What do they think about? What are their talents? Engage with them in a positive way. Initially, don’t worry about the food issue, just reconnect. Go into their space rather than expecting them to come into yours.
Then, when you feel you have re-established a more positive relationship, you can begin to tackle the health-related issues.
Set out some ground rules. Giving them chores that need to be done outside of their rooms will draw them out, set expectations and give them some responsibility.
Get them involved in preparing food. Explore how they can take their favourite ‘junk food’ and turn it into something healthier made at home.
Exercise doesn’t have to be gym-based. Find out how they want to get fit. In the first instance just get them moving without any kind of formality. Encourage them to track their progress and be proud to be seen out and about with them.
If you know they spend all of their allowance on junk food, then maybe you should change the rules on this too. Get them each to nominate something they want to save for, put half of their allowance away each month. Then set some positive, achievable targets with them and reward them with savings bonuses when they hit them. This way you limit the amount they can spend on poor quality food and nudge their behaviour in the right direction.
Parental approval is very important to kids. They need to know you are on their side, and when they do, change will happen.
Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based lifecoach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting (russellhemmings.co.uk). Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.