Children are facing a bigger risk of being overweight and obese than ever before. According to a recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare up to one in four school-aged children are overweight or obese in NSW.
This is a wake-up call to persist in promoting healthy habits not just at school, but also at home. Parents should aim for an overall healthy and nourishing lifestyle for a child that encompasses eating habits, regular exercise and other factors such as time spent outdoors.
While Australia’s child obesity epidemic should be a high priority for schools and families, it is important to consider the detriment on our children of a suggested proposal to weigh children at school. Children who are both overweight and underweight, are sensitized to weight issues and are already more likely to face bullying teasing, low self-esteem and social isolation that pushes them to adopt unhealthy weight management practices.
The focus should be on children’s health and healthy lifestyles, which starts with home routines. Younger children, unless overweight, should not be losing weight, instead they should be growing into their weight. Parents need to support their children’s healthy habits from an early age by discussing positive body image and making healthy eating choices everyday, after all, you are their best role model.
The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network offers five key recommendations toward a healthy lifestyle for a healthy weight:
- Limit screen time on devices to less than 2 hours per day;
- Eat together once a day as a family without the TV on;
- Spend at least 60 minutes outside everyday;
- Choose water as your main drink;
- Eat breakfast each day.
Dr. Anna Cohen, Sydney’s leading Clinical Child Psychologist suggests ways parents can promote healthy lifestyles and positive body image.
Young children model the behaviour of their parents. It is easier for your child to adopt healthy choices if the family as a whole does the same thing. Use meal times as an opportunity to sit down as a family, and enjoy a healthy meal together, this will ensure you are nurturing your young person’s positive experience with food. It is also good to plan family activities that involve exercise such as walking to the shops, walking the dog or a bike ride around the block.
Get your children involved.
Involve your children when preparing meals; this will help encourage them to try new things they previously may not be as willing to, as they have helped in the process of making it. Take your children to the supermarket, as it is another opportunity to teach them to say no to temptations and make good, nutritious food choices, as well as talk about the types of food they should eat to fuel healthy bodies.
Be a positive role model.
We all come in different shapes and sizes but our bodies are able to do amazing things and we should celebrate that. Parents should also reaffirm to children that what we look like doesn’t determine who or what type of person we are, it is our actions and how we treat others in a considerate way. Body image is strongly linked to self-esteem, and your child’s self-esteem is greatly influenced by the messages they receive from their parents. Look to encouraging your child to understand that striving for a healthy body is more important than looking at weight and appearances.
Don’t be hypercritical.
Parents should be mindful of making comments about their appearance and that of others unless it’s positive. Comparisons are also unhelpful as they more often than not are based on superficial observations and limited information. What does work is acknowledging good choices and the favorable outcomes of such choices; young people are able to form the connection between optimal behaviours and optimal results.
Promote good sleep.
Sleep doesn’t just affect a child’s mental development but their physical health. A lack of sleep can be a cause of high blood pressure, obesity, and depression in children, so ensure your child is getting the recommended amount of sleep for their age. Promote good sleep patterns by maintaining a regular bedtime and routine, that includes relaxing time 30 minutes prior to sleep without technology.
Limit screen time.
Excessive screen time is a lifestyle factor that limits the amount of time children play outdoors and undertake physical activity. It is important you are conscious of the amount of time your child spends on a device, and strive for a balance that pushes them to partake in daily physical activity outdoors. Exercise also aids in relieving anxiety and stress, helping eliminate any negative feelings.
Young children model the behaviour of parents. As parents we need to support our young people to improve their perceptions of body image and recognise that their body is their own, regardless of its shape or size. Satisfaction with who we are and how we are loved is an essential part of fulfilling a child’s life; the foundation of this is where optimal child development flows.
For more information or professional advice contact Sydney’s leading Child Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anna Cohen at Kids & Co. – www.kidsandco.com.au
About Dr. Anna Cohen
Anna is a Senior Clinical Psychologist and has worked with children, young people and families for over 20 years in both government and non-government organisations. She has strong skills in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of children and young people presenting with psychiatric, emotional and behavioural problems, and in assisting parents to implement parent management strategies.
Anna is committed to supporting families with the difficult challenges they often face, and in doing so, helping children to re-engage with ordinary everyday childhood tasks.