The World Health Organization defines obesity or being overweight as 'an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that can be harmful to health'. However, in addition to representing a problem for physical health, being overweight can also have a negative effect psychologically. What are the main emotional problems experienced by overweight children? How can we help parents to deal with this situation?
The reasons why a child is overweight or obese are varied: there are children who have poor eating habits and / or very sedentary lives with little or no physical activity that gradually leads to weight gain, others have a genetic predisposition and although exercise and eat healthy will always be above the expected average curve.
If it's about a food issue and little physical exercise, most of the time children are gaining weight in a smooth and almost imperceptible way and by the time parents notice it and start to deal with the subject it is already more difficult to handle.
In any case, it is a fact that children who are overweight or obese do not have it easy. These are some of the situations they face emotionally:
1. Social stigma
In a world where we place so much importance on being thin, being overweight is associated with many negative stereotypes, which is why living overweight can be very hard for a child and their parents.
2. Low self-esteem
In general, an overweight child is more likely to face low self-esteem, as he may feel disadvantaged compared to most of his peers on a physical level. This can lead to a lack of self-confidence and hard-to-handle feelings such as shame and inadequacy, as well as lead to poor overall performance.
An overweight child may enjoy doing some physical activity such as playing soccer or swimming, but being overweight can make him so insecure that he prefers to refuse to try it.
Overweight children more easily face teasing and bad comments from their peers regarding their physical appearance, making them feel that it is their fault; They may be called names, made fun of, and harassed. They may also have a hard time making new friends or being the last to be chosen in sports activities.
In this scenario, overweight children may feel out of place and consider themselves different. If there is a social situation of harassment or exclusion, children can feel very sad and even develop a depressive disorder and withdraw into themselves.
6. Eating for anxiety
Some children seek to eliminate their discomfort precisely through food, eating secretly since their parents and close adults pressure them to eat less.
If a child is overweight or obese, he may be going through one of the above situations. In this case, the greatest support and management of the situation rests with the parentsHere are some tips:
- Accept your child and help him accept himself as he is
Parents need to accept their child for who he is. He must feel loved, accepted and protected by them at all times. There are parents who constantly fight to change the situation, but from a position of little acceptance and even feelings of shame for their child's overweight; This generates for him the greatest of obstacles.
It will always be easier to face what comes if your parents accept you and help you accept yourself as you are; If they help him understand that the subject of weight is changing (like the weather) but the important thing is who he is, the things that make him special, all the qualities and peculiarities that make him a unique child.
- Talk to him openly about the situation
Avoiding the topic doesn't solve anything. Depending on the age of your child, I recommend that you address the issue; Ask him how he feels, what difficult situations he faces at school, help him solve them, feel strong and provide him with security and confidence at all times, assuring him that you will always be with him.
- Don't restrict it
Instead, start a healthy and balanced diet that includes the whole family. There are parents who begin to restrict some foods to their children and prohibit them from eating certain foods while all other members of the family can. This restriction makes them feel a greater anxiety to eat precisely what is prohibited. In addition, feeling different and excluded even within your family, only aggravates the situation physically and above all emotionally.
Food and good habits should be followed by all members of the family. It is necessary to be creative and look for fun and healthy ways so that they do not stop enjoying some snacks or desserts that can be made by substituting some flour and sugars.
- If they go out to eat, do not control what they order
It is a very difficult situation that if you go out to eat you cannot ask for what you want, while everyone else does. If they have decided to go out, give them the opportunity to choose what they want. The extra calories you can eat won't make a difference, but feeling controlled and different from others can affect you negatively.
- Help him discover a physical activity that he enjoys and in which he feels good
Try to help him find a physical activity that he enjoys and where he does not feel at a disadvantage with others; And if he doesn't want it because he feels bad, don't push him. In that case, take advantage of the weekends to promote outdoor outings, family games, walk the dog, etc .; that allow you to exercise without suffering distress.
There are many ways to help your child cope with this situation, if as a parent you stay close and sensitive to all the emotions that they may be facing.
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