When One Child Is Heavy

Heavy children with thin siblings may feel greater anxiety about their weight problem, particularly if a brother or sister engages in any teasing about size. Even the best kids can say hurtful things in a moment of heated sibling conflict. Do let your children know that name-calling and teasing will not be tolerated, and when it does occur, initiate any consequences immediately.

Sibling dynamics can also be complicated by feelings of jealousy and resentment. One child may feel jealous of all the extra attention he believes his sibling is getting as the family focuses on the weight-loss issue. On the other hand, your overweight child may be envious of his sibling because he doesn't have to “try” to lose weight. Again, focusing on healthy eating and activities as a family lifestyle change that will benefit all can help diffuse some of those feelings.

Challenges and Changes

No matter what their weight, all of your children can be challenged by your new lifestyle in some way. Perhaps your thin but inactive daughter will pick up a new sport or athletic skill that inspires her. Or maybe your son who enjoys cooking will come up with creative ways to serve up new healthful dishes.

Facing new challenges as a family will strengthen the bonds between child and parent and between siblings. Engage them in activities that set up a cooperative sibling spirit rather than a competitive one. A big brother or sister may be able to teach a younger sibling a skateboard trick or some new basketball shots. In addition to the health rewards your children will reap from this lifestyle shift, exposing him to new activities and new foods may spark his adventurous spirit and make him more willing to try new things in all areas of his life.

Avoiding Resentments

If sodas and sugar-laden snacks were once regular staples in your household, their sudden absence may be protested quite vocally. Your children who aren't struggling with a weight problem may find it easy to place blame for this edible embargo on their heavier sibling. Try to keep the blame card out of play up front by making it clear to your children that the changes you're instituting in your household are for the health of the entire family.

If your kids are less than enthusiastic about their new way of eating, try piquing their interest with a culinary challenge to see who can create the healthiest and tastiest meal. Pair up younger children with an older sibling or parent, and let them take charge of everything from the grocery shopping to the presentation.

You may want to talk about how certain former snack favorites are poor choices for anyone — slim or heavy, young or old — due to their high content of trans fats or their nutrient deficits. Ensure you always have plenty of healthy snack choices on hand for all of your children to indulge in, such as fresh fruits, whole-wheat crackers, yogurt, and other favorites.

Be prepared for the inevitable questions about why they could eat this and that before and can't eat it now. Answer truthfully. Let your children know that you aren't perfect and that you're learning more about healthy foods just as they are. Explain that some of your former favorites are also on the unhealthy list, and while you may miss them at first, the health and strength you'll gain in the long run will more than offset those feelings.

Encouraging Empathy

Every parent wants their children to be considerate of the feelings and needs of others. Charity doesn't always begin at home, however, and kids will occasionally say things to their sisters or brothers that they'd never dream of saying to friends or even complete strangers. When they say hurtful things or complain about their siblings, remind them that you expect them to follow the Golden Rule — “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” Ask how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of the same treatment they just dished out. Remember that your overweight child may not be blameless in the sibling wars either, so make sure you use an even hand in dispersing discipline and encouraging empathy.

When you see your children respecting the feelings of their siblings through words and actions, reinforce that behavior with praise and encouragement. Don't forget to practice what you preach — think about why a child who is usually kind is picking on his overweight sister. Are you focusing on her problems to the exclusion of his needs? Is he feeling uncertain about his role or importance in the family? Be an empathetic parent, and put yourself in each of your children's shoes.

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