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Be a parent, not a weight-loss coach, to older kids

Parents are usually concerned with their children's well-being no matter how old they get. It's hard enough to get young kids to do what you think is right. So what are parents to do if they are concerned about their teen and young adult children's weight and health?

No matter their child's age, sometimes parents can't see the forest for the trees. They focus on specifics they want to change and attack them directly, causing the target of their good intentions to resist and push their parents away.

If parents haven't done the hard work it takes to have a good relationship and strong communication with their child, forget about it.

But a good relationship doesn't mean that you need to be your child's best buddy and relinquish parental responsibilities. Think instead about striving to be a good role model, showing respect for them and their struggles, and showing that you can be nonjudgmental when giving advice or asking questions about weight issues.

Any teen or young adult is more likely to approach this type of parent than one who is constantly nagging and criticizing.

So how can we help our growing and grown children to go in the right direction when it comes to their weight problems? Here are a few tips:

• Focus on the abstract, not the concrete. Don't comment on their eating or exercise; they already are more aware than you think. Criticizing will only result in resistance, because a power struggle will be created. No person wants to take advice from someone who is constantly making negative comments about what they eat. Modeling healthy behaviors will give you the results you want before nagging will.

• Focus on the relationship. Without a relationship built on trust and acceptance, no child is going to want to listen to even the best pearls of wisdom. The relationship must come first.

• Aim to strengthen your child's self-esteem. Goals are difficult to achieve without a strong sense of self. Having good self-esteem yourself can rub off on children. Take every opportunity to point out your child's strengths and why you love them. Positive people want to do positive things for themselves. If they feel good about themselves as people, they will want to be healthy and do what it takes to achieve that.

• Keep focus off the issue of weight. That will only produce more stress. The weight will come off automatically as the child works on the behaviors of gradual lifestyle changes in eating and exercise. Focusing on the weight has no power in producing change.

• Ask what is helpful and what is not. Show respect by asking how you can be helpful instead of trying to force help on them. You might be surprised by what your offspring have to say.

• Have realistic expectations. The body has limits, and there is a lot of incorrect information out there about losing weight. Make sure that you become informed about the issue before giving advice.

• Know when to back off. If you see that your advice is causing arguments or tension, respectfully back off. Go back to focusing on the relationship.

Children seem to grow up overnight, but they do grow up. There will come a time in all parents' lives when they must struggle with letting go and allow their child to accomplish goals on their own. You can be a supportive fan and be there when they invite your help, but you can't save them from every pain. By focusing on the tips above, a parent will have the most power possible in having their teen and young adult children not only achieve physical health, but psychological health also.

Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached at (813) 240-9557 or DrRod@ Her book, "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management," is available at

Be a parent, not a weight-loss coach, to older kids 08/13/10 [Last modified: Monday, August 23, 2010 9:03am]
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