Child is a Little Overweight: How Bad?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Nutrition: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Nutrition: Tweens, Expert Advice: Tweens

"I have a 10-year-old son that I have concerns about," writes an upset mom, who says that her son is not interested in any sports, and that there's not much physical activity at home.

"He loves the computer and is an advanced student," Mom writes, "But he is also a little overweight and that's my main concern. It doesn't help that his siblings make fun when he runs (they say he runs like a girl)."

Mom writes that she doesn't allow the teasing, but isn't always right by the kids to prevent it, and that there's teasing at school as well. "I don't want his self-esteem hurt! Please help! Any suggestions are welcome!!" She signs off: Worried and Concerned Mom.

To find out "how bad," (and also "what's a Worried and Concerned Mom to do?") I called Mommy Adviser Rosanne Tobey, director of Calm and Sense Therapy, a counseling service, for her take. She had four key suggestions ...

1. Enlist the child's pediatrician.
It's impossible to say without knowing a child what is or is not a weight issue from a medical standpoint, but if there is a problem, sometimes a child's doctor can send messages that can be really hard for parents to talk about directly. "His doctor can talk about what's healthy and what's not and what are good eating habits, what constitutes a healthy amount of exercise ... and then you can help him stick to any changes that are necessary."

2. Check -- and limit -- his screen time.
"An interest in computers is common," says Tobey, "But it's concerning if a child disengages with friends and prefers screen time, which encourages him to be isolated and also to be stationary instead of moving around. The weight could be -- and I'm saying could be -- a symptom of him being disengaged with life. Does he feel like he cannot relate to other kids his age? He may be seeking solace in screen time."

3. Get him moving -- in his own way.
"The trick is not to change him, but rather to help him get engaged in situations where he can find friends with similar interests that might get him to be more active. Get him into play dates with friends, if possible at your house, and encourage them to stay away from the screen. Screens are addictive and children will not give up the screens willingly. You're going to have to do things with him that involve walking, and he will complain at first, but if you get him active in ways that suit his personality -- take him to a museum exhibit that he's interested in, even if it's a museum exhibit about film and TV -- it's still better than being home and watching a screen." Another mom-friend I spoke to told me that friends of hers with kids that don't like sports enjoy martial arts, especially once they found a class that was all about the art and not about competition.

4. Shut down the teasing. "As this mom clearly already knows, teasing about body image is a very mean thing to do. But the siblings may not understand how cruel they're being and it can be really helpful to raise their consciousness and make them aware. Get them on their brother's side and challenge them to stick up for him instead of putting him down. You can't control what they do when you're not around but you can send a clear signal when you are around that teasing him is not acceptable."

If you've ever had a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is a former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine and the author of three books about teenagers.

Related: Kids Watching Grownup Cartoons - How Bad?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.