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Health Issues

Managing Setbacks and Detours

No matter how strong your child’s determination is to gain better control over her food and activity choices, she’ll probably experience some backsliding from time to time. Maybe she’ll overeat for several days in a row. She might grab some unhealthy foods in the school cafeteria when she’s feeling stressed about upcoming final examinations.

Perhaps she’ll attend a birthday party and help herself to more than one very large slice of cake—with extra ice cream on top. As discouraged as you and your child might feel at those moments, you need to keep these lapses in perspective. You don’t have to view them as the start down a slippery slope from which there’s no turning back. Instead, think of them as just minor stumbling blocks, which is exactly what they are. Even if they add a pound or two to your child’s weight, they’re certainly not a reason for her to give up and abandon all the successes she’s had so far. Remember that you are helping your child develop lifelong habits for healthy eating and activity. Learning how to make wise health decisions about nutrition and activity is what’s important. Help your child learn that all-or-nothing thinking gets in the way of making changes and can lead to a pattern of restriction and overindulgence that not only doesn’t feel good, but reinforces negative eating and activity patterns. Remember too, that when you let your child in on meal planning, food shopping and preparation, and planning family activities, she will learn to make good decisions from your example.

In fact, backsliding is a normal part of making any type of change. The key is not to get dejected. Instead, you and your child need to rethink what may have gone wrong and how you can minimize the risk of it happening again.

The first step in this process is to acknowledge that a setback has actually occurred or is still underway. Has your child stopped playing outdoors? Is she spending more time in front of the TV? Has the entire family started eating at fast-food restaurants more often than usual?

Once you give some thought to what might be going awry, the best corrections for your course may become rather obvious. Even so, you’d be surprised at how often parents and children know that something isn’t going right, but never take the time to evaluate what’s really happening. That’s why it might be helpful to write down what your child is eating and what her activity level is. The mere act of putting this information down on paper can help you identify specific problem areas and when and why they might be taking place.

Are the setbacks occurring when grandma comes for a visit, for example? Does she bring some sweets with her that aren’t ordinarily available in your home? Did your youngster go out for pizza or fast food 3 times last week, even though the family has been trying to stick to a once-a-week limit? Did you stop at the supermarket on the way home from work twice in recent days and buy some soda for the entire family to grab? Does it follow periods of abstinence or withholding foods?

No matter what the problems are, they’re now in the past. Rather than becoming frustrated or perhaps even scolding your child or other family members for these inevitable detours, acknowledge the fact that none of us are perfect. Stay optimistic. Turn your attention to health-promoting strategies. If your child is old enough, let her participate in this process of figuring out what went wrong and how you can prevent it from happening again.

So if grandma always brings a bag of candy whenever she visits, can you talk with her and suggest that she give her grandchildren nonfood gifts from now on? If you’ve backtracked from your commitment to cut back on trips to the local fried-chicken take-out restaurant, can you immediately do an about-face and return to healthier eating?

Once you reverse course and begin making positive changes, don’t let down your guard and just assume that things will move forward without any further problems. Although some people think that they can make changes and then forget about them, you can’t count on a smooth road ahead. You need to remain vigilant. Keep monitoring your child’s progress in the weeks and months ahead. Make sure she doesn’t fall back into old habits that could undermine all of her positive efforts to date.

Last Updated
A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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