Child (yelling): Stop it! Leave me alone! My life stinks and food is the only thing that makes me feel happy!
And so ends a very short conversation between a parent and her teenager about obesity.
Wanting to avoid such a scene may explain why a WebMD study has shown that it is more difficult for parents to talk to their kids about obesity than sex, smoking or alcohol.
Why the avoidance of such a conversation and what can parents do about it?
One of the reason parents take on a "don't ask, don't tell" conversation with kids about a number of topics including obesity, alcohol, drugs, s-ex and suicidal thinking is that you can't be informed about some awful place your kid is in and not take action. But when taking that action is likely to trigger uncontrollable rage, violent destructive or self-destructive behavior, it is chilling to parents and like deers in the headlights of a car, they just don't want to go there.
So what are you as a parent to do? You can roll the dice, stay in denial and hope something awful doesn't happen or that it is just a phase your child is going through. But "hope" is not a strategy.
Here is something else to consider, but you have to care enough about your child giving up their overeating for you to give up a self-defeating or even self-destructive habit you have. The "do as I say, not as I do" approach is just not going to cut it. You need to have skin in the game.
Here are the steps:
Step 1: While you are driving or in an activity with your kid (they hate "face to face/heart to heart" talks), say to them, "I need your help with something, which you don't have to do, but I'd like to ask you anyway. Would that be okay?" If they say, "No," respond, "Okay, I can wait until another time." When you say that, mean it. Don't pout or get all passive aggressive at them. In all likelihood, their curiosity will make them nuts and they will say, "Okay, what is it?"
Step 2: Then say, "I would like your help to take better care of myself, be nicer to your mom/dad and to be a better parent. You and mom/dad have told me that I smoke/drink/don't exercise/mope/yell/tune out too much and I have said I will change and never have. I think I need to be motivated to break that bad habit I have. One other area that I am bad at is protecting and preventing you from doing or not doing things that can hurt you or your future, especially when you yell at me when I try and that is my job."
Step 3: Then continue with: "So here is the deal. You know you've got a food issue just like I know I have a smoking/alcohol/food/exercise/
Step 4: To seal the deal say: "Furthermore, if neither of us can do this, I'd want both of us to attend a 12 step program together or individually. And the idea of doing that about my bad habit is about as appealing as your doing it for your eating issue."
For any of you parents who would balk at such a deal, you can see why your kid may be having trouble breaking their bad habit. And you may expect them to do something you wouldn't, but it is helpful to keep in mind: "Children rarely listen to their parents, but they never fail to grow up to be like them."
After all, "kiddie see, kiddie do."
Follow Mark Goulston, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markgoulston