Should I intervene in my child’s weight loss or gain ?
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:
1. When should I be concerned?
2. What are causes of weight gain/loss?
3. How can I help?
With all the phases of growing up, it’s not surprising that weight fluctuations are normal in children. However, if you notice significant weight loss or gain in your son or daughter, local counselors recommend exploring the possible reasons so you can take action to ensure your child doesn’t wander off the path of healthy growth.
1. WHEN SHOULD I BE CONCERNED?
Is your child acting outside the norm? Difficulties at mealtime? Refusing to eat? Hoarding food? If so, when did it start? These are questions posed by Stephanie De La Cruz, clinical director for Center for Child Counseling in Palm Beach Gardens.
Consider your child’s age and size. If your child is eating more and weighing more, it may be a growth spurt. If your child is small, not as much food is needed to feel satisfied.
“But if they are acting differently or speaking negatively, such as, ‘I don’t want to eat anymore; I’m getting fat,’ or ‘This has too many calories in it’, that may indicate a changing relationship with food,” De La Cruz says. “When it comes to eating, there are a lot of different factors. I recommend that children see their medical doctors to rule out any problems, like food allergies.”
2. WHAT ARE CAUSES OF WEIGHT GAIN/LOSS?
Weight change can be a result of mood changes, as some people eat more when bored or anxious.
When recreational, social and/or physical activities become restricted, such as during pandemic quarantines, food is a way to fill the void, says Joan Kieffer, director of Center for Child Counseling’s School-Based Mental Health Program. Stress also can push appetites in the opposite direction.
“When people are excessively worried or anxious, their appetite may decrease,” Kieffer says.
Parents can try to pinpoint the source of anxiety by reading or watching age-appropriate books and videos with their child that address what is happening in their lives, be it divorce, a new baby, moving, job loss or the repercussions of a global pandemic, such as isolation, loneliness or insecurity.
Possible medical causes for weight changes can range from oral pain to an underactive or overactive thyroid or an eating disorder, such as bulimia, according to Cleveland Clinic.
3. HOW CAN I HELP?
Beyond ruling out medical conditions that may be impacting your child, ensure you’re taking care of yourself as well. Children are sensitive to parents’ anxieties, which can contribute to their eating behaviors.
Seeking extra support from family members, friends and other networks, including family therapists, is vital during prolonged stress, says De La Cruz, who has worked with parents and their children to address anxiety-driven issues. The Center for Child Counseling offers free telehealth options and webinars for caregivers who want to receive help at home.
“If there is a stressor that is causing the child to react, parents can be proactive and address these concerns in an age-appropriate way,” she says.
• Stephanie De La Cruz, clinical director, Center for Child Counseling
• Joan Kieffer, director of School-Based Mental Health Program, Center for Child Counseling
• “10 Possible Reasons Why Your Child Isn’t Growing,” Aug. 19, 2020, Cleveland Clinic
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