"Conversations about a child's weight can be fraught with psychological landmines, says Dr. Denise Wilfley, director of the Weight Management & Eating Disorders Program at Washington University School of Medicine.
"Mainly what we suggest is actually having the whole family take on a healthier lifestyle -- for everybody to eat as well as possible, as nutritiously as possible, so the overweight child is not singled out," she says.
Wilfley encourages parents in her programs to "walk the walk" and be a role model for their children. She talks about food as energy for kids' bodies -- eating better will help them think harder, jump higher, play more.
Her families try to follow the traffic light diet, with green-light foods such as vegetables, yellow-light foods such as lean protein and red-light foods such as sweets or simple carbohydrates.
"We focus a lot on not defining self-worth by the number on the scale," she says. "The best way to prevent eating disorders is having very healthy eating patterns."
[Heidi] Bond realized that in order to get [her daughter] Breanna to exercise regularly, they would had to make it a family activity. The Bonds started walking four miles, four days a week, on a trail near their home in Clovis, California.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Bond says. "There were times where she refused to move." But in the end, "a little tough love to save the rest of their life" was worth it, she says.
It's best to avoid a power struggle when it comes to exercise and healthy eating, according to Jelalian. She says it's easy for parents to become the "food police" without getting at the deeper issues. Parents should ask why a child wants a certain food or doesn't want to work out and problem-solve with them to find a healthy alternative.
She recommends parents give their kids a choice as much as possible -- not about being active or not active, but about what activity they want to do.
"It really takes that balance in parenting of being firm -- this part is not negotiable, but being warm, caring in how you do that."
Identifying your child's motivation for losing weight is key, Wilfley says. Do they want to be able to run faster? Play football? Avoid teasing at school? Combining that goal with incentives such as sleepovers or family outings should help to keep a child motivated."
Image: Family nature walk, via Shutterstock