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What to Say to Your Child When You See Your Child Overeating

A mom once asked me what she should say when she sees her son overeating. As a mom, she has a few concerns when her child overeats. In the short term, he will probably end up with a stomach ache. In the long run, overeating can lead to health problems. She is also concerned because she knows her son overeats out of stress. These overeating episodes occur the night before either parent travels for work, and they both travel for work often. What should she say to her child when she sees him overeating?

I think that the first thing to do is recognize the overeating for what it is. It is a response to stress. When we are stressed out, anxious, or unhappy, it is very natural to want to do something that will give us a guaranteed moment of pleasure. Eating is a great way to do that.

It is also helpful to remember that the child himself may not feel good about the overeating. He may have a stomach ache later and feel uncomfortable. Some children see the connection between eating and weight, and some children already have learned to associate feeling guilty with overeating.

Understanding these points really guides how you should react and what you should say when you see your child overeating. Likely, the moment of overeating is not a time to say anything. Many families find it helpful to bring awareness to the child of his feelings. Discuss with him how he feels about the stressful parts of life. Discuss with him what he tends to do in reaction to stress. Help him see his patterns. The goal of your child noticing that overeating is from his emotional state is to use it as a cue to address those emotions, not to feel guilty and to try to control the eating.

Some children may even benefit from seeing a therapist to help them develop skills to help them cope. Once a child has started to learn those skills, as a parent, when you see the outward sign of his emotional stress in the form of overeating, you can try out those skills with him.

Of course, emotional stress is not the only reason why children overeat. This is an important topic to discuss with your child's pediatrician. Your pediatrician can guide you to evaluating the cause of your child's overeating. If you see your child overeating, and are not sure what to say or do, know there are resources. Mental health providers and dietitians who work with children are a good resource.

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