By Foster W. Cline MD And Lisa Greene
He was a generally loving, roly-poly 11-year-old. But Robert
had a problem. He snacked. And he piled food on his plate. And
he took second helpings. If there was candy, Fritos or chips
within 100 yards, his radar located them.
When people thought of Robert, they automatically described him
as: "Robert, that nice little blond fat kid." So when this
perception seeped in and became a part of Robert's unconscious
identity, he didn't even realize it. Robert's parents knew he
ate too much but, what the heck. They were both overweight, too.
So Robert's life was threatened to be shortened and his social
life slightly warped. But just as people who live in areas with
heavy pollution, Robert generally didn't think about the problem
and when he did, he ignored the mist of vague unease. But there
is a big difference between living in a polluted environment and
polluting our bodies. Generally an individual can't do much
about the first, but is often entirely in control of the second.
Nevertheless, there can be a helpless feeling about both. The
responses of friends, families and loved ones provide us with
the best hope for personal growth and change. Or their responses
can be a hindrance, especially if we see their concerned
comments as unwanted advice.
As Robert sits and shovels calories in, there are a number of
ways that his mom can respond to the over-eating. Here's a list
of possible responses and attitudes (shortened for clarity) from
least to most helpful:
- Robert, you are going to be grease ball!
- Robert, have you stepped on the scales? Maybe they don't they
go high enough anymore?
- Robert, stop eating so much. You're getting fat.
- Robert, it would be better if you didn't take a second
- Robert, are you giving thought to how much you are eating?
The reader does not have to be psychological wizard to realize
that none of these responses may be of much help. At least the
last response is a question, which might encourage thought. Love
and Logic always encourages questions as they promote thinking
while statements, lecturers and orders seldom do.
Love and logic also teaches that the best time to deal with a
chronic problem is when it is not occurring. Since the problem
is bound to re-occur, it is best to pick a microsecond when
everyone is feeling pleasant and communicative with each other.
During this time of tranquility, problem-solve together about
how to handle the situation when it occurs again in the future.
Love and Logic problem-solving conversations always include the
1. Get permission to discuss the issue: An agreement or
"contract" for the conversation to occur always lays the
2. Curiosity and interest: Parental questions bubble up from an
attitude of curiosity and interest rather than from a
witness-stand attitude of inquisition and accusation.
3. Respect: An attitude of mutual respect permeates the
4. Connection: Often the conversation takes place with a
parental hand on the knee or an arm around the shoulder. Eye
contact is inevitably present as is open body language and a
gentle tone of voice.
5. Provide ideas and options: Parents wonder about possible
solutions, providing ideas and options rather than suggestions,
demands and advice.
6. Remember who owns the problem: Parents gently remind their
child, if necessary, that the child owns the problem.
7. Honesty: Parents are honest about their own problems and
history while not allowing the child to use that as an excuse
for continuing with their own problem.
8. Express empathy, not sympathy: Parents exude a stance of
empathetic understanding for the child's challenges while not
rescuing or "buying" excuses.
These eight points provide the how to do it information,
however, it is generally helpful to provide an example. As with
all Love and Logic materials, we can provide a spot of opening
conversation here just as it took place between mom and Robert.
Unfortunately the printed word can't really express the
affection that seeps from the eyes and is communicated in tone
of voice and touch:
"Robert, honey, is this a good time to talk with you for a
"Yeah, I guess so."
"I have a problem that I have a great deal of trouble dealing
with. I've had it for a long time. I even had it when I was a
little kid. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Not really." (He probably knows exactly what she's talking
about, but doesnt want to rush into this weighty issue.)
"Well, it's my weight. I absolutely do not like being
overweight. But I've had the problem for many years and it's
very hard for me to exercise as much as I need to and cut down
on what I eat. I go on all sorts of diets but I just don't have
the willpower, it seems, to follow through. But you know what
Robert? I've always been impressed with all the things you can
do when you put your mind to it. You have will power when you
want it, and I think you could be a real leader some day. Maybe
you could help me out. In fact, perhaps we can help each other
out. Do you have some ideas on this?"
Mother and son discussed a number of options together. Although
there is not room here to provide the exact transcription, the
discussion included thoughts about going on early-morning runs
together, buying a joint membership to the neighborhood exercise
club for a couple of months and going together three mornings a
week, bicycling together, doing research together about the
foods that are least fattening and most healthy, and what might
be secret, helpful and ridiculous questions they might ask each
other when one or the other is thinking about having a second
helping or snacking.
An exact conversation and more detailed information about how
to handle a child's weight issues (including eating disorders)
is provided in the new book Parenting Children with Health
Issues published by Love and Logic Press.
In this case, Robert and his mom decided to bicycle together
early in the morning. Mom bought a car rack, and Robert
surprised her by guiding her to paths around lakes that she
didn't know existed. Robert reveled in picking healthy foods for
his mom and insisting that this was the only food she could eat!
They laughed at the secret and crazy sentences they picked to
help each other at times of temptation: "Mom, pushing the plate
away sure beats liposuction!”"
And they both lost weight together.
About the Author: The book "Parenting Children with Health
Issues" is by Foster W. Cline, M.D., child psychiatrist and
co-founder of Love and Logic (http://www.loveandlogic.com) and
Lisa Greene, mother of two children with cystic fibrosis. Visit