One Athletic Son, One Lethargic Son; What is a Parent to do?

Dear Sharon,

We have two sons, 8 & 12. Our older son is a terrific soccer player and is slim and fit. Our youngest son is pudgy and overeats. He has the opposite personality and lacks activity. His favorite past time is reading, TV and video games and he snacks constantly. What should we do? I am very concerned about him, his health and his future.

Dear Parents,

As a mom of three sons I have learned that children can be very different even if they are siblings. It seems that your boys are no exception.

It is important for parents to view their children as unique individuals and to take plenty of time to praise each of their strengths while sorting through effective ways to assist them with their challenges.

Your younger son is not alone; many children today tend to drift towards sedentary activities that are unfortunately accompanied by excessive snacking.

When I have met with parents confronting similar issues I have suggested they keep in mind the following ideas.

Younger brothers often feel less competent than their older brothers especially when it comes to physical prowess. Living with an older slim and fit athlete can “eat away” at a younger boy’s self-confidence.

I often suggest that parents spend some relaxed time with a child, especially one who might have low self-esteem, before helping them with a problem In your case that might mean joining your son while he is reading books, watching TV or playing video games. Stepping into a child’s world can help parents worry less, understand their child’s point of view and reassure the young one that anxiety and suggestions are not the main component in parent-child interactions.

After relaxing with a child, parents usually find it easier to bring up difficult topics like getting more exercise, playing fewer video games or eating healthier snacks. Sometimes parents are quick to offer solutions to complicated problems such as these. Parental advice can of course be useful but it can be good to elicit a few of the child’s suggestions as well. The ability to strategize with Mom and Dad can build a young ones confidence and produce some pretty good ideas!

It can also help for Mom and Dad to suggest some specific physical activity that they know their child will enjoy. For parents of siblings I often propose that they offer different kinds of activities for each child especially if ongoing comparisons between brothers or sisters are an issue. Children (and for that matter adults) who have been sedentary often resist such suggestions at first but it is often useful if Moms and Dads try not to take an initial negative reaction too seriously.

It can be very important for adults to join their child in the activity, in part to make sure the experience turns out to be fun for their little one. Bike riding, swimming, walking, kite flying, or roller blading are some of many examples of past times that can provide great summer fun. If parent and child are interested in playing competitive games, it can be exciting and help build a child’s self esteem to set the game up so that the young person wins. A younger sibling in particular will benefit from doing better than the person they are playing.

Summers can be an excellent time to help a child develop a more active personality. Parents I know who have managed to appreciate the strengths of their sedentary children, avoid comparisons with their more athletic siblings, spend some time enjoying their company, engage in discussions that address their concerns and play fun physical games together find that things improve. Have fun!