QUESTION: I provide care for my widowed brother’s three children every day after school until he picks them up after work. They are wonderful , loving children, but they are overweight. They prefer sitting and watching television or a movie to going outside and doing something physical. I’ve watched my brother when he is with them and I think he overindulges them. He is also overweight and I worry that he is setting a poor example for his children. The youngest of the children is 8 and he has told me that the kids in his class make fun of him because of his weight. My heart breaks when I hear his stories. Losing their mother was very difficult for them and I’m concerned they are going to make their lives more unhappy with the choices they are making now. What can I do to encourage better habits without sounding like I’m preaching? This not only includes the children, but my brother as well. —Maria
ANSWER: Your brother and his children are fortunate to have you in their lives. You can make all the difference in their future. You can certainly offer them nutritious snacks and meals when they return home from school. You can also encourage them to go outside and get exercise before their father returns home from work. Accompany them to the park, walk to and from the market, or join them in a friendly game of basketball. The best way to teach children is to be a role model. But in order to make lasting effective changes you must get to the core of the situation. And that lies with your brother. Tell him you would like some private time with him, away from the children. Then tell him your concerns about both his health and the health of his children. Be supportive and be prepared to offer a plan to help him. You didn’t mention how long your sister has been gone. Is there a chance your brother is depressed and needs some professional care? He could be using food as a way to bury his emotions and grief – and has passed his unhealthy coping mechanism on to his children. Changing negative patterns takes time, energy and commitment. Don’t lose hope. Working together to create a healthy lifestyle for both your brother and his children will pay off. Providing our children with the tools to sustain wellness and good health is the greatest gift we can pass along to the next generation.