PROVO, UT -- It's a fact that one in three children in the United States is obese. Previous research shows that having support from others makes losing weight easier, and being able to talk openly about the problem is a crucial skill for parents with obese children. However, according to a recent survey from VitalSmarts two-thirds of parents are unwilling to speak up and get involved.

Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the national bestseller Crucial Conversations, said when it comes to risky conversations with their children, many parents don't know how to speak up in a way that is helpful. They may voice their opinions, but they do so in ways that make their child defensive or angry. Since most parents expect this is how the conversation will go, they opt to say nothing.

"We found that parents who did not speak up and share their concerns in an effective way were more likely to coerce their child to change behaviors using various forms of manipulation," said Grenny.

For example, of the survey respondents who didn't speak up about their child's weight problem, 68 percent said they tried to change the child's eating patterns or activity level without getting his or her full commitment.

Alternatively, parents who did speak up effectively to their child about weight issues saw greater success -- and their relationship was strengthened in the process.

"Communicating with your child in the right way, combined with a solid program of healthy eating and physical activity, is essential to helping him or her make and keep important commitments and form habits that contribute to lifelong wellness," said Grenny.

Grenny said by applying a few simple skills, parents can effectively speak up in a way that enables change and minimizes defensiveness or anger. He offers the following tips for effectively talking to your child about weight issues:

  1. Don't make a "sucker's choice." Parents go wrong when they decide to focus on either maintaining the relationship or helping their child lose or gain weight. You must try to do both. Focusing on the relationship only leads you to dance around the delicate discussion of your child's weight, while focusing only on getting them to lose weight forces you to be the food-warden or the exercise police.
  2. Listen -- a lot. Ask your child what's important to him or her in terms of health and appearance. Don't manipulate them toward your own answers to these questions, but truly listen to what they want. If they bring up the topic of losing weight, ask them what they think about the topic. What do they want? Why?
  3. Become a coach, not the boss. If your child is interested in becoming healthier, offer to become a coach. Also remember that a good coach leads by example. Demonstrate your own commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Throughout the coaching process, negotiate ground rules for signs that your assistance is no longer wanted. The important thing to understand is that your child needs to take the lead.
  4. Motivate through natural consequences. If your child is not interested in changing his or her health, ask for an opportunity to challenge his or her point of view on the topic. Since you can't change someone's mind who doesn't want it changed, approach your child with a genuine willingness to be refused. If they do refuse, back down and wait until you see signs they may be open. If they accept, carefully present information that might motivate them to value maintaining a healthy weight more highly.
  5. Maintain respect. Through all of this, share everything in a way that demonstrates your unconditional love for your child and your continued respect for him or her regardless of what he or she chooses to do.