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Steps to starting

Reducing treat food: Breaking bad habits in children. Dr John Sharry, psychologist and parenting expert, explains.

1. Decide on one thing to change

Don’t try and change too many things together. Just choose one thing so it isn’t too big a change for everyone. What goal do you want to set? What do you want to address? Choose the change you want to make and then make a plan on how to achieve it.


  • Changing from sugary breakfast cereal to wholemeal breakfast cereal on weekdays.
  • Drinking water with dinner instead of sugary drinks.

2. Prepare the child for change

Explain the change you are making to the child - why you are making the change and its benefits. Children respond better when they know what is happening and are involved.

3. Explain the rules

Decide on one or two simple rules to guide your children through the change. These rules should tell your children what to do instead of what not to do. Keep the focus on the positive.


  • "We are going to have a healthy snack after school."
  • "We are going to sit at the table together to eat breakfast every morning."
  • "We are going to turn off the TV one hour before bed."

mother helping children at the table

4. Motivate with reward

Using a reward can help to motivate your child to follow the rules. You could reward them with special activities or a star chart for younger ones. Avoid using food or screen time as a reward.

5. Lead by example

Children learn from the adults in their lives. Lead by example and encourage your children to do the same. Actions speak louder than words.

6. Take your time

Be consistent and be patient. It takes time to build new healthy habits. If you have a bad day, start again with the healthy habit the following day. Life can be tough and you’ll find the bad days will become fewer as you all take on the new routine.

© The Food Safety Promotion Board