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Common problems parents encounter

Saying no is just going to lead to endless rows. How can I overcome this?

When you do say no, give your child a good reason and offer an alternative. It is important to sit down with your child and explain the new routine to them. They must buy into the routine and feel it is a good idea and that there is something in it for them. They must also feel they have some control and some choice.

For example, your child might want a treat every day after school. You can start by letting them know that from now on, they can have a treat on one weekday and at the weekend. Maybe let them choose which weekday so they feel they have control over the issue.

  • Involve your child in planning and deciding on changes – they are more likely to keep it up if they have helped plan it.
  • Give children a choice even when you are imposing a rule or limit. You may insist that your children only have treats at the weekend but let them choose between healthy snack options during the week and, within reason, which treats they would like to have.
  • Be on the lookout for good behaviour and give your children lots of positive attention and encouragement when they obey the rules.

I would like to encourage my children to eat less treat foods but how can I say no when these foods are everywhere?

Having clear rules for what is and is not allowed can be a big help. It’s true that treat foods are everywhere, at tills in the local shop, in garages and in vending machines in sports halls. This makes it difficult for you to say no.

  • Have clear rules on when children are allowed to have treat foods – how often and how much (e.g. Fridays or at the weekend) and stick with it. If they ask for treats on any other day, be firm and remind them that treats are only allowed on certain days.
  • Think ahead and have healthier snacks with you when you’re out and about (popcorn, nuts or fruit, for example).

an exasperated mother watching her kids eat

I usually bribe my children with treat foods to get them to behave. How do I stop that now?

Generally bribery occurs under duress and happens quickly when you want to change your child’s behaviour on the spot. The problem with using food/snacks as a bribe is that it can lead your child to expect something extra for simply completing their daily tasks. It can also teach your child that they should continue a pattern of bad behaviour to get what they want.

In contrast, effective rewards compensate your children for good behaviour. There is nothing wrong with this if done right (not excessively and not with treat foods all the time).

Have a list of rewards done up, so that when your child behaves, they know what the reward may be. Make a list of incentives your child can earn on a short-term basis, in addition to ‘big ticket’ items they can achieve over time. Get creative – it doesn’t have to be food all the time! Try to get your child to participate in the creation of this list.

  • Praise them for good behaviour and offer them non-treat rewards like a game of football, a trip to the playground, disco-dancing at home, special time with parents in the evening, an extra bedtime story, choosing a DVD at the weekend.
  • Never bribe your children with treat foods in order to encourage them to eat healthy foods (e.g. Don’t say: "You won’t get any sweets until you finish your vegetables"). This can give them the message that healthy foods are not enjoyable but must be endured to get unhealthy rewards.

Kids love a challenge – setting them a task is a great way to get them to change their habits. For example, download our reward chart and place a star in the food boxes for each day that their goals are achieved.

I would like to encourage my children to be more active but I’m not sure where to start?

Start by making small changes. Can you leave the car at home and walk with your kids to school? Think about times during the week when you can do things together as a family. It may be as simple as going for a walk instead of watching TV or playing football in the garden after dinner. Pick a time each week and use it to get active as a family. 

© The Food Safety Promotion Board