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How to talk to our kids about reducing treats

How to talk to our kids about reducing treats

Parenting Expert and Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist Colman Noctor encourages parents to talk to their children about reducing treats and how aiming for moderation is the key to success.

This past year has not been easy for parents, guardians and children. It has had a significant impact on what we eat and how active we are. Even before the pandemic, foods like crisps, chocolate and sweets were the second most consumed food group by children in Ireland. That’s a worry because they’re displacing healthier foods from our diets on a regular basis. From listening to parents, they said they found saying ‘no’ to treats had got more difficult during the past year and with many of them working from home had contributed to this, with children in the house more often and demanding more from them.

But parents are also aware that they need to say no to treats more often and they believe that encouraging treats in moderation feels much more achievable and realistic for them.

The current health guidelines advise us to limit treat foods to small amounts once or twice a week for children over five and no more than once a week for children under five. This is so far from the norm nowadays that parents and guardians struggle to achieve this.

Parents feel it is important to discuss reducing treats together as a family. Rather than just saying no to treats outright, they wanted to be able to discuss the benefits of eating healthily with their children and the long-term gains of doing so. They also wanted to be equipped with the relevant information they need to discuss this with their children, as well as practical tips for how to broach the conversation. By making the decision to reduce treats together as a family, and making sure children understand why you are doing this, it will make you far more likely to succeed which will also help them to form healthier eating habits later in life.

Here's my advice on how to navigate those tricky conversations around going easy on the treats:

  1. Whether you have a two-year-old or 12-year-old, ‘No’ can be a tough word to hear at any age. Small amounts of treats and a few times a week is ok, but it’s important to decide when to have it and stick to it. By knowing how much and when they can have a treat, you can minimise meltdowns and can give children a feeling of control. Remember, being a parent often involves giving a child what they need as opposed to what they want.
  2. To avoid bargaining in the sweets aisle when shopping, agree on whether a treat will be purchased and what type of treat is permitted **before** you go to the shop. It can reduce the ask and help you control the week and the treats.
  3. Children have to learn to regulate their desire as they develop, but they need help with this. Remind yourself that limiting treats is teaching a necessary life skill that will help your child learn this ability.

The START campaign from safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland is all about supporting and encouraging families to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle for their children by supporting them with one daily win and to persist with the changes, no matter how difficult they become. Parents can find more advice on how to reduce treats, healthy snack ideas and expert videos on

About Colman Nocter

Dr. Colman Noctor is a Child and Adolescent Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist. He has worked across a range of Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services both in Ireland and abroad and he has a wealth of national and international clinical experience.

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