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'How to' guides on giving treats a break


Want to cut down on your child’s treats? Here’s expert advice on handling those tricky situations when your kids don’t want to take no for an answer.

Let’s give treats a break

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell explains why using food as a reward is not a good idea. It can link eating sugary and salty food with behaviour and could teach our kids to eat when they are not hungry. 


Peadar suggests we should approach changing the habit of giving food as treats slowly. Before you give a treat, ask yourself ‘Is this a good idea?’ ‘Could you do something else instead like reading a story together or giving them a hug?’. If your little ones expect treats, Peadar says we should not feel guilty about saying no. Instead, we should think of what we want as parents and then introduce changes to behaviours in small steps. 

What happens when they get older?

Here Peadar talks about the difficulty of telling older kids they can’t have a treat, especially when they can take them when you are not looking. He suggests using ‘directed discussion’ which is a non-conflict way to approach impulse eating. He outlines how we can talk to our children about rules around eating treats. He also explains what we can do if the rules are broken. 

Dealing with meltdowns

We’ve all been there, standing in the supermarket as our kids have a meltdown and trying anything to make them stop. Peadar talks us through how to develop a ‘planned activity routine’ for situations we know our kids find challenging like seeing treats in the supermarket but not being allowed have them. 

Peadar explains how to calmly talk our children through the situation in advance, talk about what often happens (tantrums, demanding sweets, grabbing snacks etc) and talk about why this happens. Then come up with rules about our next visit to the supermarket and what will happen. Peadar talks about what happens if there is a tantrum and how to practice active ignoring as well as descriptive praise or giving calm reminders of the planned behaviour. 

Good cop, bad cop

Sometimes we can all feel we are the bad cop to someone else’s good cop. To resolve this, Peadar suggests parents should wait until our kids are not around and then talk through our rationales for rules, such as saying no to treats. He reminds us that both partners may have to compromise to agree on rules together. 

Peadar also give advice on what do to if our rules around treats seem different to other parents and how to talk to our kids about it. He suggests challenging our kids when they make claims about what happens in other homes and discussing whether they really think it’s a good idea.  
 

And it's funny in those situations, children can really come around and actually have more sense than we do.

How to say no to treats

It can be tough saying no to treats. Psychologist, Conor Owens, suggests we should start by asking ourselves to think about reasonable expectation for ourselves and our kids. Then we can work out a clear plan with our kids that they understand.

Saying no to treats can teach your kids life-long skills

Conor explains how saying no to treats can teach our children life-long skills such as learning to handle frustration, conflict, not getting their own way and how to wait to get something later.

It will have significant benefits for the child, they will have learnt something far bigger and far more important than just that fizzy drinks are bad for you.

Breaking the habit of giving treats

When we are trying to break the habit of giving treats, Conor suggests we should approach it as we approach teaching any other skill, like brushing teeth or using a knife and fork. We should:

  • breaking it down into small steps
  • practicing the skill
  • showing our kids how to do it
  • being patient
  • rewarding them for success

Make changes slowly and be consistent

Here experts Anne McGuinness and Karen Heavey give their tips on reducing treats at home by:

  • Introducing change slowly
  • Being consistent and sticking to your plan as much as possible.
  • Being a role model to your children by giving treats a break yourselves
  • Talking to family and friends about giving treats a break and getting their support
  • And most importantly – celebrating your success, no matter how big or small.

Dealing with resistance and push-back

Temper tantrums are a normal reaction by young children when they may not have the language or skills to deal with their frustrations, anger and emotions. In this video we are reminded to stay calm and follow through on what we said we were going to do. Then we can follow up by chatting to our children about what happened at a later time. 

Remember to praise kids for good behaviour and think of non-food treats that you can do as a family.



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