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Fun not Fuss with Food: Five step plan to achieving your goals

Category: Child Health

Topic: Diet and Eating

You may have now identified the changes that you would like to see in your behaviour or your child's behaviour. This page talks about the 5 steps you can follow to help you achieve your goals.

Step 1: Rules

  • Prepare 2 to 3 simple mealtime rules.
  • Involve your child in developing the rules. Make sure you explain the rules to your child and family.
  • Phrase the rules in a positive way—positive rules tell children what to do, rather than what not to do.
  • Make sure the rules are fair, and everyone (including the parents) are to follow them.

Examples of rules:

  • Wash your hands before coming to the table.
  • Sit at the table until you are excused.
  • Eat with your spoon or fork.
  • Meal times will finish in x number of minutes.

Step 2: Reward positive behaviour

  • Praise your child's positive behaviour. Try describing the positive behaviour your child has displayed when you give praise.
  • Descriptive statements work best if they are clear, brief and describe the behaviour you like.
  • Try using non-verbal attention such as a wink, smile, nod or touch.
  • Try using a behaviour chart for motivation.

Examples of descriptive praise statements:

  • Well done for trying the new food tonight, Jamie.
  • I like it when you sit at the table, Amy.
  • You are drinking so well from the cup, Rohan.
  • That's the way to hold your fork, well done.
  • You are chewing nicely with your mouth closed.

Your step-to-step guide to behaviour charts

You might try using behaviour charts to encourage and motivate your child to change their own behaviour. Behaviour charts allow children to earn rewards for good behaviour.

Getting started

  • Choose a behaviour that you want to change. Focus on one behaviour at a time.
  • Clearly and positively state the behaviour you want changed (e.g. ‘Jane to come to the table when asked’; ‘Jamie to keep his hands and feet to himself’).
  • Draw up your chart with your child. Allow your child to take ownership of the chart by selecting stamps or stickers.
  • Place the behaviour chart in an everyday place at your child's eye level such as on the fridge.

Here is an example of what a behaviour chart might look like:
Jane to come to the table when asked:

Meal

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thurs

Fri

Sat

Sun

Breakfast

Smile

 

 

Smile

 

Smile

 

Snack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch

 

Smile

Smile

 

 

Smile

 

Snack

 

 

 

Smile

 

 

 

Dinner

 

 

Smile

 

 

Smile

 

Snack

 

 

 

 

 

Smile

 

Choosing rewards

Allow your child to think of rewards that they can earn. It is best to avoid using food as a reward. Remember, rewards do not have to cost anything but your time with your child. There are 2 types of rewards that you may include:

  1. Short-term rewards (such as stamps and stickers on the behaviour chart)—given each time your child demonstrates the goal behaviour.
  2. Back-up rewards (such as a trip to the park)—given when your child earns a specified number of short-term rewards.

Ensure rewards are easy for your child to earn at the start. This will help to motivate your child. For example, on the first day, only 1 short-term reward (e.g. sticker) may be needed to before your child can earn the back-up reward (e.g. trip to the park). The next day, your child may need 2 or 3 stickers before earning a trip to the park. Try making the back-up reward slightly harder to earn over time. Discuss with your child what will happen if he or she is unable to follow the rules.

During

Once your child has earned a sticker or stamp, it is important that he or she can keep it and it is not taken away. If your child is unable to achieve the goal on the next occasion, they will not receive the next stamp or sticker.

Whether a sticker is earned or not, try to give lots of praise about your child's progress.

Phasing out

Once your child is achieving the goal behaviour on most occasions, the behaviour chart can be phased out. A good amount of time for using a behaviour chart is up to 2 to 3 weeks.

Have a short break then make a behaviour chart again for a different behaviour if needed. Remember to use only one behaviour chart at a time for each child.

Step 3: Set action plans for managing misbehaviour

It is important to act straight away when your child misbehaves. Try to act in the same way each time. Here are some strategies you may try when managing your child's problem eating and mealtime behaviours:

Natural consequences

Allow natural consequences to take effect.

A natural consequence is what happens without the input of another person. The consequence happens because of the behaviour itself.

If your child has decided not to eat the offered food, this means they have chosen to go without food until the next meal. Refusing the meal has the natural consequence of becoming hungry. Becoming hungry will make the next meal more appealing. A short period of hunger will not do your child any harm.

Try to encourage natural consequences when you can. However, sometimes the behaviour may be unsafe (e.g. allowing your child to eat food while moving around the house may be a choking risk) or too pleasant (e.g. the child helping themselves to biscuits) to allow the natural consequence to occur. Try using one of these strategies instead:

Planned ignoring

Planned ignoring can be used for small problem behaviours, such as a silly voice or whining. Planned ignoring means that your child does not get attention from you until the behaviour stops. Be aware that the problem behaviour can often get worse before it gets better. Praise your child when he or she is eating and behaving well again.

Clear, calm instructions

If misbehaviour cannot be ignored, you might tell your child what to do using clear, calm instructions. For example:

Kate, use your quiet voice at the dinner table, please.

Jamie, your knife and fork are for eating.

Praise your child for doing what you have told them. If your child chooses not to cooperate, back up your instruction by using:

  • logical consequences (for not cooperating or rule-breaking)
  • quiet time (for not cooperating)
  • time out (for serious misbehaviour such as hitting).

Back up your instructions with logical consequences, quiet time or time out.

Q: What is an example of a mealtime misbehaviour that might need quiet time or time out?

A: Fighting with sibling/s at the table, throwing food, refusing to come to the table, leaving the table before the meal is finished, or climbing on the chair/table.

Q: What is a logical consequence?

A: Remember that with a natural consequence ‘the world does the teaching’. Logical consequences are instead decided and put into action by the parent or carer. Learning is more likely to occur if the consequence is logically related to your child’s misbehaviour.

Logical consequences

Try these tips when using logical consequences:

  • Remove the activity. Logical consequences work best if related to the problem. For example, a child is unlikely to learn to stop blowing bubbles in their drink if the outcome is that he or she cannot have a friend to play the next day. Instead you might try removing the drink for the rest of the meal. Avoid debating with your child—remove the drink, explain why you are removing it and let them know when it will be returned.
  • Keep it brief (e.g. 5 to 30 minutes). Let your child have a chance to show they have learnt from the consequences of their behaviour as soon as possible.
  • Return the activity. Stick to your word. Return the activity when the specified time has ended. Give your child a chance to behave in the right way.

Quiet time or time out

Quiet time and time out can be effective strategies for managing problem behaviour. The aim is to remove attention from the child's misbehaviour. Note that quiet time and time out are not strategies used for food refusal  (planned ignoring can be used instead).

Quiet time

Quiet time occurs in the same room that the misbehaviour took place. Tell your child that he or she is to stay in quiet time for 2 minutes. Once quiet time is over, your child is free to continue what he or she was doing. This time it should be in a less disruptive way. Praise your child as soon as he or she starts behaving well again. If your child does not stay quiet in quiet time (allow 20 seconds), try putting them in time out.

Time out

Time out occurs in another room. Find a room that is not exciting for the child. However, make sure it is safe, with good air flow and lighting. Tell your child that he or she has not been quiet in quiet time and that he or she will now go to time out. Short periods in time out often work better than longer ones. Try 1 minute of quiet for 2-year-olds; 2 minutes for 3- to 5-year-olds; and a maximum of 5 minutes for children aged 5 to 10 years.

Start timing when your child is quiet. If your child objects by screaming or calling out, try not to give any attention. When time out is over, redirect your child to another activity instead of talking about the event. Give praise as soon as your child starts behaving well. You can restart the time out process if misbehaviour occurs again.

Step 4: Put a mealtime routine in place

Put a mealtime routine in place and make sure your child knows the routine. Often children need to eat 5 to 6 small, frequent meals per day. You decide when meal times will be. If your child decides not to eat the food that is offered at the meal time, try responding with ‘the next meal time will be... (e.g. breakfast tomorrow)’.

Step 5: Prepare yourself and your child

The final step to achieving your goal is to have everything ready. Make a plan of action before you start your new meal time routine. Take time to decide on your rewards and consequences for your child’s behaviour. Involve your child by holding a family meeting to talk about the rewards and consequences. Let your child know what is expected of them and what will happen if he or she does not follow your instructions.

Acknowledgement

This information is the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.

This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.