Influencing Your Child’s Dietary Habits

It’s said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world – which goes to show just how much influence parents have on their children.

influencing your child's dietary habits

There are many things that parents can do to have a positive influence on their child’s dietary habits and level of physical activity, to help set them up for a lifetime of good health.

Parents are able to shape their children’s dietary practices, physical activity, sedentary behaviours, and weight status in many ways – such as their:

  • knowledge of nutrition;
  • influence over food choices, meal structure, and home eating patterns;
  • modelling of healthful eating practices;
  • physical activity levels; and
  • modelling of sedentary habits including television and computer use.

Weight Management

If a child has a weight problem, parents can have a great deal of influence, because we know:

  1. Changing dietary habits is generally best managed through change for the entire family. It may be unrealistic to intervene with one member of the family, while other family members are modelling and supporting behaviours that run counter to the intervention’s goals.
  1. Parents serve as role models, and reinforce and support the purchasing and maintenance of eating and exercise behaviours.
  1. Teaching parents to use specific behaviour-change strategies such as positive reinforcement, can help with dietary changes. Several successful school-based health-promotion interventions acknowledge this by including a component targeted at improving parental behaviours.

Even though dieting is not a healthy way to manage weight, parents may feel that pressured to encourage dieting if their child has a weigh problem.

Again, we see the impact of parents on their child’s dietary habits. Studies on dieting behaviours consistently report that their parents’ inducement to diet is the most significant factor in causing children to begin dieting. Their parents’ direct verbal encouragement is more influential than the parents’ own dieting behaviours.

Many adolescents whose parents urged them to diet, report engaging in unhealthful dieting behaviours. Focusing on dieting for weight control may overemphasise the thinness ideal, and over time may lead to an increased risk of weight gain. It is important for parents to learn about the risks of dieting, and to talk with their child’s doctor and psychologist to promote healthful habits.

Setting up Healthy Dietary Habits

A variety of individual and group psychological therapies can be useful in weight management treatments for children, and families wanting to pursue healthier dietary habits.

Behavioural and cognitive behavioural therapies are the most commonly used psychological therapies for weight management, as they have been demonstrated to facilitate better maintenance than other therapies.

Behavioural treatments appear to work primarily by enhancing dietary restraint by providing adaptive dietary strategies and discouraging maladaptive dietary practices; and increasing motivation to increase physical activity.

Therapy aims to provide the individual with coping skills to handle various cues to overeat and to manage lapses in diet and physical activity when they occur.

Treatment also provides motivation essential to maintain adherence to a healthier lifestyle once the initial enthusiasm has waned. Therapeutic techniques may include stimulus control, goal setting, and self-monitoring.

When cognitive techniques are added to behaviour therapy they appear to improve program success and reduce weight regain. These strategies are aimed at identifying and modifying aversive thinking patterns and mood states to facilitate weight management.

Cassandra Gist Psychologist BrisbaneAuthor: Cassandra Gist, BPsych (Hons), MPsych, MAPS.

Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist has a Masters in Health Psychology, and is able to treat clients aged from two years old right through to adulthood. She is experienced in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, as well as children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Cassandra Gist, try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129, or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.