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Feeding and Diet

How to Talk to a Touchy Tween About Healthy Eating Habits

Getting through to your child in her tween years can be tough, especially when it comes to advice like how to form good eating habits. It's essential to be a guiding force, rather than an authoritarian, when it comes to moving your child in the right direction. With a couple key tools in mind, you'll be on the road to having a dialog with your kid about how to eat right for life.

Make it a Dialog

Children, particularly those in their turbulent tween years, often respond better when they are not being told what to do. Try to start a conversation, rather than insisting she follow certain rules. Kids will sometimes be inclined to do the opposite of what you tell them. If your child frequently makes unhealthy choices, encourage her to explain her reasoning and how those foods make her feel. If she's skipping meals, express your concern. Provide helpful information, such as discussing the impact of media on body image. Don't humiliate, manipulate or undermine her -- be genuinely understanding. Show vulnerability by opening up about your own dietary successes and failures. Let her know you truly have her best interest in mind. Your child will hopefully be more open to engaging in a dialog if you aren't overly insistent.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Rather than scolding your child every time you see her making an unhealthy option, practice positive reinforcement when she makes a healthy decision. Be specific too -- if you see her snacking on blueberries, for instance, talk about how they're packed with healthy phytochemicals, which can help prevent debilitating diseases. Rewarding your child has the potential to get you much farther than punishment and prevents you from merely becoming the "bad guy." Foster a positive body image and encourage self-esteem -- do not deride your child's physical characteristics, even jokingly. Avoid making snide comments if you see her taking an extra helping of dessert. If you see her stop eating when she's full, tell her it's important to only eat as much as she wants, and to eat only when she's hungry.

Lead By Example

It's essential to teach by example. Don't skip meals or set unhealthy precedents in front of your child. If she sees you snacking on potato chips or drinking sugary beverages, it's going to seriously undermine the message you're trying to reinforce. Get rid of all the junk food in your house and keep only healthy, low-fat options. Cook healthy meals as often as possible, incorporating family involvement when feasible. If you eat out, talk about why some options are healthier than others, and encourage her to have the same level of examination when she goes out with friends. At home, have your tween be a part of the process, from picking out groceries to preparation and cleanup. Greater involvement can go a long way toward encouraging your tween to become more responsible about her diet.

Let Her Make Her Own Choices

Ultimately, you have to let her make her own choices and learn from her own mistakes, failures and even good decisions. If you just can't seem to make an impression no matter what you do, give her space and time and try again later. Be persistent, but not overbearing. If you continue to be supportive and show respect while allowing her to make decisions in her own time, hopefully, she will be more receptive to your advice in the future. If you're especially concerned about your child's eating habits, have her see a medical professional or nutritionist who can discuss with her the importance of healthy eating habits.