As ironic as it may sound when you stop to think about it, perhaps the most common way in which parents use food as a reward is to encourage children to eat more and/or “better” foods. You hear it all the time—the old “if you eat your vegetables, then you can have special treat” technique. While your child may eat what you want her to and end up with dessert to show for it, in the long run you are likely to end up getting your just desserts as well.
We recognize that this tried-and-true technique may seem to work well at first, and we’re very aware of the fact that practically everyone does it. But we suggest you proceed with caution because it runs the serious risk of backfiring for several fundamental reasons.
• Things Can Quickly Go From Bad to Worse. From a child’s perspective, if you have to bribe them to eat something, then it can’t possibly be good. If a child is indifferent to squash, making a big deal out of her eating it and bribing her to do so is, in fact, likely to foster a much more active dislike. Studies show that bribing children to eat certain foods causes them to resist eating those foods even more than if they had just been left alone.
• The Tables Can Be Turned. Part of never letting your children see you sweat (see “Strategy #3: Never Let Them See You Sweat” on page 11) is not letting them know just how much parental self-worth you have riding on each morsel. Let’s face it—at its core, offering children edible incentives is really a you have riding on each morsel. Let’s face it—at its core, offering children edible incentives is really a way of manipulating them to do what you want. If, however, your child becomes aware of just how invested you are in what she eats—and children are very good at figuring this out—then look out! Kids who are “paid” to eat can become quite skilled at learning to turn it around to their advantage and either eat or refuse to do so as a way to get what they want. Once your child catches on, you may well be the one left with pie on your face.
• Elevating the Status of Forbidden Foods. When you promise your child a scoop of ice cream in return for taking a bite of her dinner, what you perceive as your accomplishment stands to be quite different from what your child takes away from the meal and the deal. Instead of Instead of developing a newfound appreciation for the healthy foods you’ve managed to get her to eat, your child’s sole focus is going to be on the sweets she’s earned in return. In fact, you’ll probably end up elevating the status of whatever goody you’ve offered as a bonus—making it more desirable than ever.
• Learning to Follow Your Lead. If your child isn’t hungry but really wants whatever tantalizing food lies at the end of the meal, she may wind up eating more than she would otherwise. In this instance, all you stand to teach her is to ignore her own internal cues and follow yours. This clearly contradicts the recommendation only to eat for hunger’s sake, since overriding internal (healthy) controls is a key and concerning dynamic on the road to overweight and obesity.
Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup (American Academy of Pediatrics, March 2012) by Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP. For more information about Food Fights, please visit www.HealthyChildren.org, the official American Academy of Pediatrics web site for parents.
I received a copy of Food Fights to review. This is a great book for any parent to read. I am really enjoying it and hope to learn a lot from it. My son is not a fussy or picky eater but my daughter, oh my heavens! She drives me INSANE some days, it is so bad. She only always wants cookies and milk or sweets and that is NOT gonna happen in this house! I have to feed her, spoon feed her, some days, so she will get something in her tummy. She is crazy. Hopefully this is just a phase and she will grow out of it ASAP, because this mama is tired of it! Blah.
This book teaches you how to pick your battles with your picky eaters and arm yourself accordingly! It offers simple solutions for your daily nutritional challenges. Whether you have little ones or bigger kids, this book is a great and helpful read.
You can purchase the book “Food Fights” online at HealthyChildren.org! It retails for $14.95.
I received a book to check out. All images from Morguefile.com except the book image. This post includes my affiliate links.