How many times have we heard a parent say, “If you’re good, you’ll get some candy.” “If you are good, you will get a dessert.” Or how many parents withhold food as a punishment?
"Food Bribes Backfire" writes Jennifer Motl, a registered dietitian. Why? She notes that rewarding kids good behavior with sweets and other food can lead to weight problems and overeating. She cites examples of parents rewarding kids with ice cream if they eat their broccoli. Or reward them with French fries if they behave. Some reasons a parent should not use food as a reward:
1. Fullness vs Hunger: A child may not be hungry for that candy bar or ice cream but when offered as a reward they may eat it anyway because they have been “good”. But overeating can lead to becoming overweight. And too many kids in the U.S. are overweight and obese.
But withholding food as a punishment can also lead to overeating. I have heard parents eat ice cream in front of an overweight child and then taunt the child that they can’t have any because they are fat. This child may later sneak food to “punish” the parents for punishing them. Another family withheld food from an overweight child which only teaches the child to overeat at the next meal as food might be withheld again.
2 2. Message What message are we giving kids when you have to bribe them with a dessert if they eat their veggies? According to one study bribing can actually teach children to hate that vegetable. Researchers studied kids ages 4-7 and asked them to choose 2 snacks. Some kids were told they had to eat one of the snacks before they got the second snack. This led the kids to dislike the first snack even if they hadn’t before the study.
So how should you reward a child for good behavior? Attention would be one way. Many websites and organizations offer suggestions as to how parents can reward children. Motl list quite a few in her article which are summarized below:
The Instant Rewards:
- Pat on the shoulder
- Coloring books and crayons
- Sidewalk chalk and time to color on the sidewalk or driveway
- DJ – let the child choose the music the family will listen to
- Extra bedtime story
- Playing catch or a favorite board game with a parent
- Being first in line
- Sitting with friends
- No-homework pass
- Listening to an audio book with a headset
So parents and teachers can think twice about using food as a reward and use attention and earned privileges instead.