Should Food Be Used To Bribe Your Child?

Some food can be nourishing but should it be used to bribe your child?

You can have ice cream if you finish all your homework.

I’ll give you a lollipop if you sit in the dentist chair.

We will stop at McDonald’s on the way home if you behave in the car.

Does this sound familiar? Let’s face it these are sweet bribes or sweet treats in return for good behavior, but what message does it send your kids?  Many moms like you struggle with this on a daily basis. You’re trying to navigate the waters as best you can. At times it feels impossible when the temper tantrums begin. You pull a lollipop out of your bag handing it over to your little one in the hope to soothe his sorrows and bring about a better disposition. But is this a good practice?

According to Science Daily: Parents who use very overly controlling feeding practices with their children, such as using food as a reward or a treat, could be unintentionally teaching their children to rely on food to deal with their emotions. These children may be more likely to ’emotionally eat’ later in childhood. 

The University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia also shares this: Offering treats as rewards can also lead to cavities and weight gain. When sweets or chips are given as a reward, they may become more appealing. This leads children to develop a preference for them instead of healthier foods with nutritional value.

 You may be second-guessing the food as reward idea just about now. Childhood obesity in America is at an all-time high. If food has always been your go to and you now think, maybe I should try something new, you’re headed in the right direction. Children are surprisingly easy to please. Primarily they want what all adults want, good relationships with their parents and siblings and positive reinforcement for achieved goals. They like to be rewarded based on merit.

Kids love rewards for their good behavior and achievements. What can you offer them besides sweet or “unhealthy” treats as alternatives to bribes or rewards for good behavior? Here are ways to implement different options that I think you will find helpful in changing your reward system. Some suggestions are better suited for younger children and others for older children. Add to the list of suggestions as you make changes. You may find yourself being guided to try new ideas by your children’s response to the new rewards.

  • Kids love being outdoors. Offer a trip to the park, a bike ride or walk around the neighborhood when they display good behavior. It is a good alternative and it teaches them fitness is fun. It also helps your children maintain a healthy weigh which will benefit them as they mature.
  • Think of fun ways to engage them without technology. Remember when you were young, what was a favorite past time? Kids love blowing bubbles, chalk drawing, fort building, hide-and-go-seek, reading their favorite book with you, etc. Participating in the reward by making time for your children is a reward they crave. It also leads to healthy parent-child relationships that will create lasting bonds.
  • Allow them to help cook dinner or create the grocery shopping list with you. This will put the positive focus back on the “healthier” items in your pantry and take the negative stigma off them. You know the one, “You can’t have dessert unless you eat all your vegetables.” Kids see the vegetables as the punishment, not dessert being taken away. If this is a common practice and you notice your kids don’t like their veggies, try modifying the reward. Instead of offering dessert offer an extra story at bedtime or something tangible you know they like.
  • As they get older, as with chores, you can offer a monetary reward. They can save up towards a larger reward if they’d like, such as a skateboard or bicycle. My daughter is 11 and saves up for earrings, lip gloss, sneakers, and other treats. It gives her a sense of accomplishment knowing she earned a reward for good behavior.
  • Around the age of 9 or 10, place more emphasis on good behavior and expectation. A reward is great, but the behavior has to be just as good as the reward. If they expect to receive a reward with little effort they will feel entitled to a reward without having to display good behavior. As with everything in life when you give your best effort you get rewarded.

By replacing food for good behavior with other rewards, not bribes, you will see a positive shift in your children’s life-long practices. I have seen a great shift within my own family after implementing these strategies. It may take a couple of tries but with time your children will no longer see sweet treats as a reward.

If you are struggling with this, I can help. As a mom of four, I’ve been where you are. Click here to contact me today to end the struggle over offering food for good behavior.

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