By: Wendy Wu, R.D., M.S.
Situation: Your child is having a tantrum at the park because she doesn’t want to leave. You tell her, we’ll have some ice cream if you stop crying.
1) Bribing kids with food in exchange for something you want them to do for you. You’re teaching your child that she can always get something nice in return for bad behavior. So what do you think she’ll do when she wants something? Yep, exactly. Your child will not learn respect and responsibility. She may grow up thinking that she’s always entitled to something which may set her up for continued unhappiness throughout her lifetime. The message you send is you’re not capable of doing anything without bribery. In addition, when the bribe is always with food, she may turn to food in times of unhappiness.
“Why did you draw on the walls?! No dessert for a month!”
2) Punishing with food can be very psychologically damaging to a child. The child may overeat every time she thinks she’s in trouble. As a grownup, she may unconsciously overeat when she feels she has done something wrong. Here’s a great article on punishing with food “Withholding food from children: What are they thinking”?
“If you eat all your vegetables, you’ll get dessert later.” or “Since you’ve been good all week, let’s go to McDonalds for lunch.”
3) Rewarding with food. Rewarding for good behavior is a tricky subject. Good behaviors should be expected from the child. Praise for good behavior can have very positive results. However, rewarding with food is not good practice. Labeling certain foods as “special” will only make the child yearn for them even more. Just like how adults love “limited edition” products. The child will envision these foods as sacred and overeat when given the chance. The child may also view these foods as more valuable and better for them. As a grownup, “special” foods will be overeaten to feel good about oneself as these foods are associated with joy and excitement.
“I’ve been working such long hours, David is always asleep by the time I get home. Let me stop by the supermarket and pick up some of his favorite snacks (cookies, candies and ice cream) so he can have them tomorrow.”
4) Spoiling with food. With both parents working nowadays, many parents spoil their child with less nutritious foods because they feel guilty for not spending enough time with him. The child may end up eating ice cream for breakfast, ramen for lunch, and cookies for dinner. He’s given whatever he wants and is not satisfied with anything. As a grownup, he ends up being disappointed about life, always wanting more and isn’t thankful for anything. He may even end up being violent according to this article.
“You better finish your plate. There are starving children out there!”
5) Force Feeding. Don’t force your child to finish his food. Let your child listen to his body and stop when he feels full. If you’ve instilled good eating habits, he will stop eating when his body tells him he’s full.
“Awww…you had a bad day baby? Let’s go have some ice cream to make you feel better.”
6) Food used as Comfort. Every time Sarah is upset, she will turn to food for comfort. When you use food as comfort, it can lead to severe consequences like being overweight or obese.
What you can do: Instill Healthy Eating Habits
- Be a role model. Your kids will eat what you eat. Have a variety of healthful foods around the house.
2. Have pleasant dinners together around the table as often as possible.
3. Take your children food shopping and get them involved in food planning. They will be more willing to eat the foods they choose.
4. Teach your children to eat slowly. Drink water in between bites. Listen to their hunger cues.
5. Have a plan for healthy snacks.
6. Discourage eating in front of the TV.
7. So what about foods that are less nutritious…”Junk Foods” like highly processed meats (hot dogs/chicken nuggets), cookies, chips, candy, soda and juices?
Your children will have a desire to eat sweet and salty foods. Try not to make these foods seem special or forbidden. Explain to them that they can have less nutritious foods on occasion but not all the time. Education is key. Tell them why these foods are less nutritious. Show them which foods are more nutritious and why. Teach them to make the right choices by being their role model.