If You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie

“If you are good you can have a cookie.” These words seem harmless enough, right? Wrong! Rewarding children with food is a common practice which can have short and long term negative health consequences. For example, if you go grocery shopping before dinner and you reward your child with a candy bar for behaving well at the store, it may lead to your child not wanting to eat much of his dinner (short term consequence). More importantly than the one missed meal, is the connection that the child makes between the food and behavior. “If I’m good, I get to eat my favorite sweet foods.” This teaches your child to eat for emotional reasons rather than his physiological hunger. Children are actually very good at regulating their appetite by listening to their natural hunger and fullness cues. However, when children are taught to eat for emotional reasons, these natural cues are overridden and it may lead to a lifetime of overeating and emotional eating.

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Similarly, food should NEVER be used as a punishment. Sending your child to bed without dinner is totally unacceptable and may create a cycle of overeating. Studies show that when children and adults are not sure when they will get their next meal they are likely to overeat. Children living in food insecure households are more likely to be obese than children who are food secure. Another example of using food as a punishment, is telling a child they can only have dessert if they eat their broccoli (or other vegetable). Research shows that this practice leads to the child becoming less interested in eating the healthy food (broccoli) and the sweet food becomes even more desirable to the child. This is the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. Asking a child to eat broccoli in order to get dessert, may work in the short term. However, the real goal is for the child to eat broccoli because he likes it, not because he has to in order to receive a “reward.”

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I am not against rewarding children for good behavior, going to the potty, good grades, etc. I am against rewarding children (and adults) with food. For little children there are endless substitutions that are just as easy and almost as cheap as candy-stickers, crayons, temporary tattoos, bubbles, all make great non-food rewards. This is a simple substitution that you can start right now if your child is usually rewarded with food. Sometimes, an even better reward is just giving your child verbal praise or doing an activity with them. Activities such as going to the park, playing a game, or reading a book together take a bit more effort but they are worth it in the end.
What types of rewards work for your family? Do you remember being rewarded with a lollipop after getting a shot at the doctor?

3 thoughts on “If You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie

  1. Very well written. Totally agree with everything here! Kids are tricky little people sometimes! Parents get Into battles with their kids over food and it can get challenging! They really don’t need as much food as one may think and they wot starve themselves! Lol I know because I have a 3 year old and 10month old and the only rule I have for my toddler is he taste everything. He doesn’t have to eat it but I want him to taste it. As a baby he ate everything as does my baby now. When they become toddlers it can get a little trickier at times as they are learning their independence so I created that rule and it’s worked great. I just continue offering healthy food and allow him to decide how much to eat. I’m so glad both my boys are great eaters.

    1. Thanks! That is great you have healthy eaters. I believe in tasting foods too, not actually making them eat it, but one taste is not going to harm any kid. Except I have read research about even making them taste things they don’t want to is detrimental, so I feel a little torn. Don’t have kids of my own, so we will see how it goes when I do. In my practice I do get all sorts of kids, and I think there is definitely something in certain children that leads them to be picky eaters, and I’m not sure if it all because of the way they were raised (this obviously plays a big factor) or just something innate they were born with.

  2. Yeah In the beginning when I am offering food I don’t make them Taste if they don’t want to. In fact I basically let my baby feed himself for the most pArt. We did baby led weaning with some purées just the first month at 6m but mostly have done late chunks or small food to pick up. He is really good at feeding himself now. When my toddler turned 3 and he’s tasted pretty much all the foods and I know he liked them and is just being finnicky over the texture then that’s where I tell him to taste it. But I never make it a huge battle or anything. It’s something I learned from the book French kids eat every thing and a toddler series board book called mealtime. And sometimes he ends up eating whatever he tasted and other times he doesn’t like it and that’s fine. But I never offer him other food besides the meal because then he won’t eat the meal and would rather have a “snack”. As he has gotten older I have found that he eats more at mealtimes if I don’t offer a snack or if he really wants one just offer a really small size. Every kid is different though. Everything changes when you become a parent too! You have to find what works best for you. You will be challenged in so many ways but become a better person that’s for sure. Patience is one area! Haha and eating habits. Kids are like sponges!! They really do see and hear everything and imitate!! So being a gret example is key!

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