Stop using food to reward and punish your kids

By Stephanie Meyers, MS, RDN for The Conversation

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Ice cream cones can convey joy and love. YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/Shutterstock.com

1. Recognize common scenarios

Think about how you celebrate after performances or if you often promise a treat when your kids finish a task. Do you prod your kids to clean their room by dangling the possibility of dessert? Do you take them out for pizza to help them cope when they don’t make the team? Recognizing common scenarios is an essential first step toward breaking this pattern.

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Table: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Stephanie Meyers Get the data

2. Don’t blame yourself

You are not alone if food is ingrained in how you interact with kids when you’re not at the table. What matters most is your willingness to explore a new path without stewing in self-judgment. Using food to reward kids undermines healthy habits you’re trying to instill, so any effort toward change may have long-term benefits.

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Heading out on a family walk can be a real treat. Shutterstock.com/Vitalinka

3. Name the feeling you aim to convey

Separating your intent from your actions will help you stop using food as a way to soothe or praise. To do this, imagine your child in a situation where you might use food that way. Play the scene out in your mind, stopping before you bring on the food. As you envision your child in the scenario, ask yourself what feeling you would like to convey.

4. Do something else

There are plenty of ways to comfort your kid that don’t involve food. You can hug them or give them a bubble bath, for example.

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Table: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Stephanie Meyers Get the data

Ways and words

Using food to reward or console kids is pervasive enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics and five other professional organizations recommend that parents not use food this way.

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Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts

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