On Friday morning as my 4 year old refused to go into school I did what most parents have done, I promised her something at the end of the day to distract her. You could call this a bribe, incentive, reward, encouragement or whatever you like BUT the one thing I did not do is offer her a food treat as a reward.
You may be wondering why? Surely a gingerbread biscuit or easter egg would have been a great reward for going into school eventually?
Yes my kids do often have food treats or get to choose a biscuit or chocolate from the shops BUT I do my best to not bribe or punish with food.
So am I saying ban all treats?
No, balance is absolutely imperative and I’m suggesting enjoying food for what it is meant for, to nourish us and provide nutrients. There’s always time for treats and of course chocolate, and with Easter approaching there’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate and enjoy food that’s not conditional to behaviour.
There are many other non-food incentives and rewards we can use. Real tangible objects such as a sticker for many younger children will light up their faces, and for older ones a reward chart or a trip to the park or a small gift like stationery, a book or special notebook.
Yes these are all helpful and often much needed but the real reward for us as parents is to teach our children how to manage their feelings, that crying is ok sometimes or feeling down is a part of life and growing up. To talk about how they feel rather than making it better with food or an object.
Sometimes non-food rewards can still backfire when trying to encourage children to try new foods as it undermines the child’s ability to develop a natural desire to try new food.
Children have a liking for sweet foods that is present from birth and continues to grow as they do. This gives parents a very easy bargaining tool. Parents often feel that they are giving their child enjoyment by offering them sweet treats.
Remember getting children to like new foods in the long term requires consistent exposure without the pressure to eat or try.
So you may be wondering what I used on Friday morning?
I used these colourful whiteboard markers and let her choose one when she got home from school. In this instance as well as a chat and reassurance I’m using them as an incentive for the next few days to help us get through the gate willingly with a smile.
Let me know your thoughts and what rewards you use.
Jill Castle 2019 https://jillcastle.com/childhood-nutrition/feeding-practices-rewarding-kids-for-eating/
Child Feeding Guide 2019, Loughborough Universityhttps://www.childfeedingguide.co.uk/tips/common-feeding-pitfalls/food-as-a-reward/
Jo Cormack 2018, Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with food
Claire Potter 2013, Getting The Little Blighters To Eat
Lindi Jaff -
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