We’ve all done it. It’s just too easy:
“be good in the store and I’ll get you a lolly”.
The thing is: it generally works! And you can’t say that about all parental tactics, that’s for sure. But this particular tactic has extremely detrimental effects on our kids’ relationships with food. We may not see it right away (although oftentimes, we do), it may evidence itself in a few years with more sugar cravings or mood swings, or we may not notice at all until our teenagers move out and life becomes a little more complicated and rewards become something altogether different. What is a reward one day, is filling an emotional void the next.
Harmful Repercussions of Rewarding Kids with Sugar
They will confuse sweet foods with true happiness: Once a child receives a sugary goodie as a reward, they will associate this goodie with your happiness and thus, their own. They may follow through with the thinking pattern that when they do something good (which evidently should make us happy all on its own), that happiness is then earned through food. In later years, they may wind up seeking sweets as a reward for their hard work, without looking for other constructive ways to feel good. And when they feel sadness, they may attempt to bring about happiness through sugar.
Sends the message that rewards are necessary: Instead of feeling pride and gratitude when they have accomplished something, the child will feel entitled to receive a reward. Furthermore, every time they think about attempting something new or daring, it will be conditional upon receiving a reward. This may teach the child not to seek out things in life that render genuine joy and pride, but to attempt a task conditionally, dependent only on what they will receive afterwards.
Tells the child that you approve of sugar consumption: How many times have I heard: “it’s just this once”, “it’s a special treat”, “you’ve been so good”, “just this once”, etc. Each time you use sugary treats as a reward for good behaviour or because of a special occasion, (or for any of the other easy-to-drum-up reasons) you are normalizing them, and essentially, telling your child that you approve of these foods. Is this a message you want to send?
Encourages mindless eating: The very minute eating becomes about something other than fuel and nourishment, we encourage disconnect and mindless eating styles. Each time a child eats in this fashion further encourages them to disconnect from from their food, increasing the chances of dysfunctional eating habits.
It connects emotional needs to food: This one is really, deeply important. When we tie emotional needs together with food (particularly sugar), a deeply rooted bond is created and then, reaffirmed time and time again, each time a sugary reward is given. Humans need emotional connection; it is a crucial part of our existence. When we replace positive emotional connections with a substitute (insert sugar), essentially, we create a negative emotional pattern that pulls the human being away from creating positive emotional connections with other human beings and (perhaps most importantly) with themselves.
(Just A Few of the Endless)
Good Reasons to Minimize Your Child’s Sugar Consumption
Disrupts proper blood sugar stability
Interferes with a child’s natural ability to regulate their eating
Supports bad habits around food
Will spoil their palate
Interferes with hunger and satiation signals
Contributes to dental decay
Feeds cancer cells
Increases chances of developing of Diabetes
Contributes to obesity & disordered eating
BIG-TIME Game Changers When It Comes to Raising Healthy Eaters
Model Good Behaviours: You are the strongest, most prevalent, role model for your children. Most of your behaviours, the good and the bad, will evidence themselves in your children to varying degrees. If you are able to model respect and grace with food, that will naturally reflect in your kids. Similarly, if you are the kind of eater that rewards yourself with ice cream and chocolate bars at the end of a tough day, your kids will do that too.
Educate Them: Talk to your kids about food and health. Often. Give your kids the tools they need to make good and confident choices around food. If they understand the dangers of over-consuming sugars, dangerous additives, and food dyes, they will be better equipped to make educated decisions.
Let Them Cook: Get your kids in the kitchen! I can’t say this enough. Kids love a bit of control (ok fine, a lot), so let them be creative, teach them to read a recipe, and show them how to adjust flavourings in foods. The earlier you set them up with the knowledge and know-how in the kitchen, the better equipped they will be for later in life, when you are not there.
Set Boundaries: I will often encourage parents to set realistic, but firm boundaries with food. Kids need boundaries; they thrive with healthy boundaries. And so too, do adults. Be firm about what foods you will bend on at special times (coconut ice cream?) and those that you can never get behind (freezies). These boundaries teach kids how to say “no” when something doesn’t align with their values; when choosing what foods to eat and with all other decision-making.
Reward Them With Pride: Show your kids what a healthy reward looks like: a proud smile, a long hug, engaging eye contact, words of praise and encouragement. Healthy praise has no comparison; it’s what all kids are really after: your approval. The reward of healthy praise tells kids to honour their strengths, it supports their ability to make good decisions, and gives them permission to prioritize being true to them selves.
They may surprise you.
That may be all they need as reward.