This Common Practice Can Create A Lifetime Of Problems For Our Kids

There have been a lot of changes in the way we parent over the last few decades.

Some of the “tried and true” approaches of generations past have become outdated as more is learned about child development, health, and overall wellness.

And there’s one example that may seem insignificant but can have serious consequences on health for a lifetime.

Let’s face it, we all love our little treats.  We have often equated food with comfort, security, or love for generations.

We even think of food as a reward from time to time – maybe that’s why we call them “treats.”

But when it comes to our kids, using food as a reward is no longer considered a good idea at all – and it’s surprising how often we may find ourselves doing that very thing.

We may tell our kids that they can have a cookie if they finish their dinner, or that we will get them an ice cream cone if they are quiet while we run errands.

It’s so ingrained in our culture that it becomes difficult to counter.  

But using food as a reward is not only ineffective, it can be dangerous to the way our children develop a “relationship” with food – and it can become a life-long struggle.

Using food as a reward lends an emotional component to eating, something that many adults have recognized as a cause of overeating and weight gain.

This undermines the basic instinct to eat when hungry and for purposes of nutrition.  While treats in moderation are fine, they should never be associated with a particular behavior or outcome.

Using food as a reward can also disrupt a child’s feelings of being full after eating because they will often eat past this fullness in order to have that treat.  When this continues, it becomes “normal” to overeat.

A common – but potentially harmful – use of food as a reward is something we’ve probably seen in our child’s school.

A pizza party for the highest test scores or ice cream for the class who has raised the most during a fundraising event makes food a prize more important than the pride of seeing the results of hard work.

It also excludes children who were not able to participate or reach the same level of achievement and makes them want these foods even more.  

And children with food allergies or dietary restrictions may also feel left out, which can lead to a feeling of disappointment when a certain food is not given to them.

Obviously, using food in order to counter feelings of disappointment is another reason for emotional eating and obesity – something that has become an epidemic in our country.

In no way related to hunger, food is labeled as the ultimate reward, something that can stay with us into adulthood.  Many of us to this day reward ourselves with a treat when we finish a task or have a long day at work.

And many of us know, as adults, we use food rewards in response to emotions that we’d rather not handle in a more positive manner.

Another important part of teaching our children to have a healthy relationship with food is not “mindlessly” eating or eating to relax.  

Again, this is something many of us do.  We grab a bag of chips while watching TV or a tub of popcorn while at the movies and, before we know it, we’ve eaten the entire thing.  We don’t even realize it until it’s gone.

So when having family movie night or a snack while watching television, opt for healthy options and pre-measure your child’s portion (and your own!).  Once it’s gone, that’s it.

While sweets and unhealthy foods will always be a part of celebrations like birthday parties, using these foods as a bribe for positive behaviors, or taking away a treat for a negative behavior, can only lead to confusion over what purpose food is really supposed to serve.

It’s important that we teach our kids early on that food is sustenance for our bodies.  It should be healthy food as much as possible, and we should eat until full and not beyond.  

A sweet treat on a special occasion is fine, but it should never be associated with any feeling or accomplishment.

If we teach kids early that food is food and should not be used as a reward or comfort, they will be far less likely to develop a poor “relationship” with food as they get older.

What do you think about using food as a reward?  Leave us your thoughts.

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