When your child has fallen and needs a reason to smile it might seem normal to give them a cookie and brighten their day a little. You might reward your child for doing their homework well or on time with a little piece of candy. Even the doctor offers a lollipop to soothe the sting of a shot.
It’s hard to see the harm in these cases of rewarding children with food, but the fact is that it does exist. Consistently rewarding a child with food instead of with love or other intangibles creates problems that you may have to deal with later on in their lives. It is better to find other ways of coping early on, before such behaviors become entrenched in your parenting style.
When you choose to consistently reward your child with food you are sending them several undesirable messages. The first, and most troubling perhaps, is that your love and attention are not as valuable as the food (or any other trinket) that you are offering in reward. A young child who has fallen down is just as easily consoled with a few kind words and a hug.
The reason that they turned to you in the first place was to seek out a little necessary love and attention from the person they trust most to give it to them. If you substitute that cookie for your presence, then you are sending the wrong message. You are also missing out on an opportunity to provide your child with the kind of positive attention that fuels their growth and development. Everyone loses in this scenario.
The next message that you are sending to your child is that food is a source of comfort. Over time this kind of message can take a terrible toll on your child’s health. As we all know, weight problems like obesity are seldom caused by something as simple as a lack of control or poor food knowledge. Instead, they are caused by real psychological issues that drive sufferers to use food as a substitute for something else, as a drug, or as a way to simply hide.
One cookie or lollipop isn’t going to create this sort of issue, but still, you don’t want either yourself or your child to fall into a habit that could have such dangerous results. Instead, teach your child to seek comfort from people and relationships. In the long run, this will tend to be a much healthier behavior for them to adopt.
It is okay to offer your child food rewards from time to time as long as you can keep it under control. If you choose to use this method infrequently and spontaneously, so that your child doesn’t learn to predict or expect it, it can actually be quite useful. Offering a child a cookie to stop a tantrum in a public place is much more likely to be effective, after all, if they still regard the cookie as a rare treat.