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In my practice as a Parenting and Wellness Consultant “picky eating” or “refusal to eat” is the most common Parenting problem I encounter. I am therefore beginning a series of posts in which I am going to offer tips and tricks to help suffering parents cope.
Tip 8 - Do not use food to reward or bribe
“If you study all day today - I will take you out for pizza”
“If you finish dinner - you can have dessert”
“If you play tennis well today - we will stop for ice creams on the way back”
Do you find yourself making such statements all the time?
And do you then complain that your child is a Picky Eater - who picks junk food in place of healthy food?
Can you see why he does that?
When you repeatedly offer junk food as a bribe or reward - you give it the status of the ultimate attainment - you make it that one thing worth striving for.
Junk foods by nature are intensely sweet, salty or fatty. And such foods have the ability to trigger off the Reward Pathway in the brain. The Reward Pathway is what causes people to get addicted to substances like Cocaine.
Cocaine is addicting because - once an addict is attuned to the reward cocaine offers his brain - he is unable to resist the urge to take it in larger and larger doses - which is what makes him an addict.
Junk food works the same way.
Cocaine abuse however is illegal, socially stigmatised and known to be fatal. So even in your wildest dreams you would not dream of offering your child cocaine as a reward.
But you offer your child junk food - the chemical properties of which stimulate the reward pathways of the brain. And by doing this - cause your child to get addicted to something which may not be fatal immediately – but is definitely potentially damaging to the physical and mental health of your child.
In addition with your words - you give it the status of the ultimate attainment or reward.
Unsurprisingly then - your Picky Eater picks junk food over everything else.
Stop offering junk food as a reward. In fact do not offer food as a reward at all.
Rather offer an extra large doses of your affection and time as rewards;
Say - “You get two kisses instead of one - every time you play the new piano piece right”
“We play two games of Uno - instead of one if you finish dinner quickly”
“We go for a walk in evening - if you finish studying during the day”
Keep your child from getting addicted even as you compel yourself to eke out those extra minutes of quality time.
Your love in its pure unadulterated form is what your child wants and needs. Do not feel compelled to give support it with the crutch of junk food.
Also, basic things can be kept in mind like letting a child eat when he is hungry, serving the food at the same time daily, making the food appealing for kids, mealtime fun, involving the child in the process of creating food so that it stokes his appetite, set a good example by making healthy food choices yourself and minimize distractions allowing your child to induge his senses at mealtimes.
Stay healthy - stay happy!