Why should not we reward or punish our children with food?
In consultation I find that sometimes dads punish or reward their children through food . "If you do not behave yourself you will not come to dinner with us", "until you calm down you will stay in your room without dinner", "if you behave yourself I'll give you a cookie", "if you do not do your homework today you're going to have to eat vegetables. "
Also on many occasions we fill our children with boredom with cookies, popcorn or sweets, that is, processed foods and sugars, which are a direct reward for our body.
In these cases what we are doing is teaching our children to manage emotions through food and associate certain foods as negative and others as positive. This type of punishment is a serious mistake that can cause problems in the long term. We will be conditioning the behaviors to the privilege of eating a sweet or simply eating.
- Related article: "What is punishment in Psychology and how is it used?"
Why it is not good to punish or reward children through food
Eating is a basic need and is part of the child's childhood routine. Food should not be seen as a prize that is part of a negotiation, such as choosing dessert. This yes it can be a privilege that we can give to our son, who chooses the weekend between three desserts that we offer him.
We need to keep in mind that the food is mainly used to nourish and that as parents this is a duty we must fulfill. Food is not a regulator of stress, anxiety, or negative emotions that make us feel discomfort. If we carry out this association on the child, it may lead to future problems.
If our child is restless, we can not give him a cookie so he can hold on for a while longer without "bothering", if our son is crying in the middle of a supermarket we can not give him a cookie to calm him down, if our son is bored, the solution It's not like giving him some worms ...
With this act we are sending to our son different implicit messages : "I'm not available to you, your discomfort bothers me and I do not manage it, mom or dad are just fine with you when you're well, in the face of discomfort the solution is to eat because that's how you calm down" ... We end up fostering emotional hunger in the long term , increasing the risk of overweight and eating disorders.
- Maybe you're interested: "Emotional hunger: what it is and what can be done to combat it"
The psychological effects of this education strategy
What happens when we offer or eliminate food based on our child's behavior? We are anesthetizing, suppressing and distracting the negative emotional states of our children .
It is necessary that children are restless, bored and have tantrums and naturally we are the ones who have to calm our children, since we are their source of emotions. How they learn to regulate the emotions of children, so they will regulate them as adults.
A child who has calmed down through food, how will he manage adult emotions? Probably before any situation that is overwhelming or for which you do not have the necessary management resources, what you will do is calm the discomfort by going to the fridge.
When we start up this type of behavior we do not usually go to healthy foods such as fruits or vegetables, but as I said before we go to foods rich in fats and sugars. What happens after the intake? In the short term the intake calm, but in the long term appears guilt for binge eating .
If we learn from childhood that calm intake, it will be a very difficult circle to break. Using sweets or processed as prizes we are not helping the little ones. They are unhealthy foods.
If we want our children's behavior to be good, it is best not to make a relationship between the behavior and this type of food, since we will be giving special importance to this type of food. If we want your behavior to improve, our function is to explain and teach them why to behave in one way or another and how . The best reward will be verbal and affective reinforcement.
An inappropriate type of punishment
Punishing children by eating food that is not to their liking (usually fish, vegetables or fruit) does not solve the original problem and does not favor feeding the child. What will happen is that a bigger tantrum will appear when the child has to eat that dish that he does not like so much. Also, if they eat this type of food as a punishment we will get even less that they like, since they will become something aversive.
That fish, vegetables or fruit are not in the child's diet is not an option , little by little we have to introduce it. Sometimes, for not fighting or for comfort for ourselves, we give up and accept that the child does not want to eat it, but this is important to change it.
If we associate the misbehavior or behavior of our child to a punishment in which he has to eat some food that he does not like, he will associate that food as something unpleasant and negative, so he will not want to incorporate that food into his diet. On the contrary it will happen with the prizes like sweets and candies. They will be associated with something pleasant and positive, so they will always want to feel the pleasure of eating foods high in sugars.
It is important that the time of lunch or dinner becomes a pleasant time with the family , in which it is not colored by arguments or is a moment of punishment. In this way there will be no negative associations with food intake.
I always say that there are two important things that we should not punish our children with: food and affection. The absence of both can generate long-term emotional problems in them.
When putting a consequence it is important that the chosen consequence is related to the behavior that the child has set in motion. For example, imagine that our son has started playing with a bottle of water which he has spilled all over the floor and we punish him by telling him that he will eat green beans tonight. The child gets angry, cries, screams, while we collect all the water spilled.
Also, at the time of dinner and when you have to drink the beans the tantrum will come back . What has the child learned from the situation? Has the initial problem been solved? Have we taught the child what to do in this situation? In a situation of this type, the child will not find a relationship between the conduct performed and the consequence.
It is important that the consequence be established immediately to the behavior and be related . In this case, if the child has scattered all the water we will have to show it to what it is necessary to collect it and how to do it. That something that has been fun for him became something a little more tedious as it is to pick up. In this case, we will be teaching the child to repair those negative behaviors that have been set in motion.