I Don’t Believe in Rewarding Kids With Food (But I Do It Anyway)

I Don’t Believe in Rewarding Kids With Food (But I Do It Anyway)

One mom writes about the challenge of parenting against her best instincts.


By: Leah Maxwell

Part of my 2-year-old’s routine after day care is refusing to get into his car seat for the drive home, complete with full-on screaming and thrashing and attempted ripping of garments (sometimes mine; this is why I can’t have nice things). I’d be offended if I weren’t so busy trying to protect my face from a well-placed kick. On the whole, I just sigh and accept that this is my life as the parent of a toddler. There’s simply no reasoning with crazy.

One day when my son was being particularly obstinate -- he wouldn’t even come near the car much less get in it because day care had bubbles and chalk -- I reached into my bag of tricks (a.k.a. my giant mom purse) and pulled out the only thing I could find that might work: a little box of teeny tiny fruit-flavored breath fresheners. I shook them and yelled, “Candy!” and what do you know, the kid came running, hopped into his seat, and let me strap him in with nary a finger raised in protest. I couldn’t believe it had been so easy, and from that point on there was no turning back. My name is Leah and I’m a food-briber.

Now, if you ask me whether I believe in bribing kids with food, I’ll tell you "no." I don’t believe in rewarding them to behave as expected, I don’t believe in letting them have that kind of control of the situation, and I don’t believe in giving a baby what is essentially a miniature capsule of sugar. Yet I totally do it because it totally works.

I still hate it, though. I hate that it complicates a kid’s relationship with food, that it forms bad habits, that it relies on bribery rather than obedience, and that it gives all the power to the child instead of the parent. Thankfully the only criticism I’ve gotten about this has been from myself, but that hasn’t made it any easier to let go of the guilt and just be glad I’ve found a quick and easy solution to my problem.

More from P&G everyday: 5 Tips for Teaching Toddlers to Listen

So, for all of us who want to feel less guilty about rewarding kids with food, here are three quick tips that might help:

1. It’s OK to give them food if they’re hungry. Sometimes one of the reasons my kids are acting up is because they need a little something in their bellies. If their bad behavior always occurs around snack time, that might not be coincidence.

2. Think “treat,” not “candy.” Come to find out, my son can be lured into his car seat with all kinds of foods as long as I call them “treats.” I’ve had success with cheese sticks, crackers, granola bars, baby carrots, and fresh fruit. Offering a healthier option does wonders for my guilt.

3. Pick your battles. In parenting as in life, not every conflict needs to be fought to the bitter end. Just as it’s sometimes better to walk away from a fight, it’s sometimes better to give your worthy opponent a teeny tiny fruit-flavored breath freshener and call it day. (There’s probably more sugar in a teaspoon of ketchup anyway, right?)

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How about you? Do you bribe your kids with food? Do you feel bad about it or are you mostly just glad to have found something that works?



Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/onebluelight

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