Why you need to stop bribing your children with treats
Developing healthy eating habits at home means saying ‘no’ to children sometimes
The biggest challenge is saying “no” to children who, when you don’t give in, might act up, become unco-operative and even throw a tantrum. Photograph: iStockphoto
Most parents aspire to have healthy eating routines and habits in the home and most parents aim to keep their children’s unhealthy treats to a minimum. But there is a big difference between having these aspirations and putting them into practice. In recent research by Safefood, many parents describe how hard it is resist the pester power of children who are constantly demanding sweets, sugary drinks and foods throughout the day.
The biggest challenge is saying “no” to children who, when you don’t give in, might act up, become unco-operative and even throw a tantrum. As a result, it is very easy to get into a habit of simply giving in as a means of keeping the peace and “bribing” the children to behave. While of course you can build good habits and alternative rewards (as we discussed in the previous articles), you will always have to say “no” to children sometimes. If you are to establish good rules and be an effective parent you have to be prepared to hold your ground and sit out tantrums if need be.
If children can get you to change your mind by pestering and badgering, then parenting becomes very difficult and children become more demanding. Once you learn the skill of saying “no”, parenting becomes a lot easier and children actually feel more secure and contained. Below are some suggestions on how to put this into practice.
Use a positive instruction
When a child pesters you for a treat, first remind them calmly of the rule – “you know we have no treats until the weekend.” It can help if you focus the child on a positive alternative – try to give them a “yes” as well as a “no”. For example, “when you go home now we will be playing a game” or “there is a small treat coming after dinner, if you are good”.
Coach them in managing their feelings
If they get upset, first try to acknowledge their feelings. “I know it is hard not to put the biscuits back . . . thanks for helping.” Be prepared to coach and guide them in how to manage: “Let’s go home now and do something nice.”
Warn your child of the consequences of nagging
If your child continues to pester or nag you about the treat, warn them that any future treat is dependent on them backing down: “If you behave now/calm down, then we will do something nice at home.” Or, “You can get a small treat at home, but only if you stop asking now.” Or, “If you keep asking now, you are going to lose some of your TV time at home.”
Have a plan of action
If your child ignores your warnings and continues to nag/pester you, think through how you might respond without giving in. For example, you might simply pull back and ignore your child’s protests, or you might repeat a statement, such as, “We are going home now and then we can discuss things.”
Some parents simply continue the shopping without discussing the issue further with their children and some find this too stressful and decide to leave the shop and follow through later. Whatever you decide to do, think of a way that allows you to remain calm and firm.
Once you have left the stressful situation of the shop, make sure to follow through on what happened with your child. This means you enforce the consequences with your child: “You have lost 10 minutes of your TV time, for nagging in the shop.” These consequences are best kept small so you have extra in reserve: “If you start shouting now you are only going to lose more TV time.”
It is also important to talk through the incident with your child to get their agreement to try and behave better the next time: “You know we are trying to be healthy and keep treats only to the weekend. I need you to help and stop asking for stuff when we are out.” By following through you hold your children to account for their behaviour and help them accept your authority.
Anticipate and avoid situations
Going through the challenge of saying “no” and standing down a tantrum is stressful and something you only want to do occasionally. For this reason it is important to anticipate and avoid problem situations such as by not going down the sweets aisle if your pre-schooler finds it hard to resist or by discussing with older children in advance what treats are allowed when out in order to get their co-operation.
It also means that you take time to involve your children in understanding and making the rules in the first place as well as building good routines and rewards to make them easier to implement (as we discussed in the two previous articles).
For more information see safefood.eu. Read the rest of this series on irishtimes.com/health
Part 1: Reducing treats and sugary treats to start a pattern of healthy behaviour.
Part 2: Start small and use positive thinking to motivate the whole family to make changes.