Bribing kids to eat is something that most parents have done occasionally (me, too). And it’s not hard to see why. It usually gets the job done: most kids will eat their peas if an ice cream is dangled in front of them.
The problem, though, is that rewards and bribes can work, but at a high cost:
- While rewards often make our kids eat, eg. peas, it won’t make them like them. Studies have shown that children are less likely to enjoy things they are rewarded to do.
- Furthermore, people are likely to love the reward more after being rewarded: which means that if you bribe your child with ice cream for eating peas, chances are that he will idealize the ice cream, now and in the future.
- Rewards are only effective for as long as they are present. When removed, they stop working. This means that yes, your kid will eat the peas, but he won’t once you stop bribing him with ice cream.
- Rewards often impact relationships negatively, because they are an attempt to control our kids. They add to the imbalance of an already uneven relation and can lead to resentment towards the rewarder.
- Rewards are a form of control. And when we feel controlled, we are more likely to lose interest in whatever we are rewarded for doing, eg eating peas.
- Rewarding and bribing at mealtimes will not encourage our kids to listen to their bodies. On the contrary: they are asked to disregard their bodily cues to get ice cream.
So, as you can see, the cost of using rewards is high. And we’re not even getting what we want for our rewards.
The biggest problem, though, is not that they are not working. The biggest problem is that they are likely to undermine
- our kids’ healthy relationship with food
- our kids’ relationship with us
So, let’s take rewards and bribes out of the mealtime equation and focus on raising happy, healthy little eaters who listen to their inner cues, shall we?