How many of us, as kids, have received ice cream, chocolate, or candy as a reward for good behavior? How many of us have been sent to our room without dinner, or the embarrassing “skipped over” from receiving a treat due to our bad behavior? I hated that one as a kid!

How many of us have any of these things to our own children? I am sure some of us can answer yes, yes, and yes!

With the increase rise of childhood obesity, parents have a humbling task to identify and stop unhealthy behaviors.

Disciplining and rewarding our children with food is often times a learned habit; a generational tradition that needs to be left in the past. Think about it. When we reward ourselves or our children for “good behavior”, this translates as a high sugar, high calories treat. And, “bad behavior” gets the complete opposite: Hunger! Neither is beneficial, and both center on food.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obesity rates in children and adolescents have tripled from just one generation ago (CDC, 2014). Let me sum it up for you. Children of this generation have a higher chance of not outliving their parents!!!

It is time to gear our focus on the positive behavior that leads our children to make healthier choices. The reward is not food, but acknowledgement, praise and self-assurance.

Here are some tips:

1. Let’s just start with the fun one…when your child throws a tantrum and throws food at dinner or doesn’t want dinner, what do you do? This child may do well with a “time out”. Allowing a child to go hungry will only increase his/her cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. Even though it may be the easiest thing to do, it will create some unhealthy eating habits in the future.

2. When your child reaches for a bag of chips versus an apple, this is a sign that we parents need to (a) not buy chips, and (b) provide healthy and healthier choices. This is not an opportunity to criticize our child. Let’s face it; we are the ones buying the food!

3. When your child does reach for a healthier snack, this is our opportunity to acknowledge, praise and self-assure them that we have recognized that our child can make healthy choices, and

4. Shopping with your child is a perfect opportunity to educate about healthy choices.

Here are some examples of simple words of encouragement:

“Madonna, I love how you decided to choose an apple over a cupcake; you certainly know how to eat healthy!”
“Julio, I love that you chose oatmeal over frosted flakes for breakfast!”
“Jay Z, I like that I always see you eating a fruit or a vegetable.”
“Kanye, would you prefer oranges or apples?” or
“Beyoncé, would you like oatmeal or cream of wheat for breakfast?”

The positive teaching opportunities are endless!

PLEASE never reward or punish your child with food, and always use kind words of encouragement to reward positive behaviors!

By Cristy Saucedo, DNP, CPNP