Why shouldn’t we reward or punish our children with food?

In consultation I find that sometimes parents punish or reward their children with food. “If you don’t behave, you won’t come to dinner with us”, “until you calm down you will stay in your room without having dinner”, “if you behave well, I’ll give you a cookie”, “If you don’t do your homework today, you’re going to have to eat some vegetables.”

We also often fill our children’s boredom with cookies, popcorn or candy – that is, processed foods and sugars, which are a direct reward for our body.

In such cases what we do is teach our children to deal with their emotions through food and associate some foods as negative and others as positive. This type of punishment is a serious mistake that can lead to long term problems. We will make behavior conditional on the privilege of eating candy or simply eating.

    Why it’s not good to punish or reward children with food

    Food is a basic need and part of a child’s routine. Food should not be viewed as a reward that is part of a negotiation, such as choosing a dessert. It can be a privilege that we can give to our child, who chooses the weekend among three desserts that we offer.

    We must keep in mind that food is mainly used to feed and that as parents, it is a duty that we must fulfill. Food is not a regulator of stress, anxiety, or the negative emotions that make us feel bad. If we make this association in children, it can lead to future problems.

    If our child is restless, we cannot give him a cookie to last longer without ‘disturbing’, if our child is crying in the middle of a supermarket, we cannot give him a cookie to calm him down, if our child is. bored, the solution is not to give him a few hugs …

    With this act we send our son different implicit messages: “I am not available for you, your discomfort bothers me and I cannot, mother or father are only good with you when you are well, in the face of discomfort the solution is to eat to be able to calm down down “… We ended up promoting long-term emotional hunger, increasing the risk of overweight and eating disorders.

      The psychological effects of this educational strategy

      What happens when we offer or eliminate food based on our child’s behavior? We anesthetize, suppress and distract our children’s negative emotional states.

      Children must be restless, bored and blamed and of course, it is we who must calm our children because we are their source of regulating emotions. As they learn to regulate children’s emotions, they will regulate them in adulthood.

      A child who has calmed down on food, how do you deal with adult emotions? Probably in any situation that is overwhelming or where you don’t have the management resources to do, what it will do is ease the discomfort by going to the fridge.

      When we implement this type of behavior, we usually don’t resort to healthy foods like fruits or vegetables, but like I said earlier, we resort to foods high in fat and sugar. . What happens after ingestion? In the short term the grip is calm, but in the long term there is guilt for the binge.

      If we learn from childhood that the intake calms down, it will be a very difficult circle to break. By using candy or transformed into prizes, we are not helping the little ones. These are unhealthy foods.

      If we want the behavior of our children to be good, it is better not to establish a relation between the behavior and this type of food because we will give 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 one way or another and how. The best price will be verbal and emotional reinforcement.

      An inappropriate type of punishment

      Punishing children by eating foods that they do not like (usually fish, vegetables or fruit) does not solve the initial problem and does not promote the child’s feeding. What will happen is that a greater reprimand will appear when the child has to eat this dish that he likes so little. Also, if they eat this type of food as a punishment, we will get even less that they like it because it will become something aversive.

      Not including fish, vegetables or fruit in the child’s diet is not an option, Little by little, we must introduce. Sometimes, for the sake of not fighting or for the sake of comfort for ourselves, we have given up and accepted that the child would not want to eat it, but it is important to change.

      If we associate the misconduct or behavior of our child with a punishment in which he has to eat food that he does not like, he will associate that food with something bad and negative, so that he does not will not want to incorporate this food into their diet. Rather, it will happen with prizes like candy and candy. 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 lunch or dinner time becomes a pleasant time with the family, In which it is not colored by the discussions or is a moment of punishment. In this way, no negative association will be established with food intake.


      I always say that there are two important things we shouldn’t punish our children with: food and affection. The absence of both can lead to long-term emotional problems for them.

      When defining a consequence, it is important that the consequence chosen is related to the behavior that the child has implemented. For example, imagine our son started playing with a water bottle that he spilled on the floor and we punish him by telling him that tonight he will eat tender beans. The child gets angry, cries, screams, while we collect all the spilled water.

      Also, at dinner time and when you have to take the beans, the Rebbe will come back.. What did the child learn from the situation? Has the original problem been resolved? Have we taught the child what to do in this situation? In such a situation, the child will not find a relation between the realized behavior and the consequence.

      It is important that the consequence is established immediately with the behavior and is related. In this case, if the child spilled all the water, we will have to teach him how to collect and do it. That something that has been fun for him becomes something a little more tedious to pick up. In this case, if we teach the child to repair these negative behaviors put in place.

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