[Read the transcript below]
Now this one goes out to all the parents out there.
I have been reading a lot of advice telling us that we should never use food as a reward for kids, or to distract them from difficult feelings.
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think that that’s ridiculous.
I mean food as a reward, food as a distraction, it works. Why does it work? Because food can be extremely pleasurable.
Anybody who’s spent a long time around kids will know that a little bit of chocolate can go a long way to keeping Johnny quiet in the back seat and to ease the stress of a flu jab. From the very first moment we come into the world our cries of hunger are responded to by our primary caregiver in the form of cuddles and milk. That milk relieves our pain, our hunger and immediately becomes associated with cuddles and with embraces. So it’s perfectly natural, it’s primitive, that food become associated with expressions of love and care. And this can most certainly be leveraged by parents to get our kids to do what we want and to help ease the pain of difficult things in life.
Now, by no means, should food be the only way you reward or distract your children.
Food should not be the go-to any time you want to treat them or distract them from difficult feelings. Because if food becomes the only way in which you can express love and care then your children run the risk of becoming one trick ponies of only knowing one way in which to treat themselves or to calm themselves.
And it’s then that they run the risk of developing unhealthy relationships with food.
So how can you find that balance? What can you do?
Well, you just have to teach your children a variety of ways of self-soothing and rewarding themselves. These lessons are among the most important for adult psychological health.
So it’s really worth taking some time to think about how you do this with yourself and with your family. I mean along with ice cream and lollies, what do you do to self-soothe? What do you do to reward yourself?
I mean with regards to rewards and treats never underestimate the power of a good cuddle or a good talk. You can also take them to a movie. Buy them a book. Buy them a comic, or that coveted video game. All of these things are really effective rewards.
As for self-soothing, kids need to learn that painful feelings need not be dangerous. And that with time they will pass through us. Breathing. Counting to ten. Playing an instrument. Taking a bath. And of course, talking it through with them. Connecting and cuddling. These are all beautiful ways of calming down.
And it’s our job, as parents, to impart these skills to our kids so they can grow into healthy adults.
So, is it okay to reward or distract your kids with food?
Yes, it is, but not all the time. Teach your kids a variety of ways of rewarding themselves and soothing themselves so that you can send them out into the world armed not only with a hammer, but a toolbox of ways to manage whatever life throws them.