Sweet food as a reward – Is it ok?

Please! Try not to use food to reward or punish.

Using sweet food as a reward is a common parenting practice, for example using treats to reward toilet training or good behaviour. Grandparents are particularly guilty of demonstrating love by offering sweet food.

It’s something that is so ingrained as a cultural norm, it may not be something that has been consciously thought about by many caregivers.

Unfortunately, it sends several messages to the child, that if done repeatedly, can have negative consequences long term:

  • It equates sweet food with feelings of love,¬†approval and other emotions.

This can lead to emotional eating, where food is eaten to fill an emotional hole, rather than eating because your body needs it. Try to use non-food based rewards wherever possible.

A small toy or sticker, a trip to the park, or just praise for good behaviour are better options.

  • The reward food takes on a higher value than other foods.

We really want children to value foods high in nutrition equally to sweet foods. Try not to use sweet food as a reward for eating dinner.

If dessert is on offer, then serve it to everyone and allow your kids to enjoy it with no strings attached.

  • Don’t use restriction of sweet food as a punishment for poor behaviour.

For example, telling a child who has been looking forward to a special occasion ice-cream that they aren’t allowed it due to poor behaviour, the link between emotions and eating will be re-enforced in the same way as if you had given the treat as a reward for positive behaviour.

We like to work from the principles of Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility:

You are responsible for the WHAT, WHEN AND WHERE of feeding, the child is responsible for HOW MUCH and WHETHER they eat.

Offer a broad range of healthy, whole foods every day and save the sweets for special occasions.