The Dangers of Rewarding Your Kids with "Treats"
Updated: May 29
A few years ago when my son was only 3, I was waiting for him to finish his karate class when I over heard another mom congratulate her son after a job well done. With a big smile on her face she said, “Good job in class! You deserve a treat after all that hard work. I’m so proud of you. Do you want to go to McDonald’s?” I was dumbfounded and bit my lip. Reward? What kind of a reward was THAT? Rewarding your child with junk??? I could not believe it, especially because we were in a karate school. Kudos to this mom for at least attempting to teach her son the importance of living an active lifestyle. However, all that well intended effort in my opinion was shot to hell with her idea of a “treat”.
We as parents need to think about what kind of message we are sending our children about the food they eat.
We need to be careful about what kind of feelings we are associating the foods that we feed them. How you make them feel about food will set the tone for the rest of their lives. Are you giving them mixed messages?
We need to take the focus out of society that unhealthy food and junk food are “treats”, and that they are only deserved when you “work for them”. This belief system causes guilt which often is related to many eating disorders and yo yo dieting in teens and adults.
We need to educate kids on the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods. We need to help them understand how foods make them feel physically, but also emotionally both good and bad. We need to let them know that yes ice cream can be eaten once in a while, but not as a reward. After all, if it is considered bad for you, then why would something bad for you be a reward? It sends them confusing messages.
Both my husband and I live a very active and healthy lifestyle. At a very young age we have strived to educate our son on nutrition with the philosophy of “education, not deprivation”. We need to teach our kids what foods do to our bodies, both positive and negative, so that when they are old enough to make their own decisions, like anything else, they will be able to make the right ones.
Treats or rewards do not always have to relate to sweets. Some rewards that we have used with our six year old have been:
movie or video night of their choice
extra TV time or iPad time
allowance (he gets it when he meets his goals for the week, month etc.)
playmate with his best friend
You get the picture and yes, we occasionally use food as a reward but healthy food that supports our beliefs that you reward your body with the goodness it deserves, not junk. Some of his favorite food rewards are acai bowls, smoothies, fruit and choice of his favorite food such as steak.
So the next time you want to give yourself a treat…maybe that movie would be a better choice over that cheesecake – lead by example. After all, our children are always watching us.
Geri Lara Berger
FITNESS, HEALTH, LIFESTYLE & COMPETITION PREP COACH