Well, here it is the final tip for our series on Raising a Healthy Eater. Did you do all of them? Are you finding that your kiddo is now an amazing eating? Did you learn how to change some of your behaviors to have a better baby foodie? Let me know!
Food is NOT a Reward
Even though this is the last tip of the series, it might be the most important one.
There are two different ways to use food as a reward - to reward for good behavior and to bribe them to get good behavior.
Food as a Reward for Good Behavior
Your kiddo did something amazing! They are excited. You are excited. You want to reward their good behavior so they keep doing it over and over again. You want to reward them with food. It is totally normal. Who doesn't like a nice treat for doing something good?
'Mommy is so proud of you that you picked up your blocks and put them away, let's go get a yummy bowl of ice cream.'
'Look at you using the potty for the first time. Do you want a piece of candy?'
'Wow! I can't believe you stayed quiet the entire time we were in the store. Here's a juice.'
Seems harmless enough. We have certainly all done it before. But when this turns into an everyday cycle, kids only start associating good behavior with receiving a special food treat and will come to expect a treat every time they do something good. Thus creating a dependancy on treats and food as a reward. Just think of all the amazing things your little one is going to do over the weeks/months/years to come.
Now, I am not saying that you should never not reward good behavior with food. But it should be used for a BIG and SPECIAL occasions only. Not on a everyday basis.
Food as a Bribe to get Good Behavior
It is one that even I catch myself using. It's an easy out. Your kiddo is screaming in the middle of the store after they tossed everything out of the cart right onto the floor, or they are laying on the ground at a friends house losing their shit because you won't let them have the Elmo book that their friend is nicely playing with or you are stuck in traffic and they are over the car ride and start screaming at the top of their lungs.
We all have our moments were we just need something to help us get through it all. A magic little weapon. And there is nothing like the power of a special treat or food that will motivate any toddler.
The problem with this is that once you start the bribing, it is hard to stop using it to get good behavior. They are going to expect that once they are laying on the floor crying with limbs flailing about, that they are going to get a special treat. You might even get more bad behavior because they want a special treat, I mean who doesn't want a special sucker, cookie or gold fish. It's a vicious cycle.
Other types of rewards
Besides using food for rewards or bribes, here are some other suggestions:
- Use positive reinforcement when you are rewarding - positive words, high-fives, happy dance, hug, kiss or anything else you can do that will give your little one the positive attention they deserve for doing something amazing.
- Put into play a sticker or reward system - each time they go on the potty, pick up their toys or do something nice to someone else they get a sticker on a poster board. When they get so many stickers they get a fun new toy, book or prize.
- Have the reward be something that they love - 1 more book during bedtime, an extra 10 minutes of playing outdoors before their nap, an extra long bath, a new app for your iPad, a special dance party for the two of you, etc.
- Clearly tell them that whatever behavior they are doing is not acceptable and they need to stop. And wait patiently for them to stop and collect themselves. It might be painful for you to watch this behavior but it probably will only last a couple of minutes. Sometimes asking them if they would like to talk about, if they need a hug or kiss helps, sometimes it just makes them melt down even more.
- Have some items with you that will help distract them, or playing squirrel as we call it. A baggie full of little cheap toys, stickers, books, balloons, etc. These do not need to be new items, something that you had and they have forgotten about generally work just as good as new toys.
- Practice catching yourself before you offer a bride or reward with food. It will take a little time for this not to be your go to option.
- Stock your diaper bag with a little baggie full little toys, stickers or books to distract the little ones when you are in a time of need.
- For one week, reward good actions with positive words, high-fives and a happy dance. Ignore bad behavior completely.