Parenting can be full of several challenges, and one challenge is raising kids with a healthy attitude and appreciation towards food and nutrition—particularly sweets. Kids love sweets, but it’s important to practice a healthy balance.
“The most important thing to remember when it comes to giving or not giving your kids sweets is: don’t make them a big deal,” said Dr. Lianna Bennett, Psy.D, a Clinical Psychologist from Northern Virginia. “We know from a neurochemical perspective that sugar can be very addicting. Parents are crucial in helping their child form a healthy relationship with food— including sweets and treats.”
In order to practice a healthy relationship with food, here are a few tips on how parents can help their children form a healthy attitude toward sweets. It’s also worth noting that every child is different, and for some kids managing the sugar in their diet is a crucial part of keeping them healthy!
It’s not a bribe: When we use the promise of dessert to get our child to eat broccoli, we teach them that broccoli is bad and only dessert is good. We teach them that sugar and sweets are a reward for normal behavior. Food can sometimes be an appropriate reward, for example giving one or two M&M’s for toilet training. But we want to make sure that we vary the rewards we use and that they are not primarily food based. “We already have such an emotional connection with food, so we don’t need to be creating connections for kids that could be unhelpful later in life,” Dr. Bennett explained.
It’s not number one: Ice cream is a fine and delicious treat, but we don't want to make treats the highlight of their day. We should be aware of how we talk about our food. It’s normal to delight in the food we eat, and meals can be a wonderful time for bonding and companionship, but dessert shouldn't be the only food we are excited about. “Kids pick up our attitudes toward food, so show your kids that exploring new and different foods can be exciting,” Bennett recommended.
Teach coping that doesn’t involve sugar: Most trips to the doctors end with a lollipop for good behavior. This creates the idea that if we experience something stressful, food makes us feel better-- but this can create an unhealthy attachment. “Food should be something that adds pleasure to life, not our means of coping with life,” she added.
Don’t deprive either: It’s the Romeo-Juliet effect; when you tell a kid that he can’t have something, he will suddenly want it more than anything in the world. Using sweet deprivation as a punishment can lead to kids to connect the loss of sweets with a bad attitude.
The bottom line? Cut the drama out of the sweets. Sweets are wonderful, but in order to have a balanced appreciation for the treats, it’s best to cut the drama and help kids realize that they’re not that big of a deal.