You are a parent and you have a secret up your sleeve. You know how to get your child to eat food: you bribe him with dessert.
Except that (1) it’s not a secret (as most parents engage in this practice) and (2) it’s a horrible idea.
What’s worse, thanks to your “brilliant” idea, your child doesn’t seem to care for real food anymore. He doesn’t eat! He just pokes around in his plate… until you just cave in and fork over the dessert.
If you have a child with eating problems, here’s something no one told you:
Bribe your child with dessert ONLY if you want to wreck his relationship with food for life.
Sure you want to keep doing that?
I didn’t think so.
Every time you bribe your child with dessert, you send him this powerful message: real food is boring and dessert is fun. Dessert is where it’s at. Dessert is the prize!
Given this powerful message, why would your kid care for real food? He’s no dummy.
Your Child Is Not The Problem
Now, this is where it gets more interesting (if not disturbing). Do you know why most parents reward their children with desserts?
Because they too, deep down, believe that dessert is the prize and that real food is, well, boring. They are merely passing on their beliefs to their children, albeit through their conduct and their actions.
Still think your child is the problem?
Alright, ok, you get it. Question is what should you do?
Simple. Break the connection between meal and dessert. Stop portraying dessert as the prize. But how?
Stop rewarding your child with dessert.
“Too late. He’s already hooked on ’em,” I can hear you shout.
Will your child throw a fit if you now stop rewarding him with desserts? Yes. Will he hate you for it? Most likely. Is it hopeless? It’d certainly feel that way.
But take heart. All you have to do is suffer through it for a little while, but know this: your child will come around. No need to chastise or scold; just be firm.
Sweeter Than Dessert
Children everywhere (and their adult counterparts) are hardwired for the sweet taste. And yet, there’s something sweeter than dessert—something no child can resist. Wanna guess what that is?
That’s right, affection.
If you must reward your child, do it not sugary desserts—but with affection. (Not that you should withhold your affection if your child doesn’t eat.)
You know what affection is, but can you define it?
Affection is nothing but sweet attention that one human being bestows upon another.
At the end of the day, the sweetest dessert for a child is his parent’s attention. Sugary desserts are just a poor substitute for quality attention. If attention is the greatest gift you can give another human being, why would children be the exception?
By the by, there’s another reason why you shouldn’t reward your child (or for that matter you) with dessert: it’s poor food combining. Though customary, it’s not smart to end your meal on a sweet note.
But that’s another can of worms, which is best saved for ‘nother discussion. Meanwhile, if you have a sweet tooth and love desserts, try having ’em before your meals.