The Offending Statement
"If you behave, I'll take you to Dunkin' Donuts."
Going to the doctor's office isn't exactly a delight for your kid, and sometimes she may need a little incentive to persuade her to come in. So what's wrong with promising a sweet treat?
Why We Don't Want to Hear It
Have we learned nothing from the pediatric obesity epidemic? Offering food as a reward or using it as a disciplining tool is a bad idea. Let's face it: Our kids are in trouble. About 15 percent of American children are obese, which means their weight is dramatically and dangerously disproportionate to their height. Obesity is no minor matter; the increased risks of diabetes and hyperlipidemia are very real for the overweight. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently recommended screening selected 2-year-olds for high cholesterol. Yikes!
Using treats to motivate kids sets them up for a lifetime of bad eating habits and raises the risk of having children that slip into the danger zone.
What You Should Say
Consider using some creative, non-food prizes to reward good behavior. Offer special time together; try extra reading at bedtime, a date alone with Mommy, or a trip to the book store or library. Maybe bonus playtime outside or a trip to the park? Build good habits by providing children with constructive rewards that they will appreciate.
Also, don't forget that young children live to please their parents. Sometimes a simple "I'm so proud of you!" goes a long way. Try to catch your child doing something good. Every parent intends to bestow praise on their kids, but none of us does it nearly enough. Remember, treats and sweets only promote poor eating choices. Talk to your doctor about your child's weight and how you can promote healthy eating habits.
Helping Parents Deal
It may seem difficult to break this habit and change your behavior because junk food is a quick, inexpensive, and often effective method for getting kids to behave, but there are other—healthier!—ways to inspire your children (or just keep 'em in line).
Using sweets as a reward at home, at school, and at the doctor's office is part of the reason we are seeing an epidemic of overweight American children. Few families are immune—even I've been there: Out of the blue, my oldest child zipped right up into the obese zone of his growth curve. My wife and I were dumbfounded; how could this have happened? Once we started the self-examination process it became evident. We were offering an M&M for using the potty, stopping at Dairy Queen to reward sharing with a sibling, throwing a doughnut party at preschool that the class "earned." We were totally focused on junk food. Are you in the same boat?
Also, a trip to Dunkin' Donuts often is not just a reward for little Ashley, it means a French Vanilla Latte for Mommy or Daddy, too. Are you enticing your kids with sweets partly an excuse to quench your cravings?
It takes but a quick scan of the nutritional value of a doughnut to see why it should be erased as a food stop for your children—and for you. There is no better reason than your child's health to take a good look at your own eating habits and how they are affecting your kids.