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Food “rules,” how it looks in real life.

Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Blog Posts | 11 comments

A couple things have come up recently with M and the nuances of “healthy feeding” that got me thinking.  I have heard criticism of the model I work in, in that it is “too rigid” or has too many rules. I would say, “no.” The division of responsibility, the structure, the way we handle sweets are general guidelines that make for mostly pleasant meals and snacks, and a kid who learns to self-regulate and learns to eat a variety of foods. It has helped me approach feeding and be confident in how I feed my daughter, how to respond to whining for treats etc. But, there is nuance. Read on.

Experts in feeding agree, “don’t reward kids with food” and “don’t manage behavior with food or treats,” but I probably have done, and will do both again. (Note, this was written the day before my surprise appendectomy, so things didn’t quite happen this way, but the point is the same…)

On moving day (in about 2 weeks- 2 days!) I am planning a celebratory DQ outing to top off what will be a stressful day. I want M to have something to look forward to, to have a nice treat and then off to our new apartment where there will likely be a present waiting on her new bed. (She is expressing a little sadness and trepidation about moving- makes sense, this is the only home she knows.)

Is it a reward? Is it OK?

In this case, to me it’s not a reward. It’s not being used to control her behavior, as in, “If you’re good all day, we can go to Dairy Queen,” or “you did so well at school you can have Dairy Queen,” or “our team won the softball game, lets have ice-cream!” (Again, it’s nuance, a trip for ice-cream after a game is great, maybe not every game or practice, and not tied to winning or losing?)

And, she’ll have her first sleep-over the night before the new-member ceremony at our church, and you know what? I am going to manage her tired, whiny self with some hard candy that she can suck on during the ceremony (we have to sit in the front of the church and go up on the stage for a flower…) So, I’m managing her behavior with candy. I think this too, is OK. We are moving the following week, will need kid-free time to finish packing and garage-selling items and I know she won’t get great sleep, and I know what that means! It’s not every Sunday for church, or every trip to the grocery store, or every doctor’s visit. Also, some of these examples are appropriate with a 2 year old, but not a twelve year old. Read on…

I got her through her first 3 or so haircuts with suckers… I admit it! Sucker after the cut? No no! During– and then there was no more squirming and screaming… Horrible-tasting penicillin for those 3 strep-throats? A dum-dum after to make the taste go away. Eye drops at 22 months? Suckers again. I will even admit in my desperation to trying candy with potty-training, but that didn’t work. (Oy, did that not work. They say you can’t make a kid eat or poop, and they were right!)

So, there you have it, my confessions. In parenting, there are few hard and fast “rules.” (Other than the obvious about cruelty or neglect, or in feeding not to force a child to eat…)  There are times when I let my kiddo have sweets between meals (not often, but you saw some examples above) there are times when I let her eat sooner than the 3-4 hours structure, but those times are not too often either. We eat pretty much every breakfast and dinner together, I’d sit with her for lunch and snacks too when we were at home all day, we hold to the structure and sweets strategies most days, and it’s going well. So, if you bribe your kid with a sucker to get a haircut, don’t sweat it. If you bribe him with a sucker every day to get his shoes on, or to go to bed, or do his homework,  you might want to re-evaluate.

Does that make sense?

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  1. Jess

    This made me laugh– my son was a on-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming-no-I-won’t -take-my-medicine kid until we let him pick out some gummy worms that would be his reward for swallowing his antibiotics (he doesn’t have to take medicine all that often, so maybe he partially grew out of it, too). Still, the gummy worms were like magic. I’m a person who vowed I would never-ever bribe my kids with food, but I think the very occasional, judicious use of a gummy worm here and there makes life a lot easier.

  2. AmandaL

    As a funny aside, the penicillin we have to give to the cats ALSO comes in bubblegum flavors. Apparently, if you want it to taste like chicken that costs extra and is special-order only. You can imagine how well the cats tolerate taking their meds.

  3. Twistie

    Heck, I’m forty eight and I have been known in the last six months to eat something that tastes good immediately after taking a nasty-tasting (but pretty effective and alcohol-free) cough medicine! Why should I ask a small child to do what I won’t when dealing with a revolting but necessary taste?

    And we all need an occasional break. The problem isn’t with a once in a while treat. I absolutely agree that using sweets as a regular reward for behavior or withholding them as punishment would be a bad idea. But sometimes you just need to get through the next five minutes, or something really exceptional has happened. I think your examples are entirely valid.

    Oh, and I well remember getting ice cream after a couple of traumatic dental appointments as a kid. It didn’t make me demand ice cream every time I behaved well or saw a medical professional.

  4. meerkat

    Using a candy to get rid of a horrible medicine taste seems perfectly reasonable to me. How else are you going to overwrite the taste? Assuming the taste bothers you, not doing something like that would seem needlessly punishing to me. (I had this horrible banana-flavored medicine, so I ate a piece of chocolate after; chocolate makes banana delicious.)

    • Ashley

      Seriously. I’ve used food to chase medicine myself (some brands of metformin are NASTY!) and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ve run into parents who have a problem with giving their children anything caloric outside of a meal, even if that caloric item is breastmilk. Because, you know, calories=bad. I feel bad for their kids who have to take nasty medicine, or never get any treats because OMG calories!

  5. sannanina

    Horrible-tasting penicillin for those 3 strep-throats? A dum-dum after to make the taste go away.

    Do you have that terrible pink stuff that is supposedly flavored with something and the flavor only makes it more disgusting in the US? The very first time I had to take it as a kid I must have been five or so. We were on vacation with our camper and my mum says I spit it out right away and basically screamed so loud that the whole campground heard it. I don’t remember that part. I do remember, however, that afterwards she developed a technique to give me a table spoon of apple sauce right after I had swallowed the penicillin and that helped tremendously. I think every adult who does not approve of giving kids sweets or apple sauce or whatever after taking penicillin should have to take penicillin syrup instead of tablets the next time THEY need an antibiotic. I think they would change their mind pretty quickly.

    • katja

      I agree! I remember in med school during our peds rotation, we had to taste test all the meds. The steroid liquids were the worst! Really helped with the empathy of these families who have to get meds down the kids regularly. Also, if you can syringe it towards the back of the tongue, have it cold if possible, and chase with something, it helps! We haven’t had to do meds for awhile, but the last time, I think we used just water and she was OK. Again, lots of these tricks are temporary. Moms of kids with chronic illness and daily meds, what do you do??

      • Nicole

        Ah, oral steroids. The first time our asthmatic son was prescribed these, he threw them up all over our dining room. Our pediatrician told us the next morning that’s why they had given them to us to take home from the ER–they didn’t want the cleanup there. She always prescribed the meds with ice cream–“Here’s your prescription slip and here’s your official doctor’s permission to let him eat ice cream whenever he has to take a dose. Even at breakfast.” :) I was sorry to see her move away.

  6. AmandaL

    Thank you for sharing this… my litt boy, at 4, is still winning the fight against using the potty for pooping, and the only way we have been able to get him to comply is with a hershey kiss as a reward. Finally he’s agreed to be potty trained, and he mostly doesn’t ask for th chocolate any more, although when he does we hand one over (and incorporate them into snacks and desserts so it’s not JUST a potty thing). desperate times, desperate measures! Your post has really helped me relax about it. thank you!

    • katja

      I am so glad. Being relaxed about feeding is so critical, and yes desperate times do call for desperate measures. What is so hard is parents who feel desperate because a child is small in size, and then they fall into bribes, rewards, etc for everything, or primarily as a way to get kids to eat anything. (Frankly, parents pressure with feeding because it often works-in the short term. A bribe might get your kid to eat a bite of broccoli tonight, but she isn’t learning to like broccoli…) It can be a slippery slope, so I feel as long as we are approaching these thorny issues with our eyes open, with care to have a plan to get back on track and without losing the big picture, occasionally breaking the “rules” is OK… Pooping is tricky! Glad it seems to be working!