This 'Go-To' Mom Trick Is Teaching Our Kids a Bad Lesson

little boy eating crackers
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Mom and dads hate to see their kids upset. While are there many ways to diffuse a potential temper tantrum or crying jag, there's one remedy that's a go-to for a lot of us -- and, unfortunately, it's probably more unhealthy than we realize. Parents who offer their children snacks as consolation or as a way to soothe negative feelings may be making them more likely to become emotional eaters later in life, according to a new study.

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SO many of us are guilty of this, right? When my children were little and they'd be frustrated that all the swings at the playground were taken or it was raining and we couldn't go out for a bike ride, I'd say, "Let's sit and have some Goldfish!" or "Why don't we go to the library?" (Cue the groaning.) "And then get frozen yogurt?" (Cue the cheering.) My stroller was like a veritable food truck, stocked with consolation crackers and "surprise" lollipops. 

But, according to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, King's College London, University College London, and the University of Leeds, this is the wrong move. 

"Understanding where emotional eating comes from is important because such behavior can increase the risk for being overweight and developing eating disorders," explained Silje Steinsbekk, associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the lead author in the study. "If we can find out what influences the development of emotional eating in young children, parents can be given helpful advice about how to prevent it."

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I don't know why, but we often equate offering food with love and comfort, and while we don't mean any harm, it does make sense that we might be conditioning our kids to reach for a donut or a bag of chips at the first sign of frustration or trouble.

I know I do it. Having a tough day? Why not head out for a nice café au lait? Having a really bad day? Add a glazed donut. 

But, as the study points out, this can create a dangerous snowball effect because when children eat to placate their negative emotions, they're not reaching for apples or bananas. Their choices tend to be high in calories. Thus, if they emotionally overeat frequently, they are also more inclined to be overweight.

"Food may work to calm a child, but the downside is teaching children to rely on food to deal with negative emotions, which can have negative consequences in the long run," added Steinsbekk.

As moms, we know bad eating habits can lead to kids' becoming less active in sports or other extracurriculars because they lack the energy they might have from eating more healthily -- which only leads to feeling more down on yourself. It's a vicious cycle.

More from CafeMom: 10 Processed Foods You Can Feed Kids -- Guilt-Free

It often seems that if you're not giving kids food for consolation, you're offering it in celebration. How many times have I rewarded my kids with food? We go out for ice cream after a piano recital. We order pizzas in recognition of a good report card. Even though I know it's not a great practice, I still do it. 

But, thanks to this study confirming what I was hoping to ignore, I think it's time to offer a hug, kiss, or kind word instead. Just as sweet and delicious -- and, hopefully, good habit-forming as well. 

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