Go Ahead, Bribe Your Kids!

Julie Ryan Evans

eating broccoliBribery works, I knew it! Call it positive reinforcement, reward and punishment, or whatever you will, but bribery is the best tool parents have to make children do what they should. It's often eschewed by the experts and comes with a certain amount of stigma, but a recent study says it can be effective when it comes to getting kids to eat.

The British Psychological Association recently highlighted the large study that found bribing children can result in healthier eating habits. Researchers found that providing a reward to a child who doesn't want to try a food actually helped children grow to accept the food more.

Hear that, parents of picky eaters? Bribe them!

They found that when stickers or verbal praise were used to reward a child for eating a vegetable he or she previously didn't like, the child grew to like it over time. Children who were bribed turned out to eat more of the formerly disliked food later, even when a reward wasn't offered any longer.

Now I've heard that repeated exposure to certain foods will make your child learn to like -- or at least swallow -- them. But what's most surprising to me is the bribes that worked: a sticker or saying "good job." Really, is that all it takes?

Researchers say yes, and that the verbal encouragement may be the most beneficial of all. "Social reward might be particularly valuable in the home because it may help parents avoid being accused of unfairness in offering incentives to a fussy child but not to the child's siblings."

I can see that, but I can't see my kids responding as well to that as I can to my bribe of choice -- dessert. Not as healthy, of course, but it works in our house.

I have never been one to make my children clean their plates, but I do insist that they eat some of everything OR they don't get dessert. I never force them to eat anything, and try not to make a big deal of it, but if they balk, I just say, "That's fine, no dessert" as calmly as I can. Often repeatedly. I can count on one hand the times either of my children has passed on dessert, which means they almost always try what's in front of them.

I'm not sure my son will ever like grapes (weird I know), but he eats them, because he likes a little ice cream more than he doesn't like the grapes. I don't know that stickers will pack the same power, but I'll give it a try. Most of all I'm just glad to get some vindication for my bribing habit.

Do you bribe your children to eat healthy foods? With what do you bribe them?

Image via lindaaslund/Flickr

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