Behold The Power of Treats! "Can I have some ice cream?" "I want another piece of cake!" Sound familiar? Kids seem to want them. All of the time. And, of course they do! We often have made it the source of all happiness and the forbidden fruit at the same time. All of life’s big events seem to have them. Birthday parties, holidays, celebrations have them. We use them as reward for big things and small. Pee pee in the potty? Yay, you get an M&M! Bad day? Lets go get cupcakes. What if you decided on some clear rules around the role of treats in your family, shared those with your child, and then followed through with kindness and firmness at the same time?
Here’s an example of what this looks like in our home. First off, we took some time to talk about our own experiences with treats. We were both pretty clear that we love treats and think they are a normal part of life. We knew from our life experience that if we feel deprived of something, we just want it more. We all pick our battles based on our core values. For us, we felt that battling over treats was not going to be helpful to our children in developing a healthy relationship with food.
We decided when our first child was around 2 and started regularly asking for treats that a small treat each day was absolutely fine. Some days there are birthday parties or special events or some other opportunity for a bigger treat. If we know those are coming up, we make sure not to have bigger treats on the days around then. We very clearly explained this to our two year old, and have had virtually no struggles around treats in our house. We have gone through both children’s toddler and preschool years with a candy bowl in an open cabinet at their level. They know what a small treat is because we have taught them. It is one piece of candy, a few chocolate chips, or a few M&Ms, and they rarely ask for more. On occasion they will ask for something bigger. We take a moment, think about the days ahead and if they will be having any bigger treats in the next day or two and, we can decide together.
There’s another part of the treat power struggle that I see frequently. “You can have dessert when you finish dinner.” I often see this as an invitation for kids to either rush through dinner to get on to dessert or not eat enough dinner just so they can move on to dessert.
This was not a struggle I wanted to spend time on. I wanted meal times to be calm and focused on eating a well-balanced meal together as a family. Again, I also wanted my children to have a healthy relationship with treats. If it was such a big deal that they had to eat something else before getting to dessert, I would be making dessert into a forbidden fruit, and I might as well write a formal invitation for a power struggle. For this reason, our children often have their treats after school. If after school is not a good fit for your family, I would consider putting dessert on the table at the same time as dinner. If desserts are an appropriate size, it shouldn’t matter the order they eat it in.
For more on Mealtimes, check out A Parenting Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters.