How to Say “NO” without Saying “NO”: Managing your Child’s Frequent Requests for Junk Food
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There is a battle that every parent would love to avoid, yet it plays out (sometimes several times each day) in homes everywhere. It goes something like this:
The child knows about the chips in the pantry and asks the parent (or other adult) for some. The adult says “no” and the child gets upset (sometimes VERY upset). The parent feels bad for upsetting their child and will sometimes give in because truthfully it can be REALLY hard to deal with this situation.
The child knows about the chips in the pantry and chooses NOT to ask if they may have some. Instead, the child helps himself or herself to the chips. So as not to get caught, the child might bring the chips to their room. While cleaning up the parent often finds empty wrappers and confronts the child about sneaking food. They argue and everyone feels bad.
What to Do?
Some would suggest to simply STOP buying junk foods. Problem solved. If there are no chips or sugary cereals or cookies around then the child will stop asking for these items and there will be nothing to sneak.
Not so fast! While this approach may seem like a good solution, kids who are allowed NO treats often overeat them when they can.
Many families have eliminated the dreaded junk food battles without taking an all or nothing approach. Consider these simple strategies in your own home:
Buy just enough ice cream or cookies to serve the whole family for dessert but with NO left overs. This way everyone gets to enjoy a serving of a favorite sweet treat but without the option of additional snacking later on.
Establish the rule that children MUST check in with the adult when they would like to eat a snack. The adult can help the child figure out if he or she is actually hungry. If not, the adult can help the child to find something to do other than eat. Children who are allowed to self-access food and treats may develop some unhealthy eating habits. For example they may learn to use food and treats as a solution for boredom, loneliness, anger, etc.
Consider serving a favorite type of chip as the carbohydrate portion of an occasional meal. By contrast, when chips are used as a snack it can be VERY hard to stop eating them.
Favorite treats are enticing enough without using them as a reward! Children need to be recognized for good behavior and for working hard at school, etc. but consider non - food rewards instead of candy or spicy chips. Some ideas might be: a special outing, a bit of money, extra screen time or even stickers (which may be earned and later redeemed for something that cannot be eaten).
Do not bring a treat item into the home for some of the children and then expect the other children to stay away from it. This is not only unfair but hurtful. Children will often find the “need” to sneak treats when they are singled out this way.
Written by Jenny Favret, MS, RD,LDN
Nutritionist, Duke Pediatrics Healthy Lifestyles Program