Using Bribes to get your child to eat.
Using bribes is something most parents we work with have resorted to get their child to eat foods. It
is usually done out of desperation and the desire for their child to eat a healthier diet. However, it
often doesn’t work and is not a long-term solution.
For a child to want to eat a new food they need to feel safe and comfortable around the food. This
will be easier to achieve if they recognise something in the food which is similar to foods, they
already eat e.g., one of the first vegetable we often work on is homemade parsnip crisps. Most
children we work with eat a beige diet of dry and crunchy foods. Parsnip crisps are beige, dry, and
crunchy therefore the child is likely to feel comfortable around that food and pick it up and explore
What Magnificent Munchers can do to help stop with bribing your child to eat:
At Magnificent Munchers we talk to the children about food being food. When children are working
with us, they are usually eating less than 20 foods in their diet. Our aim is to increase that food
range. We therefore do not want children to be thinking of food as good or bad, we want them to
feel comfortable around all food and enjoy a wide range. We don’t think of foods as breakfast, lunch
or dinner foods or desserts as treats. Food is food and some foods we need a lot of and some not so
much. Our aim is for children to feel relaxed at mealtimes and learn to eat foods at their pace and
for their own volition.
We don’t want to think in terms of punishment or rewards when it comes to mealtimes as we need
them to feel relaxed at the table. Often there is a negative cycle in play at mealtimes whereby the
child and parent begin to feel anxious before the meal has even started. The parent’s anxiety is high
as they often feel frustrated at mealtimes as they have prepared food that their child often refuses
to try, and they are worried about the nutritional content of the food their child is eating as their
diet is limited. This is often when bribing is used in a desperate attempt to get the child to eat
How do parents bribe children:
The child also feels anxious about coming to the table as they will be faced with food, they may find
disgusting in terms of look and smell. They may be hungry and feel frustrated that there is no food
on the table they feel they can eat.
Usually, parents resort to bribes either because they want their child to eat more volume of food or
eat a particular food e.g., vegetables. Common bribes I hear are:
Have your broccoli and you can have dessert
Eat this and I will pay you a £1
Try this and you can watch the TV
Eat this for Daddy/Mummy/Granny
If you don’t eat this there will be nothing else to eat
If you don’t eat this now you will have it for the next meal.
Why bribes don’t work:
Bribes don’t work as a long-term solution because they are giving out the wrong message and
actually increasing the child’s stress and anxiety with the target food. By bribing your child to eat a
food it is like saying “I know that food is horrible so you must need a reward for eating it” you are confirming that food is not tasty but the bribe food is. Often dessert is being used as the reward
which is therefore placing greater value on dessert foods than the savoury foods.
Using Bribes to get your child to eat.
The child will be thinking negatively about the target food the whole time they have to sit in front of
it. The target food is the barrier in the way of them getting the thing they want. The negative
feelings towards the target food have just increased and will re surface each time it is seen. If the
bribe does work and the child eats the target food, it is very unlikely to have been a pleasurable
experience therefore again negativity of that food has increased.
It is very unlikely that when the
target food is placed in front of them again that they will eat it and if they do, they are likely to
demand a bigger bribe as they recall the unpleasant experience of the last time, they ate it. The
bribes often must get bigger and bigger. It often quickly gets to the point where no bribe is great
enough for them to eat the food.
Anxiety and Stress:
If you imagine sitting in front of a plate of food that you consider repulsive. You are very quickly
going to feel stressed and anxious. The longer you sit there and the more the pressure to eat that
food increases the more your anxiety increases.
As anxiety and stress is increased stress hormones
are released and the child is likely to be experiencing a fight or flight response. At this point their
appetite will be supressed, their mouth will become drier, digestion slows down and their sensory
system is likely to more highly aroused. The dislike for the target food has likely just been increased.
At Magnificent Munchers we work at the child’s pace when introducing new foods. We make food
fun and start work on increasing the range of familiar and comfortable foods for the child. We think
of food as food rather than in terms of set foods for set meals.
We work with parents to give them strategies at mealtimes which doesn’t include using food for rewards or punishments. We work on strategies which reduce anxiety and stress for both parent and child.
Using bribes to get child to eat do not work in the long term.
Jacqueline Parkinson is a Children’s Occupational Therapist (OT) and the owner of Magnificent Munchers. She is based in Harpenden Hertfordshire. She worked in the NHS as a Children’s OT in the community for 22 years developing an interest in children’s eating difficulties in 2014 when she won the trusts “Dragon Den” competition using the prize money to set up a time limited multidisciplinary group for children on limited diets.
In 2017 Magnificent Munchers was born and now offers both group and individual sessions for children with typically less than 20 foods in their diet. Jacqueline has a team of Health Professionals working with her including a Speech and Language Therapist, Dietician, Mindfulness coach, First Aider and two therapy assistants.
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