In the first critical situation, parents are inclined to offer sugary drinks to their child as a “bribe” in order to control their behavior (i.e., to stop the child from crying, a parent offers a chocolate bar). However, behaving this way has been shown to increase children’s desire for sugar. An alternate, more effective nonfood reward is to verbally praise, smile, clap, hug the child or implement a token system (i.e., create a chart whereby the child can collect tokens for every good behavior, once the child reaches a certain number of tokens, they receive a reward).
In the second critical situation where food culture and family routines impact foods offered, it is more useful to address the food culture rather than to restrict the child from sweets. The “Whole Family Approach” is an effective intervention to tackle the food culture of the family. It entails involving the whole family in setting goals, creating plans, and achieving these goals together. In this case, the goal is to reduce sugar consumption. Therefore, family members will work together to support each other in gradually cutting out sugary foods from their daily meals. Similarly, in the third critical situation where parents feed their child sweets because they perceive the child as underweight, it is difficult to abruptly cut off sweet foods from the child’s diet. Restriction is actually counter-productive and increases a child’s interest in restricted foods. Rather, it is more helpful to implement the “Whole Family Approach” in order to address household food environment instead of restricting the child’s diet.
An additional helpful approach is for parents to make a list of which foods they want to offer, and allow the child to decide from the list which food he/she would like to eat. Giving children the power to choose which foods they would like to eat, from the healthy list created by the parents, encourages their autonomy and gives them a sense of control. This approach satisfies the needs of both the child and parent. Moreover, following an authoritative parenting style (characterized by high warmth, responsiveness, and clear communication of good behaviors) has been shown to be the most effective approach in addressing eating problems in children.
In situations of high parental stress, time constraint, and competing demands, it is helpful to resort to strategies that increase family resilience. Creating family routines in the household and improving communication and collaboration between both parents is an effective tool to control food choices.
Moore, D. A., Goodwin, T. L., Brocklehurst, P. R., Armitage, C. J., & Glenny, A. M. (2017). When are caregivers more likely to offer sugary drinks and snacks to infants? A qualitative thematic synthesis. Qualitative health research, 27(1), 74-88.