My kids are constantly pressuring me for sweets. They ask for sugary cereal when they get up in the morning, cookies after school, and dessert before they go to bed at night. My daughter tells me other kids tease her when she brings healthy food to school. She wants to bring processed junk food like everyone else. Everywhere we go, people are offering junk to my kids. Lollipops at the bank, donuts after a soccer game, birthday celebrations at school, it’s everywhere! My kids spot it, start begging for it, and keep pressuring me until I give in or yell. It’s been happening more lately where I get so sick of their constant asking and begging that I scream, yell, and throw a frickin’ tantrum. How can I find peace while living with sugar crazed kids in a sugar crazed culture? Lisa
You teach your kids how to treat you. Intermittent reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward (or punishment) is handed out in random intervals. Gambling is an example of intermittent reinforcement. You never know when you are going to win and that anticipation keeps you coming up back for me.
In Lisa’s case, she is unknowingly reinforcing her kids’ begging and pleading behavior, by intermittently giving in and saying yes. If she said yes, right away, every time, there would be no need for begging. If she said no, every time they asked for sweets, they would get bored and stop asking. Without realizing it, Lisa has created a scenario where her kids are randomly rewarded for their begging and pleading. Not only because intermittent reinforcement can be addictive, but because the reward is sugar, which releases dopamine, the reward chemical in the child’s brain. This floods the brain with feel good chemicals making the “sugar high” a fabulous reward and worth the occasional “no” or mommy temper tantrum.
For Lisa to get her kids to stop begging for sugar, and for her to stop yelling, she needs to pick a rule (any rule) and stay consistent with reinforcing it. When she creates a boring situation for the kids where they don’t get rewarded for asking Mom for sweets, they will stop asking. She can yell less, by saying no more.
Life Coaching Answer (or….why is this so hard to do)
It sounds like Lisa is battling something many moms struggle with, balancing “doing the right thing” with “making our kids happy”. Americans eat way too much sugar. Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. Inflammation is the root of disease. Since we care about our children’s health, the “right thing to do” is to limit sugar intake. Purchase, prepare, pack and serve healthy foods so our kids will be healthy. Whatever everyone else wants to do, is their business. If other kid’s parents have different values, so be it. If banks and dry cleaners want to offer candy to your kids, you can let your kid decide, or practice saying a polite “no thank you.” Consistency and conviction are key to making this become a non-issue.
Those two things are hard to come because although we care about our child’s health, we also really like making our kids happy. We love it when their face lights up with joy and excitement! They look at us like every dream came true in the form of a frosted cookie. When WE grant permission for a sugary sweet, then we are the givers of joy and happiness and they know it. Then, WE get a little hit of dopamine! The reward center in our brain goes off saying, “more of this please!” We get hooked on being the source and provider of joy. This makes us want to hang on to all decision making power so we can bathe in mutual happiness and dopamine with our sugar eating kids.
When you’ve got two competing beliefs like this, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of frustration. Leading to what I like to call, “the exploding doormat”. You get so tired of the begging and pleading from your kids, but also the back and forth negotiations of these two competing voices, that you end up exploding and yelling out of frustration. You just want your kids to STOP ASKING so you don’t have to listen to the negotiations going on inside your head. But because of the random reinforcement, your kids have been trained to ask so it’s easier to change mama’s behavior at this point.
In order to quiet these voices, mama needs to make a decision ahead of time. Ever wonder why some moms don’t struggle with this problem at all? It’s because they have made a decision. Here are some examples of decisions moms have communicated to their child to stop the sugar battle once and for all.
- You can have ONE treat per day. If you want that first thing in the morning, fine. If someone offers you candy later, you can accept it, but you have to save it for the next day. Or you can collect treats all day long then at night, choose one.
- I am not going to monitor your sugar intake anymore. If you eat so much that you feel sick and throw up, then maybe you will learn. This is your opportunity to learn foods make your body feel the best. If, however, you are so full of junk that you stop eating the healthy food I am providing for you, then I will take the responsibility back.
- No treats during the week, we save that for weekends.
- You’ve got to earn your desserts. Score a goal, win a donut. Let your brother go first, earn some fruit snacks. Clean the bathroom, we’ll bake cookies. Eat your vegetables, get some ice cream. Do something you are scared to do like an oral report or trying out for the school play, win a trip to Starbucks.
The rule you make isn’t as important as sticking to it with self pride, conviction and consistency. You want to think about 20 years from now, what are the results you will get from the two voices. The “I want my kids to be healthy” voice will result in healthier kids, with them respecting your authority and POSSIBLY having good boundaries with themselves and their eating.
The “I want to make my kids to be happy” voice will struggle when adolescence hits and they are grumpy and cranky. All the sugar in the world won’t turn that around but you’ll bend yourself backward trying to get that feel good dopamine hit of seeing them happy. Will you let them drink alcohol and smoke pot if it makes them happy? Will you buy them their dream car? Kids aren’t supposed to be happy all the time so trying to make them so will exhaust you and make you, and them, miserable.
The best thing to do is focus on making YOU happy, not your kids. If you are tired of yelling and being an “exploding doormat” then focus on making decisions YOU feel good about. When you have a very clear NO, there’s no need for yelling, no matter how much kids be and plead. You get to be a mom you admire, today and 20 years down the road. Happiness is fleeting, make decisions based what will make you proud of YOURSELF in the long term.