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 more.
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” response 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.”
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 by because although we care about our child’s health, we also really like making our kids happy.
We love it when their faces light up with joy and excitement! They look at us like every one of their dreams 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 that 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 not only from your kids, but also from 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 keep asking, so it’s much easier to change mama’s behavior.
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 children 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 which 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 choose the TV show, 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 specifics of the rule you make aren’t as important as sticking to it with self pride, conviction and consistency. 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 from seeing them happy. Will you let them drink alcohol and smoke pot if it makes them happy? Will you buy them their dream car? Trying to make kids happy all the time will exhaust you and make you, and them, miserable.
The best thing to do is to 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 beg and plead. You get to be a mom you admire, today and 20 years down the road. Make decisions based on what will make you happy and proud of yourself in the long term.
Supermom Kryptonite: “False Joy”
“False Joy” is anything that brings you joy and happiness in the short term, but leaves you feeling yucky in the long term.
Eating sugar can give you a boost of energy and happiness, but in the long term can give you weight gain, increase the chance of disease, and make you sluggish and have low energy.
Be aware of the “false joy” hangover. You have fun shopping and splurging on things you don’t need, but the next day you hide your packages in your trunk feeling regretful and shameful. You stay up late binge-watching an entire season on Netflix, then wake up the next morning feeling exhausted.
When something brings you joy, how do you know if it’s real, long-lasting happiness, or a “false joy” that will leave you feeling hungover? You can tell by imagining how are you going to feel afterward.
Should you splurge on a vacation to Disney World? Of course it will be joyful, it’s the happiest place on Earth! But how will you feel AFTER you get back? Will you be glad you went and spent, or will you be so stressed and in debt that it will leave you feeling hungover? Only you know the answer.
Are you too tired to go to the gym? Would taking a nap bring you more joy than exercise? You’ll know by what you regret later. If you have a cold coming on, and you work out, you’ll feel worse after the gym and wish you hadn’t gone. If, however, you feel more energized after exercise, and are glad you went, then this is you following real, authentic, long-lasting joy.
Supermom Powerboost: Green Smoothies
Drinking your vegetables makes it way easier to get the recommended dietary amount. “Green smoothies” can improve your energy, your mental clarity, boost your immune system, improve digestion, hydrate your skin (making you look younger), and help you lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.
Without the weird textures and smells, vegetable drinks are often more palatable for many kids. The look of them, however, turns people off. There are many varieties that taste quite sweet, so don’t assume they taste bad because they look bad. In order to get kids to drink “green smoothies,” mom needs to drink them without turning up her nose at them.
To get over the look of them, try bringing your ego on board. Chances are, your favorite Hollywood celebrity drinks them (you don’t get that thin by eating french fries) so imagine you are hanging out with your favorite celebrity, sitting on a patio in the sunshine, being admired by passersby and photographed by the paparazzi.
Think about how cool you look drinking your green juice, nibbling on raw carrots and hummus, just like the celebrities do. Imagine that people in your home town are impressed by you, “How does she drink something that looks so gross?”, “She’s must be so strong to not indulge in junk food”, “Her skin is glowing and she looks so young, it must be those green smoothies!”
Our ego is pretty powerful, why not use it to help us get the long term happiness we crave?
“The most important thing is to ENJOY your life. To be happy – it’s all that matters.” Audrey Hepburn