As reported by Good.is, a new study published in Pyschological Science has found that young kids who were bribed with a physical reward (in this case, a sticker) were more likely eat vegetables they didn’t like, even three months after the study, than kids who’d been lavishly praised for eating hated vegetables or those who’d been simply asked to try them.
In a write-up of the study by the Boston Globe, a professor who has studied motivational techniques agrees that tangible rewards are a good idea in this context and suggests letting your kid choose the prize he or she wants for eating vegetables, like “a few selections from the LEGO catalogue.”
While I can’t access the full study online, I’ll take the researchers at their word that a sticker led to more veggie-eating. Nonetheless, I generally dislike the idea of “bribing” kids for anything, both for philosophical reasons and because, in my experience as a parent, bribery often backfires. Back when my daughter was a toddler, I used tangible rewards now and then to curb or promote various behaviors, and I will never forget the day when she accomplished some little toddler task for the first time and instead of feeling inherently proud of herself, she turned to me and asked, “What do I get for it?”
That was the last day rewards of that sort were used in the TLT household.
I also dislike the message bribery might send in this context — i.e., this food is so distasteful that we have to give you something to induce you to eat it. In other words, kids are clued into the fact that no one is offering a sticker to get them to eat ice cream. I would rather have my kids approach vegetables slowly and cautiously (in the case of my son, “glacially” might be a better descriptor) and come to enjoy them on their own merits, rather than gagging them down to get a promised toy, with no guarantee that, like the kids in this study, they will continue to eat them after the reward is granted.
With all that said, though, I could see the scenario where the inducement of a tangible reward encourages a kid to try a new flavor, and then, lo and behold, he realizes he likes the flavor and continues to eat the food.
What do you think about bribery in this context? Clever parenting strategy or a bad idea? Take my reader poll and I’ll announce the results in this Friday’s Buffet.
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