Tip 7: Don’t use food to reward, punish or comfort your child

Every parent wants the best for their child. If your child does a good thing, you reward them to show them you’re proud of them. If they’re sad, you want to comfort them and show them love. In these cases, we often use food without even realising.

But why is it not a good idea to use food to reward, punish or comfort your child?


“Well done on getting your swimming certificate! You deserve an extra biscuit later!”

 “If you play quietly, I’ll give you an ice cream later.”

In these examples, food is used to reward children. Do you do this a lot? Then your child will learn that every time they do a good thing, they deserve a treat. So don’t reward your child with food, but rather with a hug, a compliment or extra attention. Give them a thumbs-up for example or let them choose a game you can play together. They will probably enjoy that even more!

For more information on how and when to give your child a compliment, click here.


“If you keep that up, you’re not getting any sweets when we get home.”

In this example, food is used to punish a child. That teaches your child that they can earn or lose food as a result of their behaviour.

For more information on what to do if your child refuses to listen, click here.


“You fell and hurt yourself, so have a sweet to ease the pain.”

“I know you’re sad because the sleepover at Grandma and Grandpa has been cancelled, so why don’t you choose a sweet?”

In these examples, food is used to comfort. If you do this a lot, your child will associate eating with a way to comfort themselves. The risk is that, as adults, they will also resort to food for comfort. So don’t use food to comfort your child; instead give them a hug or extra attention. It is important for your child to learn how to deal with their feelings. For more tips on how to comfort your child, click here.

Anne, mother of Lara (2.5 years old)

When I was crying as a child, my mother would tell me to pick a treat to cheer me up. To this day, when I feel down, I look for sweets. That’s called comfort eating. That’s why I struggle not to overeat. When Laura is sad, I try to comfort her by giving her a hug and by talking to her about her feelings.