Carrots vs. Sticks: Try This Beautifully Simple Technique to Get Your Kids to Eat More Veggies
Do you find yourself night after night, pleading with children to eat their veggies and make healthier food choices?
We did too, but that all changed when I decided to try this, which is still working two years later!
When none of the “usual” tricks were working, I went back to my roots and solved the issue by focusing on two things that drive most everything I do: intention and purpose.
My intention was (is) to guide my children to make healthier choices on a day-to-day basis, without nagging from Mom or Dad; this serves my parenting purpose, which is to raise self-reliant individuals who think independently and aren’t jerks. (That’s my personal parenting philosophy in a nutshell.)
The phrase “carrots and sticks,” originated from a donkey analogy: you can either get him to move by offering a reward (dangling carrot), or by whipping him with a stick. This has become a basic concept of human motivation: reward vs. pain/consequence.
Nagging was our “stick” of choice with our kids, so I decided to try switching to a “carrot,” and I framed it in a way that could help set up my kids for a lifetime of better choices.
I gathered all the quarters in the house and an empty glass jar and called the kids down to share my idea. It wen't something a little like this:
“We’re going to try something new. Dad and I realize that it can be hard to make healthy choices, so we want to help reward you for every single healthy choice you make. Every time you make a healthy choice, you get a quarter in your jar.”
I dropped a quarter in one of the glass jars. Little did I know that tinkling sound would soon become almost Pavlovian in our household!
"Every time you eat a vegetable, every time you play outside, and every time you exercise, you’ll get a quarter in your jar.”
To be honest, part of me was thinking, “There’s no way they’re gonna do this for one lousy quarter, especially the 16 year old. You can’t even buy anything with a quarter anymore!” Boy, was I wrong.
The two high schoolers would text me pictures of their lunch to show me what veggies they had eaten that day. On the first of every month, we count quarters and announce the winners.
We give a $1 bonus to the child who amasses the most quarters and when we noticed that two of the kids kept hitting about $9 each month, we added a new bonus. Now every child who gets at least $10 in quarters gets an extra bonus $1. Many months, that has been enough to motivate them that little bit extra. If the winner has more than $10, then they get both bonuses for an extra $2.
I don’t know the specific psychology about why this works. I only know that it does work, and I’d invite you to try it with your kids. Give it a month or two and see what happens. Our daughters decorated their jars, but our son kept his totally plain.
Have fun with it, and keep offering those veggies with dinner, because the change in attitude over one little quarter just might surprise you.