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The Sticker Solution to a Sticky Situation

January 09, 2012

Most people remember sitting at the dinner table as a child and working around their dinner plate, making sure to get every last piece of the good stuff, yet conveniently ignoring all of the vegetables. With crossed fingers, they hope their parents won’t notice and they would get by without having to touch the colored foods, but that never seems to work. Go figure!

Some parents give ultimatums by telling their kids they can’t play with friends or watch their favorite television show until they eat all of their vegetables. In response, kids force down their vegetables with a look of disgust on their face, just to be quickly excused from the table.

The ultimatum method used to get kids to eat their vegetables, may provide a quick solution, but is probably not the best approach to encourage a positive attitude towards those “colored foods”. There are many other methods that can be used to encourage kids to eat their vegetables and among them, it seems the most effective is positive reinforcement. Recent studies show that non-food rewards for eating vegetables not only encourages kids to eat them, but also increases the liking of that particular vegetable.

A sticker is a great example of such a reward that is easy, cheap, and most importantly, well liked by kids. Every kid feels special when they get a sticker for a job well done at school or completing chores at home. So why not give out stickers for eating vegetables?

In a recent study of 3- and 4-year-olds, kids who were given a sticker in the attempt to taste a disliked vegetable acquired a more positive attitude towards these vegetables when compared to kids who only received verbal praise over the course of two weeks. Following this time, the kids who received stickers became more adventurous with their vegetables in further taste studies and gave higher ratings to previously disliked vegetables. The sticker method proved to be effective even three months later when kids were still willing to eat the previously disliked vegetables.

If your kids turn up their nose at the sight of vegetables, the sticker method may be a great way to turn their frown upside down. The sticker can be as small as a fingernail and should be given even if there is only an attempt to try a vegetable. Keep a stack on hand to give out as positive reinforcement and I guarantee that with time, your kids will be asking for more vegetables and less stickers. According to this particular study, it takes an average of ten days for kids to go from pushing their plate away to embracing their vegetables, so don’t worry, you won’t be handing out stickers into their teen years!

What a simple solution to help encourage kids towards healthy eating habits and a healthier lifestyle. Try it out next time vegetables are at the dinner table and send us pictures of your kids with their stickers! Or, if you use another method that you find effective, share it with us. We are always looking for creative parenting tips!