Skip to content

Pavlov Made My Kids Sick

April 22, 2020

My kids hate ginger ale. It makes them sick. And it’s Pavlov’s fault. You may not know who Ivan Pavlov was, but you’ve probably heard of his dogs.

Pavlov was a Russian physiologist in the 1890s. He did experiments with dogs. He wanted to measure salivation in dogs in response to being fed.

In his most famous experiment he rang a bell just before feeding the dogs. Later, he kept ringing the bell and didn’t feed the dogs. And he found the dogs still salivated as if they were being fed.

There’s even a word for it:

Palovian: related to classical conditioning, a learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus is paired with a previously neutral stimulus.

I got that from Dr Google.

Really it means that you can train your body to have a biological response to an external stimulus.

It’s not unlike PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in that your body has a physical reaction to an external stimulus. Not nearly as severe, fortunately.

But, how did Pavlov make my kids sick?

We don’t drink a lot of soda at our house. Each kid gets to choose their birthday dinner. Typically that includes some combination of Sprite, lemonade and home canned grape juice. But, if it’s not a special occasion we don’t generally have soda.

Except when the kids get sick. We give them ginger ale and saltine crackers.

Tonight I asked them if they’d like some ginger ale. I’m not even sure how it came up.

I don’t like ginger ale.

Why not?

It makes me sick.

Another daughter joined in,

Yeah, me too.

It made no sense to me. For one thing, I love ginger ale.

My lovely wife and I were waiting to have dinner one night in a local restaurant up one of our beautiful canyons. Our table wasn’t quite ready and we sat in the bar. The bartender, for whatever reason took a liking to us. He fixed us a couple of virgin drinks using bitters and some other liquids in colorful bottles.

He fixed us multiple drinks. Each just a swallow or two. None alcoholic. As he fixed each one he’d hand it us and ask us to identify it. We were terrible at it. I never did manage to guess what it was, although it was enjoyable.

You can probably guess what it was. If you guessed ginger ale, you are right.

I’ve always loved ginger ale. It’s comforting, especially when I’m sick. It’s why I gave it to my kids when they were sick. And that’s where Pavlov and his dogs came in.

See, the problem is I only gave my kids ginger ale when they were sick. We didn’t have it any other time.

Do you live in Britain? Or friends who are British? How do you feel about root beer? It’s a popular drink in the United States. It has a unique taste. In Britain, that taste is similar to cough medicine. They don’t enjoy it at all. Root beer tastes like medicine to them.

And that’s what I’d done to my kids. I’d managed to associate the taste of ginger ale with being physically ill. No wonder my kids didn’t like it. It also explains why a half empty bottle of ginger ale would remain in the refrigerator for days while a similar bottle of Sprite would be gone in just a few hours.

Apparantly I had committed the same offense with saltine crackers. Same pattern: only ged them to my kids when they were sick.

Some parenting lessons you only learn after it’s too late to apply them. I mean, had I known I would have been feeding my kids chocolate and sugar when they got sick.

I blame Pavlov.

Stay safe.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply