Why do so many parents, teachers and coaches REWARD children with treats and candy?
Because it works! Want a kid to behave himself, bribe him with sweets, but what message is this sending our children? First of all, rewards can be overused. This has happened to me with my own six children. You set up a reward system, only to find that the focus ends up on the reward instead of the action.
We must be careful not to put more emphasis on the reward than the deed. It is not uncommon for teachers, coaches, and parents to reward kids with food and sweets. Hopefully, schools teach nutrition to some degree, and as parents, this should be a priority at home. However, this education is pointless if constantly contradicted by teachers (and parents) rewarding the students with candy and other sweets. Teachers need to send the message to their students that to feel good and learn better, they need to fuel their minds and bodies with nutritious foods, not junk.
Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, sums it up this way: “Rewarding children with unhealthy foods in school undermines our efforts to teach them about good nutrition. It’s like teaching children a lesson on the importance of not smoking, and then handing out ashtrays and lighters to the kids who did the best job listening.”
One of the best ways to reward a student is through sincere praise. One of the things that motivated me most as a child was hearing my dad say that I was so smart or that I had done a good job or impressed him in some way. I do not remember ever being rewarded with food, I’m not saying that I wasn’t, maybe I was, but if my parents or teachers did, it did not stick out in my mind.
To date, obesity among children is at epidemic proportions. Obesity can often lead to serious health problems. What good will a stellar education do for a child if they are too sick and tired to use it? Using food as a reward teaches children to eat even when they are not hungry. The types of food regularly given to my children at school are not fit for feeding a child’s growing body or fueling their brains. These foods are basically junky empty calorie foods that do nothing but destroy health and rot teeth. Not to mention that rewarding or punishing kids with food often leads to eating disorders.
Constantly rewarding children with food teaches them to turn to food for comfort when they are older, a habit that is very hard to break; it is called “emotional eating.” For example, “I did a good job, so I deserve to treat myself with ice cream.” Rewarding with non-food items helps to teach children not to have unhealthy snacks outside of their regular meal times as well as prevents them from eating healthier choices when meal times come.
I’d like to explore some ways to “reward” children without the damage that comes from eating sugar and food colorings. Remember, words of encouragement, and the simple act of recognition goes a long way in motivating children to continue performing well.
Here are a few ideas
- Let your child invite friends over after school to play or watch a movie
- Have a special outing with the child and let her plan it
- Have a family game night and let the “rewarded” child choose the games and go first
- Create a point system that allows your child to earn bigger items, like a trip to the movies, bowling, skating rink or other activities.
- For younger children, let them stay up 10 minutes later than bedtime or read them an extra book at bedtime.
- more time together
- stay up late
- stickers, stars, small toys
- points to save up for a bigger item later (like toys, a movie, etc.)
FOR TEACHERS: (some of these can also be used by parents)
- allow the child to move their desk or sit by their friends
- have reading time outdoors
- let the child “teach the class”
- earn extra points or credit
- allow the student to have extra time in a subject they enjoy, such as art
- allow the child to go to the library for an extra book
- let the child take items to the office
- allow the class to listen to music
- give the child a “no homework” certificate to use on any assignment
- let the student read the announcements
- let the student eat with the principal or teacher as a big reward
- reward student with 5 minutes of “chat” time with friends
- earn “teacher money” to buy special items, like erasers, cool pencils, neat notebooks, stickers, etc. The money can even be photoshopped to have the teachers
- a face on the bill (we have personally done this at home) to print yours go HERE
- extra time doing something they love
- allow the student to be a helper in a different classroom
- to be the kid who gets to do something special such as line leader, or collecting papers, cleans the board, etc.
- let the class have reading time outdoors
- extra recess time
- have lunch in the classroom
- be featured on a board of recognition for good behavior, good grades, manners, etc.
- one reward = one entry for a drawing for something special
- earn a movie ticket
- earn a pass to a special place in town
- earn a free pass to a school game or event
- a pack of seeds makes a great reward
- other items such as frisbees, jump ropes, glow sticks, sidewalk chalk, a hula hoop, or hopscotch markers
- set up a treasure box with key chains, yo-yo’s, bubbles, pencils, erasers, bookmarks, trading cards, and other charms
Remember, children will pick up their preferences based on the foods made available to them, which includes junk foods, especially sweets because they are powerfully addictive. A great project would be to have your children (or students) come up with some reward ideas that they would be motivated by, children often come up with the best ideas!
Listen to this episode of A Healthy Bite with the authors of the book Sugarproof, for more tips on how to reduce sugar in your child’s diet.