Ever have a moment when your mouth drops open involuntarily? It’s that moment when you know you must take action, no matter how daunting that might be.
My eight-year-old goes to a good school with caring, talented teachers. But good schools can have policies that are behind the times, as I discovered firsthand.
On her second day of school last week, my daughter walked out rubbing her stomach.
“I am SO full!” she said.
“Why?” I inquired.
“Because I just ate 49 Skittles in math!” was her reply.
That’s when my mouth dropped.
Rewarding Kids with Sugar
As it turned out, all the third graders play a math game on the second day which employs the use of Skittles – rather easy to manipulate, I’m told. And my daughter, being a kid who happens to love candy (and doesn’t get it very often), ate every one. After I picked up my jaw from the ground I took a deep breath. I’d have to talk to the teacher about this.
Let me just preface by saying we are not draconian about sugar at home. Granted, as a fitness and nutrition professional I’m more dialed in to the health issues related to eating lots of sugar than most parents. But my daughter gets plenty of sweets in my view – a cookie at Target, ice cream with the babysitter, lemonade at restaurants, and treats at holidays, parties, and any time a cashier hands her a lollipop. She has a pretty wicked sweet tooth and would eat sugar all day long if we let her.
The teacher’s reply to my email was cordial, saying treats were only occasional. She asked whether she should give my daughter fruit snacks instead, to which I said no thanks (I don’t want my kid to be the only one not getting candy). I still felt a gnawing discomfort.
Two days later my daughter came out of class with a box of Nerds, and two days later, a mini Hershey’s bar for turning in an assignment. That’s when I scheduled a meeting with the school principal. I knew I had to make a coherent stand, so I pulled my thoughts together.
What Kinds of Things was I Concerned About?
- First and foremost, the psychological effects of rewarding children with candy or food. What with 17 percent  of children aged 2 to 19 being overweight or obese, we need to think about the relationship we’re teaching kids about food. Granted, there are not any studies (that I know of) showing a direct cause and effect between using food for self-comfort and rewards and obesity. On some level, however, we’re surely aware that using food to satisfy an emotional need is a major American past time which leads to weight gain. Sure, food is a legitimate way to celebrate, gather together, and enjoy life. But what about those times when you’ve had a bad day and stop for two Big Macs? Or you’re all alone on the couch feeling lonely and decide a bag of chips is in order? Or the times when you’ve worked hard all day and “deserve” a carton of ice cream? (Check out the 5 Times You Should Never Want to Feed Your Kids and Why).
- Using treats as rewards (and certainly in math) is poor modeling and can compromise classroom learning . My daughter’s school sends home a list of “healthy snacks” parents are supposed to abide by, so it’s hypocritical that they encourage unhealthy behavior and food associations along with a sugar high that can distract kids from learning.
- Obviously there are negative health effects that can result from consuming sweets. Not only are we talking about bad habits that can lead to weight gain, but the effects of weight gain itself. Excess weight can lead to Type 2 Diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, gallstones, certain cancers, and more . (See the American Heart Association’s stand on sugar consumption).
- Rewarding children with sweets undermines what we’re trying to teach our kids at home. I limit sweets and expect my daughter to do her homework without a reward, but the school is rewarding her for doing something she was supposed to do anyway?
I brought another concerned parent to the meeting with the principal, and he agreed with us whole-heartedly. He promised to talk to the third-grade teachers about their policies and get back to us in a few days. Has he followed through with this? Not as of yet. My next step is to contact him, and if nothing is accomplished, what next? I’m not quite sure yet.
What are your thoughts on sugar and treats in school? Does your school give out treats?