When I was pregnant, I made some pretty grand calls about the way I’d raise my child. For example, he would sit quietly colouring at restaurants with no need for technology, he would wear what I told him to wear and I would never use food to quieten him down.
Well, let me tell you, a night out at a restaurant is a super-special occasion where Jimmy is allowed the iPad, some days I’m just grateful that I got him in jocks, let alone a matching outfit, and on many an occasions, a healthy snack has been my saving, quiet-time grace!
And herein lies the topic of this month’s blog – rewarding our kids with food. Are you giving them an immediate ‘treat’ or creating a long term, unhealthy ‘punishment?’
As a teacher for the past 15 years, I am all for positive reinforcement, and there’s no better response from a child who is motivated by their favourite reward. Here is where it is up to us as responsible adults, to ensure the reward is a good choice! There is ABSOLUTELY no need, to reward positive behaviour with a sugary, unhealthy treat.
Not only does this lead to the immediate conditioning of good behaviour = sugary treat along with a sugar high that we get to deal with, but also sets patterns in children’s lives who grow into adults, rewarding themselves with chocolate, tubs of ice cream and even alcohol. Australia has an alarmingly high obesity rate, with childhood obesity on the rise. Without looking at the scary statistics, I prefer to think about the role modes we are providing and the longevity of time together we can have as healthy families.
I can easily put food rewards into perspective professionally – many schools don’t allow teachers to distribute food due to allergies, along with promoting healthy food choices. Teachers have a variety of effective rewards from ‘special stickers’ to ‘raffle tickets and lucky dip prize boxes.’ For years, teachers have been managing large groups of children and their behaviour without offering lollies.
As parents, we’re not restricted by the use of food as rewards so let’s get creative, let’s think outside the square and establish good habits with our kids.Following are two lists of ideas for rewards, one incorporating food and one without.
TOP TIPS – IF YOU ARE REWARDING WITH FOOD
Be organised – have a variety of healthy snacks on hand, if the occasion calls for it. For example, I always have brown rice crackers in my car glove box as these don’t go bad, are great for emergencies and my son thinks they’re an extra special treat as they are in a packet.
Cut up vegetables together before you go and let your child pack the lunchbox. This way, your child knows what treats they can look forward to and feel a part of the process – Jimmy’s favourites are carrot, cucumber and capsicum.
Not organised? No problem – if you’re caught out and need food in a hurry, there is no need for the Maccas run. I’ve many a time dashed into a supermarket for a greek yogurt and banana as a quick ‘treat snack’. Fast food does not have to mean junk food – change your thought process here and you’ll see how easy it is to avoid fast-food chains.
The old favourite – eat all your dinner and you can have dessert is still an effective and useful strategy. Simply choose a healthy dessert. Some of our favourites are fruit salad, homemade fruit sorbet, home made ice-creams, (banana, mango and spinach are a favourite – blend and freeze) or coconut and fruit icy-poles, (these are super-easy, simply pour coconut water into moulds and throw in some berries of choice and freeze)
TOP TIPS – REWARDING WITHOUT FOOD
- Lash out and spend $10 in one of those cheap, knick knack shops. Spiral straws, rubbers, bouncy balls, sticker sheets, cool stationary, the list is endless. Kids go mad for this stuff. Have your little supply on hand for when you need cooperation and I assure you, the kids will love it! Not a pack of smarties in sight.
- Reward charts with an ‘ultimate prize’ selected by the child. This may be a colouring book, a trip to the library, help cooking dinner. You can get creative here and children are more willing to cooperate as they were involved in choosing the reward.
- A prize jar – this is where together as a family you can write down some fun activities and put each one in a jar for children to select as a ‘lucky dip’ reward. Some of the ‘treats’ you might write down could be a colouring page with special textas, an extra story before bed, a game together of their choice, a bike ride, there’s so many possibilities here.
The best thing about both of these lists of tips, is that they also involve the children in the process,so coming up with the rewards or preparing the healthy food is all part of the family fun! The big picture here is that we are raising the future generation. Let’s make it a healthy, happy and creative one!