Rewarding Kids Without Sugar
Happy July! I hope you had a chance to take advantage of the beautiful summer weather and do something fun to celebrate the fourth of July last weekend! I celebrated up at my parents' lake house in Maine with lots of family, fireworks, lobsters, boat rides, and swimming: it was the absolute best! I've been going up to the same lake in Maine every summer since I was born, and it triggers so many amazing memories for me, some of the top ones being: taking trips to the campground candy store, toasting marshmallows over the campfire for s'mores, debating with my sisters over which sugary "treat" cereal we each got to have for breakfast (from the package of small one-serving boxes), and having an endless supply of freeze pops in the porch freezer to cool us down on the hot days. I wouldn't change a single thing from all of these fun and carefree childhood memories, but I also can't help but notice one common thread amongst them all: sweet treats. If you've read about my health coaching philosophy on my "About Me" page, then you know I'm not the type of health coach that is going to tell you to cut out all of the sweet treats in your life (what kind of life would that be!?). However, I have noticed over the past few years that there is definitely an unhealthy emphasis on treating and rewarding our children with sugary sweets. Although, I do believe that sweet treats are a special and fun part of life that should be enjoyed in moderation, there are so many more meaningful ways that we can reward and treat our kids without always resorting to a sugar high on every occasion.
Think about it: Almost all holidays, vacations, and special events are centered around sugary sweets and/or indulgent foods. Jelly Beans and chocolate eggs on Easter, conversation hearts and boxes of chocolates on Valentines day, cake and ice cream on birthdays...the list goes on and on. While I don't think that the whole occasion and celebration should be centered around the foods (but rather the purpose for the celebration and the people and family/friends involved), I do agree that special occasions and celebrations are the perfect time to indulge in a really scrumptious and indulgent sweet treat.
The problem is when we make every day into a "special occasion," or teach our children that sweets are a reward for good behavior. These actions can ultimately lead to some unhealthy food-associations as our kids get older, and can also lead to a lot of problems with emotional and disordered eating.
So here's the solution: reward your children with non-food things!
Sure ice cream is delicious, but there are so many more fulfilling, exciting, and wonderful things that you could reward your child with, that won't leave them with a sugar high and crash.
What about some extra time outside, at the park, or a special trip to one of their favorite places (arcade, mini-golf course, play-place, aquarium, etc.)? Or maybe some one-on-one time with Mom or Dad (this is especially great when you have more than one kid since that 1-on-1 time is scarce!), a special play-date with a friend, cousin, or grandparent, a new book from the library, new toy, crayons or craft item?
Rewarding your children with experiences instead of sweets not only leaves a more lasting impact to the child, but also shows them that joy and excitement can come in many forms, not just in the form of candy and sugar.
I'm sure that as my son gets older, I will find myself resorting to bribery in the form of lollipops and candy every once in a while (isn't that what Dum-Dum pops were invented for, anyways?), but I plan to emphasize the importance of rewarding through these other non-food "treats" as much as possible, and I look forward to enjoying these experience rewards with him as much as he does!
Now, I want to hear from you: How do you reward your kids? Do you celebrate any holidays or occassions without any focus on sugary sweets?? Let me know in the comments below!