I pretty sure that when I call or email my child’s school, my child’s school staff cringes. Oh, no, it’s her. What does she want now? For a while, I think they even “forgot” to put the suggestion box back out. I had stuffed it full. It seems that I’ve become difficult, a real pain, That Mom.
Their first battle with me was the “treasure box.” Children earning three stars a day, got to choose a reward from the treasure chest, a box filled with junk candy. The kind of stuff my child never had before. We do an occasional treat, but it is always something made from actual food. It is not daily, and it is never used as a bribe.
I requested the practice to stop, or at least offer only healthy choices. To get me to shut up, the school turned over treasure supply to parents. When the parents didn’t fill the box, the box finally went away. But the candy reward still shows up from time to time — supplied directly by the teachers. And I still complain to the staff. A lot. I am sure they roll their eyes and think, “Doesn’t That Mom have something better to do?”
I don’t. And I am not overreacting.
Studies have shown that this is one of the worst lessons you can teach a child for his eating habits. Not only does it reinforce the preference for sugary foods, but by placing the junk food in the desirable position as a reward — positive reinforcement — it further increases the child’s preference for candy over healthier foods like dinner.
For parents who take more responsibility for their kids’ diets, the approach adds a third blow; if we deny our child access to the same reward as the other kids get, it makes candy an even more highly desirable substance. Parents who care about healthy eating habits are thus held hostage by the choice the school made — all to set up a bribe system as a way out of real lessons on discipline.
The bribe is really tough for preschoolers to grasp. The association between stars for behavior and a treasure hours later is just not there yet. Worse, the “treasure” was earned at the end of the day, and it was up to the parent to be the bad guy and deny the reward if the child did not get any stars. Nothing like a long day at work then being met with a screaming tantrum over a tootsie pop that you did not want your kid to have in the first place.
To make the whole matter worse, let’s review a page from the book on Reinforcement Theory. Using such a reward system, children learn to perform the behaviors we want only when there is a reward. No reward, no good behavior. The child never learns to value positive behavior as the true reward. Over time, a child even grows bored with the reward. It loses its value, so the reward has to be increased. The value lessons that build a responsible adult are absent. This is reason alone to ditch the bribe system.
So, I fight the little battles. I’ve become That Mom. And I’m OK with that.
[This post was written by Beth Bader.]
Jennifer Lance says
You go, That Mom! Yes, behaviorism sucks as a learning theory, in my opinion, especially when used wrongly. Positive reinforcement may work briefly, but then this external motivation takes away children’s internal motivation to be good, do well, etc. Reinforcing with candy, don’t get me started!
Right there with you!
This reminds me… have you seen the book “Little Pea”: http://www.lookybook.com/mainpage.php?name_id=1256
Little Pea can’t have dessert until after he eats his dinner, except in his case dinner is candy and dessert is spinach.
I’m a teacher and you are doing the right thing. Even when it was legal I never used food as a reward. I tried to use real life results of good behavior as a reward. If you finished your work and were caught up, I had fun learning activities that students could do.
If the whole class worked hard and finished something early – we would vote 5 min of free time now or add 5 min to recess.
Good behavior during a science lab = preview of cool up coming lab – like launching a hot air balloon outside.
Good for you. Not to mention all kinds of allergies kids have these days. Peanuts, soy, dairy… they can’t come up with something a little more creative? Funny school supplies, stickers? I used to be happy with some weird googlie eye pencil topper when I was a kid. Sheesh.
My son is only 2, but I can already feel it brewing. I will inevitably be That Mom too. More moms should… then That Mom turns into Those Moms. Muhahah!
Btw, just stumbled on your site here, love it! 🙂
You’re doing the right thing in my book.
It could be worse, you could be paying out the nose for your child’s education only to have them crown them with advertising and stuff red dye #40 and high-fructose corn syrup in their mouths:
MC Milker says
I’m rapidly becoming THAT MOM too!. Like Erika, I pay way too much to send my child to a private school…that serves organic lunches….to then find it also allows parents to bring in high sugar, artificially flavored, etc, etc, candy, cookies, cupcakes…everyday!
Talk about crazy inducing!
I’m a school psychologist in NY state. I absolutely agree with your opinion. As a mom of a 4 year old and an 18 month old, my husband just rolls his eyes and says that he feels sorry for every teacher my children will have….I’ll be “that mom” too. Just as an FYI, in NY state (and I’m sure elsewhere) it’s now illegal to sell or give candy/sweets in school. Our building often uses “gotcha” tickets where children can earn the ticket to doing something good. The tickets are placed in a drawing at each grade level and 1-2 tickets are drawn a week. The winners get a school supply prize of their choosing, but also their name announced on the loudspeaker. THEY LOVE to hear their name….it’s a much better prize than anything in a prize box.
Check out the website for positive behaviors and supports: http://www.pbis.org
Beth Bader says
Erika, IT IS A PRIVATE school and oh, we pay. That is what irks me and why I am secretly putting together a parents’ council for it. I’ll likely be just as active when we head to public schools.