You send your child off to school and see empty wrappers in his backpack. With further questioning, you discover he’s getting candy most days in exchange for good behavior and doing his work. After talking to other parents you discover that many of the teachers at your kid’s school reward students with candy.
This goes against everything you’re trying to teach him, but what can you do? How do you positively influence his school community without being labeled “that parent.”
Well, today I’m shedding some light on how to handle this so it’s a win-win for everybody.
Remember Why Teachers Reward with Food
It’s tough being a teacher! Most parents have 1-4 kids to deal with but they have a whole class. Keeping all the kids on task can be challenging to say the least.
I get it. Candy works and motivates students and influences behavior (albeit temporarily). And much of the candy/food giving is a tradition — something teachers have been doing for a long time.
This is also why parents reward with food. But that still doesn’t make it the best thing to do. It just means we can all understand why food is used and that real life can be messy.
See What Rewarding Kids with Food Looks Like 20 Year Later
Use it as an Opportunity to Educate
I realize that teachers are busy doing what they do best — teaching. They are not as close to the research on feeding children. In other words, there are no ill intentions with food-rewarding practices.
And here’s where the opportunity lies. We can help educate educators about rewarding students with food. The key is to do it in the right way. If we turn them off or go off on a blame tangent, we risk losing them.
I believe sticking with what we know from the research is key. It’s not just opinion but supported by studies.
If you experience teachers rewarding students with food at your child’s school, why not send an email to the teacher or principal to let them know about the research.
Personally, for me, demanding change is not the way to go. Rather, I like to think of it as getting the word out. With new information, people can make different decisions (or not).
To help, I drafted this sample letter. It’s meant for a principal but feel free to copy and paste it and edit as you wish.
First off I want to say that I am very impressed with your school on so many levels. My child really enjoys going there and is learning a great deal. The entire staff has been supportive and attentive to my child’s needs. But I’m concerned about how frequently food (candy specifically) is being used as a reward in many of the classrooms at your school.
Here’s my concern. Research shows that rewarding kids with food can adversely affect eating habits not just during childhood, but later in life. Children are more likely to become emotional eaters, eat in the absence of hunger, and develop a heightened preference for sweet foods. Kids are naturally wired to prefer sweet foods because they are growing so using food to reward (or taken away as a consequence), only intensifies these preferences. Additionally, a link has been established between artificial colors and hyperactive behavior in a subset of kids. In one review study, food used as a reward was found to compromise physical health, learning, and behavior.
I understand no teacher desires these consequences and giving candy is more like a tradition. It remains common with one study showing that 86 percent of teachers use candy as a reward in classrooms. Hopefully, this will help catch teachers up on the latest research that simply wasn’t available ten years ago.
I hope you will reconsider how food is being used in the classrooms at your school. If you click on the links in the text you will see research to support what I’ve written. I’ve also included some alternatives to using food as a reward in the classroom.
Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Thanks so much for your time and the wonderful job you and the rest of the faculty do for our kids every day!
Has this been an issue in your school?
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So I am kind the position where I as a teacher am all but told to use candy in the classroom. My instructional coach suggests often. “Offer them candy to do x” “here’s me modeling how I use candy to bribe/reward”, etc.
It’s hard for me because a), I am very well aware of the research and b) my last school was treat-free and it’s what I’m used to.
My school’s instructional coach, on the other hand, comes from a SPED background where I understand such intense reward/motivation systems are more accepted (whether or not there’s candy, but some type of immediate reward.
I avoid candy except on special occasions where it truly is a treat for the fun of it, but what would you suggest on getting past authority figures who have the candy thing deeply ingrained?
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Have you tried showing him/her the research and explaining why you don’t feel comfortable giving candy? Does the principal feel the same way?
I went to kindergarten, school, high school and never were offered candies for any reason and we became secure and well educated adults, why encourage children to be rewarded every time for every thing , they should be teach to give thanks to Gid for everything and teach them that obedience and well behavior brings good results in life.
Thomas Ruf says
I couldn’t agree more. Choosing the easiest way to get a response from a child with something that’s not good for them shows a lack professionalism. If we want teachers to be continuously praised and put on pedestals, demand professionalism in our schools.
Unfortunately, I, like EVERY parent I know, fear retaliation to the children. It happens everyday and teachers/teacher unions know it. There is no fear from their end, as they hold the keys to our families. More time is spent with our children by strangers (state qualified teachers) than at home, thus part of the reason why our society is falling a part.
I disagree with having to walk on eggshells when approaching teachers and schools. Every parent should know these institutions leverage their power in support for their jobs, not what’s right for their clients (students/families).
Audrey Crane says
This article is EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED! Thank you so much!!!! Copying and sending this email right this minute.