I am a strong proponent of rewarding children for good behavior, working hard, reaching their goals, etc. I am, however, a little concerned by the frequency in which we reward children with food.
From a food allergy perspective, using food as a reward often alienates children who may not be able to consume it. I cannot tell you how many times schools reward children with pizza and ice-cream parties. What kind of message is this sending to all of our children? It certainly isn’t one of inclusion. Children with food allergies might think that they are not worthy of receiving a reward; after all, the school didn’t take the time to make sure everyone could enjoy the reward.
Secondly, this teaches all of our children that food (particularly junk food and sweets) is a reward. This link between reward and food is concerning because it can and does lead to emotional eating, which is not healthy.
So how do you reward children in way that ensures everyone can participate? Why not consider non-food rewards?
Here are some non-food ideas for rewards at school:
1) “Caught Being Good” coupon book.
A few years ago, my daughter’s teacher had the brilliant idea (without prompting from me) to reward each child with “classroom bucks” through out the year whenever they did something good in class. By the end of the year they had earned a full “Caught Being Good” coupon book which contained activities they liked to do, such as bring in a toy from home, read their favorite book, etc. They had a lot of fun and it truly taught the value of working towards and goal and seeing your effort pay off.
2) Let the kids vote on what they want.
Some of my daugthers’ teachers have allowed the children to decide what they want as a reward. They have decided to have special days like “Stuffed Animal Day” and “Crazy Sock Day.” For “Stuffed Animal Day,” they were able to bring in their favorite stuffed animal. For “Crazy Sock Day,” they get to wear wacky or mismatched socks and no shoes during story time. They have also worked towards earning “Pajama Day” and other fun celebrations.
3) Create a special job.
Kids love to help out. Give them a special job to do and they are ecstatic. I don’t think I have ever seen my daughter more excited to go to school than she was when she got to be “Lucky Duck.” Not only did the Lucky Duck get to read her favorite poem in front of the class, but she also got to choose who else was going to perform special jobs through out the day. I love this idea because it also teaches leadership.
4) Hands-on activities.
Kids enjoy hands-on and experiential activities like singing/dancing, playing games, crafts and science experiments. These make great themes for parties and everyone can participate. These are great ideas because they allow children to have fun and exercise their creativity.
5) A field trip.
Even older kids love to go on field trips. Field trips offer a wealth of fun and learning opportunities. Just remind your child’s teacher of his or her allergy emergency plan and make sure that they travel with epinephrine and any other emergency allergy medications they may be prescribed.
I would love to hear some of your non-food ideas on how to reward children for their hard work. Please leave your tips in the comments below.
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