Food Rewards vs. Non-Food Rewards for Preschool Age Children

by Carla on November 25, 2009

How do you reward the children in your care? If you’re rewarding them with food, consider this: “An article published in the December 2005 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine concluded that policies in schools that allow students to snack frequently; to consume high-calorie, low nutrient-dense foods and beverages; and to have food as incentives and rewards were associated with higher body mass indices in middle-school students”.

While this study doesn’t apply to preschool aged children, as a daycare provider it is still important to know the hazards of using food as a reward and how using non-food rewards.

Hazards of food rewards

When you reward or bribe a child with food, these same children may continue to reward themselves with food later in life. When children are rewarded with treats, they unfortunately associate these treats with happiness or being good. Studies show that associating food with with good behavior or bad behavior has long-lasting effects on children’s food preferences and their eating styles. It also may contribute to overweight and obesity.

“Rewarding children with unhealthy foods in school undermines our efforts to teach them about good nutrition. It’s like teaching children a lesson on the importance of not smoking, and then handing out ashtrays and lighters to the kids who did the best job listening.” Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Co-Director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University

There are many significant advantages of giving children Non food rewards.  Non food rewards set a foundation for healthy attitudes toward food. Non food rewards do not impede a child’s development of natural hunger cues. Recognizing kids with respect and verbal appreciation are superior motivators than rewards of food.  Non-food rewards (like praise and privileges) can also be less expensive than food rewards. In addition studies show that children actually prefer non-food treats! Just ask.

Enforcing policies

Did you know that in some states (Alabama and the District of Columbia) where food rewards for children are prohibited?  There are also many states that discourage rewarding good behavior or performance with food. If you firmly believe in prohibiting food rewards in your daycare or childcare business, be sure to communicate this with staff and parents. Make sure your policies are clear and well documented in your child contract and reiterate your stance when clients sign the contract.

Types of nonfood rewards

Privileges as Rewards: Choosing an activity, going first, sitting next to friends, selecting a book or record, helping the teacher, free time, extra time with a toy or in dramatic play

Group rewards: Extra time outside (recess), field trips, playing special games or watching a special movie, free choice of activity at the end of the day, special theme days

Social Rewards: Acknowledgment for a job well done like words of thanks, praise, and special attention or ceremonies

Gifts: Stamps, stickers, bookmarks, books, balls,  playing cards, magnets, shoelaces, bubbles, modeling clay, bracelets, rings, necklaces, coloring pencils, markers, stencils, erasers, pencil cases, coloring books

Recognition: Trophies, rewards, plaques, ribbons, special letters home.

It is also wise to use a points system in order to provide larger rewards like gift certificates, games, toys, and larger outings like sporting events. Points can be accumulated individually or as a group and may later be redeemed for prizes. Ask children in your child care center about the types of non-food rewards they prefer. Also remember that positive reinforcement goes a long way in reinforcing good behavior.

About Carla

Carla Snuggs has written 88 post in this blog.

Carla is a freelance writer from Southern California. She has a B.A. in early childhood education and a Master of Library and Information Science degree specializing in public librarianship and youth services.

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