Alternatives To Rewarding With Candy

As I sat a few weeks ago waiting for my kids to get their hair cuts, I was enthralled with a scene going on with another child getting ready to get their hair cut.  The parent was trying to work with the child to get up in the chair, the child wasn’t budging. I could see that the parent was not only trying to maintain her composure but also working quickly to come up with an incentive. I heard the parent say “if you can help the nice lady out and get up in that chair, I will give you 20 extra minutes of electronics”. In my mind, I thought, wow! totally impressed with the non use of treats/food/toys and calmness! The child proceeds to get on to the chair. Then the hairdresser leans over to the child and says, “I will give you a lollipop if you can sit still in the chair”. I think I had the same look on my face as the parent did. Now, as a parent, I sat there and thought to myself, there was no need for her to offer a lollipop, the parent solved the situation, so why did she feel she had to interfere. Reflecting on this made me realize that we are all guilty of it, rewarding children with treats/food/toys is prevalent and it is done by parents, teachers, parent groups, administrators, coaches, grandparents and even hair dressers, doctors, banks and the like, and no one really seems to question it. Schools do it! It is a challenge in which I work to improve at the children’s school, yet disappointingly find it not changing. Why is it encouraged to reward children for everything they do or with candy/treats/food that threaten children’s health and diets and reinforces poor eating habits and choices. When did receiving social rewards not be good enough?

fun alternative to candy rewards, there are many alternatives

fun alternative to candy rewards, there are many alternatives by Suesstastic


I am not saying do not give your kids candy… who am I kidding, yes I am :)  Check out this article and this video. I will share more about sugar on a later post. I guess if anything, when you do give it to your child make it more of a special occasion rather than the reward. Don’t tie it to a behavior or act.  Not everyone understands the detriment that sugar has to the body and mind. If you can’t see it’s dangers than there must not be any, right??, unfortunately as I have experienced, this is kinda the mentality and not every parent or teacher agrees to offer non-food rewards: “candy is cheap”, “it’s easy”, “one piece isn’t going to hurt them”  I realize that it is used because it is what works in the short term, though they may know deep down it isn’t the best option. Providing food based performance or behavior connects food to mood. This is something we must consider why rewarding kids with candy is harmful to their health and their future rational.

I have some friends who are teachers and this is a topic we have been discussing lately with each other to come up with some other alternatives (see below). I love having friends who are teachers, I get so much information from them; from using certain word choices, to how the brain works to learning how to interact with children and everything in between and it is something I soak up as much as possible. I am not a teacher nor do I plan to be, but the bouncing off of topics with each other can provide other options to help handle not only my kids but others as well. After having these conversations, it was definitely prevalent in their eyes that kids should not be receiving candy at school and that was a fairly challenging issue for these teachers. I, as a parent do not agree with candy at school at all, do what you want at home, but at school NOT NECESSARY!!  It is really mind boggling that even at school events candy is offered just so they have something. If parents spend the $5 on the tub of licorice or gold fish they donate, they can spend $5 on a bag of grapes, pencils or apples. They just need to be asked, but no one asks because they think the kids want the candy.

Not too long ago, the school had a dance. The only “snacks” they were serving was water and gold fish. I decided that these kids needed something else, if they were paying $5 to get it, they should be offered more than a dixie cup of gold fish. Our local Albertsons donated 2 cases, yes 2 CASES of grapes and apples.  The grapes were gone about 45 minutes before the dance was over and there was plenty of goldfish left over. I ran out of cups for the grapes and was handing them out in the plastic food gloves! I did learn that 2 cases of apples, is A BUTT LOAD of apples and we went through almost a full case. This was a great example, if you offer it, they will eat it and I felt good for serving a nutritious snack to these kids.

The fruit I got donated for the school dance.

The donated fruit that I cleaned and prepped for the school dance. There are ways to offer healthy snacks.


Think about it, how often do classrooms get rewarded with treats for behaving well, reaching their points, wearing the school colors or selling the most tickets for a fundraiser.  I know every class both of my children have been in since kindergarten was rewarded with cookies, cupcakes, candy or pizza for any of the above mentioned and more. Not to mention a student birthday that happens every week. The school librarian lets kids help her clean up and for their help she gives them candy. The custodian sees kids pick up trash, he gives them candy. Since when is a good deed rewarded with something other than the verbal recognition, extra recess time or a thank you over the loud speaker. Many kids have no idea the feeling of gratification or that inner feeling of satisfaction for helping someone because they are trained to expect something in return other than a sincere “Thank You”. The after school program sees a child working on homework or helping clean up, they are rewarded with candy. All those ‘acts’ should be done in general as part of being a student at the school, why should there be a reward for not going above and beyond what is expected. It is their job as students to complete daily tasks. I am sure you can think of an “expected act” a child has done and was rewarded with a candy or a treat. What do you think begins to happen when those ‘acts’ continue later down the road and they are not rewarded? What happens to the trained brain of recognizing that feeling they get for doing something but then not rewarded for it? And don’t even get me started on after sport games snacks!!!  Most of those situations end in a child feeling entitled for doing something they are expected to do and then react negatively for not receiving something for it. It creates unhealthy habits and choices.

I do understand the use and effectiveness of rewards to encourage positive behavior and motivation, but what I do not think is clear is that the goal of the reward is to help them internalize the positive behaviors so they won’t need a reward. Kids should not be rewarded for every accomplishment, it diminishes the value of what they are doing. Once the behavior has become an established habit, the reward can be minimized to encourage the child to maintain the preferred behavior. I am not saying do not reward kids, we teach them to be successful and work hard to achieve their goals. Outstanding accomplishments should be rewarded. Yes, as adults we may reward ourselves with cars, cameras, clothing, vacations and material things but those are not effecting our overall health like candy/treats/chips (unless we are so in debt caused by those rewards). So yes, you could argue that we continue to reward through adult hood, but reality is, the reward doesn’t happen whenever we finish our lunch, help our kids with homework (well maybe a glass of wine or beer is needed at times ;) , meet a deadline, help the elderly lady get up the steps, hold the door open for someone, I think you get the point.

Yes, offer rewards, but do so with purpose and intent to a life of wellness and gratefulness.

I have included some Alternatives to candy rewards and suggestions I collected from a teacher and other resources that I hope will be useful for developing a more positive rewards system.

Check out Dr. McDougall’s article:Salt Sugar Fat

A great quick video: Are Sugary Foods Addictive

A longer video : Sweet Misery

An infographic showing facts about how much sugar is consumed in America


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