Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Burying the Treasure

I'm beat up, and angry both. No, not more crap from China, or maybe it is, I didn't check the label. But then, they don't label food origins, do they? No, this time the frustration is a whole mess of stuff colliding at once.

First, we're going through the Terrible Twos right now. Which, all of you parents know, is a real pain in the butt. Next, as my child moved up to pre-school, she now has to get all of her stars in order to get a reward at the end of the day.

The reward? The coveted treasure? Candy. Oh sure, there are miscellaneous stickers and other items, but once the Kiddo got ahold of that first ever High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup-laden, artificially-colored-flavored sugar bomb ... well, any hopes of steering her toward a boring sticker were toast. And, recently, so are most vegetables on her plate. Ones she used to eat. Cause it's damn hard to sell green beans after a hit of the old HFCS. Damn hard.

Needless to say, with the Terrible Twos in full throttle, stars are hard to come by. Then Mommy gets to be the bad guy on pickup when the Kiddo can't have "treasure." Let me tell you, after an hour HOUR of screaming and all-out tantrum, taking candy from a baby is NOT easy. It downright sucks. After a long day at work, it really sucks. Over a friggin' piece of crap food I do not want her to have in the first place.

No, it is not the school's fault that my kiddo is having normal Terrible Two issues. That's just par for the parent course. I can hack it. It wears me out, but I can hack it.

But. Here's what pisses me off:

Study after study shows
that using candy as a reward does nothing but increase the desire for this substance. Using candy as a reward has already undone part of the work I do to help my child learn how to eat healthy. Frankly, certified educators should know better.

On the outside chance that they didn't, I told them. I printed the information and requested this practice end. You know what I get? "Well, there are other things in the treasure box to choose from."

Yeah, those things aren't nearly as compelling as a sugar blast. And, what kind of reward is it when Mommy is standing over you telling you, "Oh no, you have to take this strange plastic object even if you don't know what it is. You can't have what you want." Yeah, that'll work.

I offered to bring healthier items. I brought organic fruit rollups, no added sugar. They flew out of the box. My child was not excited about them. She gets these at home, bring on the crap! So, that plan failed. And, it was expensive for me to spend $10.00/day for other people's kids to make better choices.

I talked to the teacher. She said she was going to change the system. One reward a week, and a better reward. Good! Hasn't happened. She's trying.

To top it off, this whole delayed gratification thing is tough for an Under-Three to grasp. The association between stars and treasure is just not there yet. So, Mommy is just mean for withholding the goods. Which, as it turns out, also increases a child's desire for the forbidden substance. Probably even more so than the reward system. Double the pleasure. Double Mommy's fun.

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 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. It's not a sustainable system, even if the short-term goal is achieved.

My only option at this point is the other "box" at the school. This would be the suggestion box. I attempted this path once, but if at first you don't succeed, flood the friggin' thing until you drive them nuts. Enlist the other moms to do this as well for this school, and all schools. This needs to stop.

It's time to bury the treasure.


Rachel said...

Wow. I'm kinda pissed on your behalf. That's a really, really shortsighted policy - you'd think educators would know better than to do that. I'm not one to pore obsessively over parenting magazines (MotherTalkers is pretty much the start and finish for me), but from what I have gleaned, if you're going to use short-term rewards, use it only for the first couple of times and then gradually stop, before the child gets used to the strict good behavior:reward ratio.

I absolutely think you're in the right here and go for it. But I wouldn't worry too much about the Kiddo and the veg situation. Kids go through phases of rejecting even what they like; Jess is in the throes of it right now, where one day veggie, veggie, yum, yum, and the next, I'm trying to poison her with broccoli. I totally empathize. A shame we can't pop over to one's house or the other for a restorative glass of Shiraz!

jen said...

oh man. i use the m and m theory for toilet training. shoot me now.

just do it.

frugalmom said...

Oh, have I been there. During standardized testing at school they hand out Oreos as snacks...because thats good brain food. Whatever. It is a huge battle. Very frustrating and overwhelming. Keep chugging along. Your child will get older and you will see how great it is when they actually do go for the good choices even when presented with the not so good ones. In the mean time...go in the pantry and scream a few times...I have found that to be very helpful.

The Expatriate Chef said...

I wish all of you could pop over for a glass of wine!! Thanks, Rachel. I keep at it, just going to have to be more creative with recipes!

Jen, wouldn't worry, even when the M&M's go away, I think your kiddo will still need to poop. You're probably safe!

FM, you know it is true that the brain runs on glucose, but Oreos as brain food is pushing it!! Hang in there, too!

Her Grace said...

I taught preschool for 8 years before becoming a SAHM, and not once did I have to resort to a prize box. It's more than possible...as toddler and preschoolers, most kids want to be involved and in the mix of things, it's not hard to get them to comply!

jasmine said...

Doesn't the school have to have a "wellness" policy? I thought it was fedral law but likely only applies to publicly funded schools (look here http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/Healthy/wellness_policyrequirements.html) Maybe you could broach this subject under the guise of federally required? I know that most districts around here have taken a hard stance on sugary foods but then the wind may blow differently in different parts of the US

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks for the link, Jasmine. It's a private school, so, no they don't. But I will suggest it. You bet I will!

Jeremy said...

If your child was diabetic they would have no choice but to rethink that system, or rethink the oversight that goes into it.

Examples like this are one of the reasons we ended up homeschooling our children, sad, sad, sad!