No, I’m not talking to you, my lovely trolls. Although you do feed my drive to keep writing.
What I am talking about is the habit where I live to give my children candy as a reward for any damn thing. You behaved – here’s some candy. You made it through ballet practice – here’s some candy. You listened during music class – here’s some candy. You did well on your report card – here’s some candy.
It’s infuriating. There isn’t one thing that either of my kids come home from where they don’t get candy. Thankfully, my son’s preschool limits the candy rewards, but he gets a “treat” for making it through his weekly trampoline class. My daughter comes home three times a week (ballet twice a week and once a week for music or art class) with a candy reward.
This is one of those moments where I get out my cane and put on my cranky old woman hat: “When I was your age,” I say, while shaking my cane, “I never got anything special for going to swim team practice or behaving well in school. In my day, it just meant that you didn’t get punished!” Which was true. I was expected to go to swim team because I had made a commitment. I was supposed to behave at school because that was the expectation. I was supposed to work hard in school because learning was its own reward.
And if I didn’t, I would be grounded.
I was never rewarded for meeting the basic expectations. I would get the odd reward for doing something exceptional, but it had to be really, really exceptional. It’s not that my parents had unreasonably high expectations for me, it’s that meeting the baseline level of expectation was…to be expected.
A few weeks ago, I watched as one of my son’s fellow trampoline-mates throw a grade-a temper tantrum because there wasn’t any candy to be had that day after their class. I felt bad for the kid’s mom, who was doing her best to try and diffuse the situation, but her kid wasn’t having any of it. There wasn’t any of the usual, ritual candy, and thus the day was ruined.
Thankfully, my kids know that the candy is not to be eaten until after dinner when we get home, but they’ve usually forgotten about it by then. We must have about 100 uneaten lollypops strewn about the house, all from just doing what is the minimum requirements of them. They both chose to do their activities, so it’s not like these are bribes of some kind to get them to show up. They both love their respective activities; my daughter practices her ballet on her own any chance she gets while my son is trying desperately to get us to buy a trampoline for our backyard so he can practice. They don’t need the candy (and with rising levels of childhood obesity, who does?), so why be so liberal with it?
I know that my own students have come through a system that rewards them for just doing what they are supposed to do. And the candy is as bad as grades when it comes to what students then expect from their experiences. It’s a pavlovian response, but when the students come into my class, they are often disappointed that we don’t just simply reward good behavior. I do worry about how that has conditioned them, however.
So, please, just stop it with the candy.