by: Gelsey Brizo
Cookies before Bed: Spoiling or a Reward?
There are thousands upon thousands of parenting books out there that give you neat little step-by-step guides on how to raise your kids, but we all know that parenting is a lot more complicated than that.
Not only do you have to consider the different parenting methods out there, but the same method might not work on all your children. I know my sister and I have completely different personalities so some of the methods my mom used to get me to eat my food or behave, just didn’t work on her. So, how do you make the difference between good and bad parenting methods? Other than trial and error, no one really has a clear answer. One of the greatest controversies in parenting is when, and if, spoiling your children is appropriate. Some parents offered helpful suggestions on the topic that you might find useful on the long and arduous journey of child rearing.
Because the word “spoiling” carries such negative connotations, Bahiy Watson, the executive director of The 1881 Research Institute, says “I think “spoiling” is an inappropriate word to use. I like to believe that I’m teaching my children that there are consequences for their actions. Good actions lead to good consequences and bad actions lead to bad consequences.” The term “reward” seems to be a much more popular alternative, and describes the process of positive reinforcement much better. Bahiy brings up another good point about how rewarding his children works. He emphasizes the importance of how you reward them, not just with what. Bahiy and his wife “use different forms of rewards and [they’ve] used dessert as a reward in the past. If [they] do use dessert as a reward it consists of [them] sitting at the ice cream parlor eating ice cream.” Their kids get treated to ice cream, but also to quality family time. It shows them that they’re parents appreciate their good behavior enough to go out with them and give them ice cream and their time.
Similarly, Summer Blackhurst, a writer for Go Au Pair and a mother of three, believes that rewarding children for doing the right thing is important. However, she prefers to spoil her children with her love and time, rather than with material things. Summer says, “I don’t use dessert as a reward, it gives them the wrong idea that treats are the way to celebrate achievements. Treats are always a sideshow to my spoiling. Spoiling for me is quality time.” In spending quality time with her children, her rewards often consist of taking them to their favorite place, such as the park. She gets to spend time with them, and they get to play and enjoy themselves as a reward for their good behavior.
Most parents agree that spoiling, or rather rewarding, a child from time to time is good for them and helps them learn right from wrong. Author Christopher Sharp says that “Rewards and praise are important so [children] know that they’re on the right path. Bring home a good grade… it’s time for a trip out to get ice cream. That’s how they learn right from wrong, good from bad.” Christopher has 2 girls, ages 8 and 12, and considers himself a strict parent. However, he also recognizes that you can’t be strict all the time, if you are, you become just like a tyrant. It’s good to have a firm guiding hand with your children, but you also don’t want to force them to do things all the time either. When he sees his kids doing the right thing, even without being told to do so, he lets them know and encourages them to keep doing the right thing. Structure in a reward system is also crucial, because you don’t want to spoil them too much either. Finding that balance is hard, but Christopher says that “most importantly you must make every effort to be consistent, across the board. Don’t change the rules in the middle of the game because ‘I said so.’”If you have rules, stick to them, the better you follow the structure you build up in your parenting, the more your kids will follow it and respect it.
Some of you might be thinking, where is the line? When does a structured reward system turn into negative spoiling? Valarie Blackman of Memphis, Tennessee says that when you see your kids taking advantage of their rewards, you know you have started being too lenient. When “they’re able to get away with it that one time. They’re most definitely going to try it again. Parents tend to feel bad when we can’t or don’t give [their] children what they want, when they want it. But generally, it’s in their best interest,” says Valarie. As a mother of 4, Valarie knows that it’s just as important to shower them with love as it is to be firm. Children need be held accountable for their actions, especially at ages in which they should already know right from wrong, that is why creating a structured system of rewards is so important.
When it comes to sweat rewards, Andrea Cox, an in-house nutritionist at Healthy.co, says she believes “kids should be given their dessert no matter what! Even served with their dinner! Why? Because it actually enforces a good relationship with food.”This is the concept of mindful eating, “eating what we are hungry for” until we are no longer hungry. In response to sceptical parents, Andrea says, “You may think following this idea will result in a child who never eats anything healthy. Wrong! When kids don’t have pressure to eat a certain type of food, they can explore it on their own and can actually like it on their own accord. So I say give your kids dessert! Don’t make it a daily thing, try having one dessert as a family once a week. Just don’t create a complex around the mealtime and your kids will do great.” Again, managing rewards through structure, such as eating dessert once a week as a family, can create healthy habits and positive relationships with food that will help your child throughout their life. Using food as a positive reinforcement rather than creating negative associations with certain foods, is always best. I remember when I was younger my grandmother used to make me eat lentils almost everyday because my iron was really low. She would force me to eat them so much that, ‘til this day, I can’t even look at a lentil without thinking of all the negative memories associated with it. So, don’t chastise them for eating a cookie, but praise them for making balanced choices in their eating.
No one really knows the answer to the age old questions of “how much spoiling is too much,” because every parent is as different as every child is. But having a structured parenting style and reward system can help reinforce positive behaviors in your children. How you do this is up to you as, again, every child is different. Just don’t forget to shower some love and cookies on your little ones from time to time, they deserve to be rewarded for being great kids.
About the Author:
Gelsey Brizo. A senior at the University of Florida pursuing a degree in English. Born and raised in Miami, Florida she speaks both English and Spanish fluently and loves to watch and play soccer. A book fanatic who enjoys to read and write, she can’t go a day without a cup of coffee, a good read or her favorite music.