I'm lucky. My kids have never gotten candy at their elementary school, beyond some sugarless gum handed out for the slog of standardized testing day.
But the stories I've heard from other parents make me cringe: Gummy bears for every correct math answer, full-sized candy bars doled out for good behavior, even 20-ounce bottles of soda given as prizes. A study in 2013 found that about 65 percent of public elementary schools allow sugary items to be used as a reward.
I understand why sweets are an effective, short-term motivator in the classroom, which is why some teachers use them. But in the long run, it's a terrible idea. It teaches children that sweets are a reward for doing something good, a habit that won't serve them well throughout life. It feeds kids when they may not be hungry. It's awful for teeth. It only adds to the pile of sugar already in many schools from birthday cupcakes, classroom celebrations, and school parties. Besides, many schools are now teaching health and wellness as part of the curriculum. Candy rewards send the complete opposite message.
I'm not the only one who thinks so. A host of organizations—from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—say food should not be used as a reward.
If your child's teacher uses candy in the classroom and you're unhappy about it, here's what you can do:
Talk to the teacher: I've heard from many teachers that they much prefer you go to them first when you have an issue in your child's classroom. After all, they're the people on the front lines, they make decisions about what happens in their classrooms, and it's only right that you talk to them first. Explain politely that you have concerns about candy rewards and ask whether alternative rewards can be used (here's a list of 15 non-food classroom rewards that are working in schools across the country).
Chat with other parents: Chances are, other parents feel the same way. This doesn't have to be playground gossip, but reaching out to a few other parents in the room can help bolster your case if you eventually take your concerns to the principal or administrators.
Check your school's wellness policy: All public schools must have a district wellness policy on the books. Talk to the principal about your school's policy (or call your district to get a copy). Ours actually states that candy can't be used as a classroom reward. If yours does too, that guideline should be followed.
For more ideas, get this free e-book from the blog The Lunch Tray, Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child's Classroom.
Does YOUR child's school use candy in the classroom? How do you feel about it?
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.