Sugar is not a reward for anything at our house. Not any more.

It all started late one evening after my kids ordered two banana splits for dessert at our favorite restaurant. Janine and I are not normally dessert people. But the kids had been applying themselves so well in school and making such amazing progress with mathematics that we decided we just had to celebrate their success with--sugar. Really? I’m not sure what we were thinking. But we did it anyway.

Can I just tell you? The children who walked into that restaurant and the children who walked out were like two different species, as different as humans are from chimps. They walked in calm and upright--the kind of creatures who could concentrate for long periods of time and use words like “quadrilateral” in a sentence. They walked out hunched and spring-loaded, bent on slap-stick destruction of the world and each other. On the way home, the simian antics got so bad, I had to white-knuckle the steering wheel to keep my attention on the road. I feared for our safety.

So that was the last time we used sugar as a reward for anything.

Think about it. Your kids are doing great; they’re behaving well. So as a reward you give them sugar? So they can, what? Not behave well and not do great? Does that make any sense at all? And yet we do it all the time. Don’t we? (Please tell me I’m not the only smart person who has done this.)

So I’ve been thoughtful lately, trying to hit upon some other ways to reward my kids. Trying to come up with things that would be even more meaningful than sugar—because I can’t take something away without giving them something more in return.

Here’s a few things off the top of my head that might be better rewards than sugar:

  • Speak strength into their strengths with genuine praise.
  • Give long lingering hugs.
  • Organize play dates with friends.
  • Allow screen time for Minecraft, which they appear to enjoy immensely (for their own inscrutable reasons).

Okay. That sounds like a plan.

Or at least a starting line in the sand.

But no plan survives first contact with the enemy. We’ll probably forget when we’re tired or when the going gets tough. Yes, we’ll flail and fail and resort to sugar bribes without thinking. But to have set up a different intention from the get go, to have set down some ready made alternatives, this will make all the difference in how often we fall off the wagon. I’m pretty sure.

How about you? What creative sugarless solutions have you found to meaningfully reward your kids? I’m all ears! As a community, I’m sure we can come up with tons more ideas. As Dr. Hyman likes to say, "I’m Ok, you’re Ok, but we’re better together.” True that.

Yours in Health and Resilience,