Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Warning: Food Vent Ahead

You've had a great day of listening, let's go get a special treat! And we skip off to the store to get candy or whip out a bowl of ice cream.

And we wonder why we eat when we're happy, eat when we're sad, eat when we're bored.

We condition our children to see food as much more than something to nourish our bodies and help us survive.

I'm tired of it. Don't get me wrong, I've done it, too, even recently, but today it sunk in for me just how much of a problem this is.

Dean had his first home visit with his teacher from his school group, which will start tomorrow. She comes to our house and does a lesson based on what they're going to do in school, and then on Thursdays we go (I come too) to a group where they combine other kids with IEPs and typically developing kids for a school experience. According to Dean's teacher, they use food as a reward for things like coming to circle time when called, imitating the teacher in a song, etc. I explained that in no way was that going to work with Dean, that we felt very strongly about not ever using food as a reward for him. I figured if she knew about PWS, then she would know why this is how we feel about it, so I asked if she knew about PWS. She said she did. And... yet she was clearly not thrilled when I mentioned the food situation. So during group, then, other children will be rewarded for their behavior and Dean will get... nothing. I offered to bring in stickers or something else and she said that stickers usually become distractions. True. But there has to be SOMETHING else.

I know we use food because it works, and in children young like Dean, it's a concrete, pleasurable reward. But just because it's easy and it works, doesn't mean it's good for them. We're teaching children over years and years of rewarding them this way that food is tied to who you are as a person, whether you are "good" or "bad." Then later when some children become obese teenagers and adults, we point our fingers in judgment and shake our heads about how could *they* ever get like that.

I don't know how much to push the teacher on this one because she has been doing things this way for a LONG time and this is our first day. I want to get on her good side and then work our way in. In the meanwhile, though, we would have to deal with things as they are right now. Suggestions welcome.

Blah.

14 comments:

Jesi said...

I totally agree with you! I used to bring candy for my kids at dance but switched to stickers for the same reason. I give stickers at the end of class and maybe during for a special accomplishment...sure they end up on the floor or their head but better than dealing with food as a reward not to mention food allergies and special needs...stickers for everyone! I hope they figure it out best for Dean!

DaddyMatt said...

I'd make the argument that they ban peanuts because some kids are allergic to peanuts, that there are so many concessions made for so many conditions, that yours is certainly no different.

Haley said...

Amen! I hear you and I totally support you!

I am so scared to send Nicholas to school with his food allergies (he has life threatening allergies to dairy, eggs and nuts). People always tell me "well just pack his lunch." Lunch isn't what worries me. It is treats, rewards, birthdays, parties, food as a manipulative. Food is EVERYWHERE. People don't have to live in fear of food don't get it. I know I never thought twice about it before I had Nicholas.

I hope as a society we can start to figure out how to make food nourishment for survival and not the center of our everything.

Between allergies, obesity, genetic conditions, diabetes, etc. there a lot of people for whom food has to be carefully monitored.

amomwithnails said...

OK, I've never heard of food rewards at that age for any type of school situation. I agree it's bad idea for all of us (and yes, I've done it, trying to stop) and I can't believe the teacher didn't get why this is a really bad idea for Dean, not to mention every kid. So not fair to reward some and not others that can't get food, so not fair for Dean. Keep fighting (I know you will, and that this is a tough situation). Ugh foryou.

Cathleen said...

I don't think food should ever be a reward for something in school. There are other ways to get kids to do things, you don't have to give food to accomplish things. That being said, we did give Lilly m&m's as a reward for learning to go to the potty (and don't regret it because she was training at age 2 which is young for DS), and use her vitamins (of all things) as an occasional bribe bc she loves them so much. But in a school situation it's not appropriate - especially when you are getting kids to do what they should be doing - will they only come to circle time if you bribe them, and not any other time? At Lilly's last school, "unhealthy" food wasn't allowed at all for lunch or anything - no processed foods, desserts, etc - which (although we don't always follow that at home) I totally thought was perfect. This year every day the kids rotate bringing in "snack" and I am shocked when - at 9 am - kids (parents) bring in cupcakes for the class (in a non birthday regular snack kind of setting!). We usually do fruit! OK that's all from my perspective. I'd definitely challenge it, but get some ideas on the best way to do it so you don't offend her, but make her realize how inappropriate it is - regardless of whether your child has PWS - but especially because your child has PWS. I think stamps are a good solution, kids can look at them on the skin but not play with them the way they would with a sticker. (And can't kids play with their food just like they would with a sticker?) Sending love and support.

mollie said...

i like matt's perspective.

an alternative to stickers that they use at lily's school are stamps. nothing to fall off or fiddle with.

Ali Foley Shenk said...

Thanks, all!

I went the route of likening it to an allergy. They said it was different because an allergy is a matter of personal safety and this is not. :( Except, they're wrong.

I'm so discouraged. I've printed out a bunch of documents for them to read/consider and if that doesn't do it, I'm going up the ladder again.

Erin said...

WTF? I cannot fathom, for all the reasons you stated, why any teacher would use food in this way for any child. It sounds like she is training puppies to do tricks, not teaching people. There are so many kinds of positive reinforcement - kind words directed to the child, high fives, singing praises of a child to his parents when he is in earshot, stickers or sticker charts, having everyone sing a short song to celebrate “getting it right” together as a group, a pat on the back, a big smile. If earning something is so important, how about letting kids earn a puzzle piece for proper behavior and once all pieces are earned and the puzzle is together, it reveals a reward like a new game or activity for the class, a trip to the library for a special story time, etc. I could on all night. That this teacher doesn’t “get it,” is unwilling to look at things from your perspective, and clearly lacks creativity in approaching the situation speaks volumes. I would do whatever I could to find another teacher. I’m sorry, Ali. This really sucks. Good luck!

Erin said...

If you cannot get a new teacher, I would enlist the help of the other parents. You are such a kind and friendly person, I think it would be really easy to win them over to your side. Perhaps put together a brief one-pager to describe why the situation is really bad for Dean (don't get into why it's bad for their kids, otherwise they might feel like you are telling them how to parent their kids) and make a mini-petition for them to sign. If the majority of parents object, it will be much harder for the teacher to justify continuing to do it.

Diana P said...

"They said it was different because an allergy is a matter of personal safety and this is not."
HONESTLY? This makes me angry but also sad. How do we just not get it sometimes? How do we get so blind to what is different and inconvenient and harder? I never remember food being a reward growing up...it was a treat sometimes, but never a reward. I agree that for all of us this is a really bad idea and gives food a place it should not have. Even without PWS, you have a valid argument. But honestly, why can someone not see how unfair this is to Dean and how unsafe it is for him? Clearly you have support as you fight this one Ali :). Praying for you...

Kevin said...

Ali, This is a tough situation right out of the gate, not knowing anyone well yet. If I was you, I'd step back and punt. Just say no to the program for a year and protect Dean. I can't see anyway that the people in charge would not find it threatening if you were to get signatures from other parents, etc.. They may have heard of PWS, but obviously not to the level of understanding that is required. Your situation is not as dire as one of those poor parents that have a child with "episode" allergies at this point, so take some time and make a plan.

Jennifer said...

There are so many options to reward children in the classroom like praise and activities; it's so hard to believe that this teacher would rely on food, giving treats as though she were training dogs, not educating children. Food as a reward shouldn't be practiced with children or with ourselves, either, given the obesity rate in the US. t think your plan of bringing in documents is your best bet - this teacher might think she knows about food issues and PWS, but in fact she may not. When we were trying to persuade my school district about something, it was hard, cold, readable facts on paper (instead of us verbalizing information) that convinced them the most and enabled them to understand things. I think some teachers are very stuck in their habits and routines, however, (moreso than any other profession I know) and some become extremely angry in accommodating a child with a disability. I would think that they would be more flexible and understanding, given that children learn in so many different ways, but old habits die hard. When teachers have to make changes, and especially if parents need to go above their heads, some teachers take their feelings out on the child in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I've heard so many stories and have experienced it firsthand, from the third grade (when my teacher mocked me and smiled as the entire class laughed) all the way up to high school (when I was graded unfairly and couldn't fully participate in biology lab because of a life-threatening, documented latex allergy associated with my disability). I'm praying that this works out for Dean!

Ali Foley Shenk said...

Thanks, all. GUnK, I was thinking about pulling him too, but part of the reason we put him in a program like this is because without it, they don't have much information to use for placement when he turns 3... meaning about whether to put him in a typical classroom with supports or in a special ed. classroom. I think we might have the option to switch teachers, which we might want to do even if she does resolve this because I don't want her to take it out on Dean like Jenn is saying. I know that I'm already *that* parent, but I don't really care because I have to do what is best for my son. :/

Aubrey Torrey Photography said...

i think you should suggest stamps as well! maybe even for all of the kids. it is much cheaper too! it's not going to be a distractin! i can think of a million reasons why it's better. they did this in avery's little class we used to go to and the kids loved it. they'd even put it on their belly buttons (not sure what age that is not appropriate) but then put their shirts down and the kids almost forgot about it. i would consider switching schools if they don't change something. you have to do what is best for dean!