Think Big, Start Small: Right Rewards

In the final installation of our series on small changes you can make to help your kids grow up healthy and happy, Kansas Action for Children shares more on the key changes parents and educators can make related to food, drinks and activity that can have a big impact on the health of Kansas kids.

THINK BIG. Start Small.

Small Changes, Big Impact

To help maximize the impact of a few changes, we’ve identified four top priorities based on research and collaboration with Kansas experts:

  1. Better Beverages
  2. Unplug Under 2
  3. Breastfeeding Benefits and
  4. Right Rewards.

These are simple changes that are designed to work for families and child care programs – from small family day care homes to big child care centers.

Right Rewards

To help kids learn to enjoy healthy food and physical activity, we need to rethink some customs around rewards and incentives. Food and physical activity should not be used as a punishment or as a reward.

If you reward good behavior with unhealthy food (like ice cream or candy), kids develop a stronger preference for sweets. It also contradicts nutrition values they are learning at home and in child care. Rewarding kids with unhealthy food is like saying “You need healthy food to grow up strong and feel good, but if you’re good, you will be rewarded with unhealthy food.” Confusing, right? Food rewards also give kids calories they may not need, or replace healthier food in their day. By providing food only when kids are hungry – and not as a treat – children learn to respond to their bodies’ hunger cues. Instead, reward good behavior with praise, a fun activity or other classroom privilege (like leading an activity or picking a game for the group). Similarly, using physical activity – like running laps – as a punishment for bad behavior reinforces negative associations with exercise.

Regular activity helps children regulate their actions and behavior, so punishing bad behavior by limiting activity (like making a child sit in time-out while other kids get to run around) can be counter-productive. Activity should not be treated like a privilege. Instead, correct problematic behavior by restricting screen time or taking away a toy.

Food and physical activity are necessary for all kids. Don't reward good behavior with food. Physical activity should not be withheld as a form of discipline.

Small change for Right Rewards:

  • Try celebrating good behavior with a dance party
  • Keep right rewards – like stickers or special activities – available

Learn more about using physical activity in the preschool classroom and at home:

The Think Big! Start Small Pledge Program

Now that you know how small changes in child care and early education programs can have a big impact on the lives of young kids, providers are invited to pledge to support these changes.

The Think Big! Start Small provider pledge is a voluntary program led by Child Care Aware® of Kansas and Kansas Action for Children to connect child care providers and early educators with information and resources to promote healthy habits for kids related to food, drink, active play and screen time. You can also connect with other Think Big! Start Small pledge providers on Pinterest to share your ideas and learn from others across the state. Changes you make when kids are small can have big benefits!

By completing a simple online pledge, child care providers are committing to help make Kansas kids healthier through a few simple changes in their programs. Already, hundreds of providers from child care centers and homes across Kansas have taken the Think Big! Start Small pledge! Join us in building healthier communities so that all Kansas kids can grow up healthy – take the pledge today!

Natalie Moreland

Natalie works in the Kids Library and has a background in teaching. She delights in spreading bookjoy to people of all ages. She also takes interest in cycling, creating art, social justice, raising small livestock, and making music.