Thursday, 19 May 2011
Black marks and 'treats'
I took my 3 year old on a play date yesterday with 2 little mates of his from nursery. The little boy whose house we went to - let's call him Jimmy - has a large gold star/black mark chart taped to the kitchen wall. Every time he does something 'good' he gets a gold star and a treat and every time he does something 'naughty' he gets a black mark and the treat is withdrawn. When I asked what the treats were he answered with one word and a glint in his eye: sweets.
The boys were playing wildly, running around, wrestling and shouting and generally doing what boys do. I was on a work call and Jimmy's nanny was a whirlwind of activity: she was fixing the boys' lunch, emptying the dishwasher, hanging out the laundry and trying to tidy up all at the same time and she was getting increasingly frustrated with Jimmy who kept on throwing toys all over the place. She told him once, twice, three times to stop and then shouted: "Right! That's it. You're getting a black mark and no treats after lunch!" She got a big marker pen, drew a large black dot on the chart and wrote "naughty" next to it. Jimmy seemed unfazed and carried right on flinging his cars against the wall. I finished my call and got the little hooligans involved in a game of football outside until lunch was ready and we all sat down.
After lunch, the nanny took a large tin out of a cupboard and doled out sweets to my son and the other boy. She turned to Jimmy and said: "You're not getting any because you've been naughty." Jimmy sat there and looked mortified as he watched the other two wolfing down the sweets. I sat there and felt intensely uncomfortable.
What has all of this got to do with Beyond Chocolate? Well it struck me yesterday that Jimmy will grow up with certain associations: he will associate obedience and rewards with sweets...and punishment with deprivation. Sweets will become (or most probably already have become) something special and a bit forbidden. Something Jimmy will long for...not because they taste good and he loves them particularly but because he has been taught from a young age that when he has them he is 'good', loved, approved of. Can you start to see how Jimmy's star chart fits in with Beyond Chocolate?
I wonder how many millions of children are learning the same lesson as Jimmy. Before the indignant comments start pouring in I want to say that I am not dissing Jimmy's parenting choices here. They do what they believe is best and everyone is entitled to that. Star charts and black marks may very well help to make Jimmy a great person. This is not about whether this parenting method is OK or not, it's about what the consequences are in terms of our relationship with food and how it impacts the choices that these children will make when faced with a packet of sweets later on in life. It's about how these children choose to comfort themsevles, reward themselves and make themselves feel better as adults.
Were you ever given sweets as a reward in childhood? Were you ever punished by being deprived of them? How do you think it has shaped the way you view sweets today?