The “Teething Stage” of Eliminating Candy from your School

February 25, 2011

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For teachers, transitioning from sweet treats to non-candy rewards can be tricky in many ways. Educators know that rewarding a student with a non-food item is healthier and more beneficial for the student, but how do you get away with that and keep your students happy?

Phyllis Powell Pelt, RN, MS, ILCSN, has had a diverse nursing career, including 19 years of school nurse experience and likewise, has firsthand experience in transitioning from sweet treats to healthy or non-food rewards.

Most notably was her time spent at the Corporate Community Schools in North Lawndale, IL. The school’s founder, Joseph Kellman, envisioned a model wellness school and handpicked his faculty with people he knew could fulfill his vision and make a difference.

The staff would meet weekly to talk about how to make transitions and Pelt said it was not easy to break their own habits at first.

“We could not visually drink pop,” said Pelt. “We had to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Pelt said one of the biggest problems they saw with their students was the lack of dental health, and they used this as an opportunity to teach the students about caring for their teeth while rewarding them with tooth brushes and paste to practice what they learned.

“We had kids coming in with a fear of the dentist; we had kids with 12 to 14 cavities,” said Pelt. “We wanted the dentist to be a positive experience.”

This meant field trips to the University of Illinois Dental School and creating a teeth-brushing program at the school.

Making a dentist visit a fun and informative event presented an opportunity to reward the students.

“We asked the dental students to come to the school and hand out toothbrushes and then had the kids write thank you notes,” said Pelt. “They told students that after eating a sweet treat, you must brush your teeth within 15 minutes. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t have the treat.”

To go along with reducing the amount of sugary treats, Pelt said they started to transition from drinking pop to drinking water at their school.

An exciting treat for the younger students was to reward them with different shaped ice cubes for their water.

“The kids thought it was fun and the parents were surprised. They didn’t think their kids would get excited about something like ice cubes,” she said. 

For the older students, Pelt suggests coming up with a competition. One of her ideas was to see which grade can stop eating candy first.

Pelt knows that teachers enjoy rewarding their students with something sweet, and making the transition isn’t easy, but in the long run, candy and pop are not helping the students’ health.

“Parents and teachers need to be determined not to add to the down-the-road problem,” she said. “We need to move from our comfort zone to what we need to do.”

Plus! February was Dental Health Month!  Click here for tips, facts and other fun ideas to continue celebrating dental health throughout the year!