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Just Rewards

Posted by Liesbet B.


Imagine your daughter arrives home from a rough day at school. You give her a hug and ask “Did you have a bad day honey?” and say, “How about a cigarette to make you feel better?” Imagine your son just rode a bike solo for the first time. With excitement, you swing him in your arms and tell him, “I am so proud of you! Let’s celebrate with some cigarettes!” Shocking?

Why? Because, whether you smoke or not, you know that cigarette smoking is a habit that is addictive and can kill. You would not want your child to smoke and definitely don’t want smoking to be a habit they turn when in need of comfort, or for a reward.

How do we comfort and reward our children? Let’s rewrite the previous scenarios. As you see your daughters drooping face you ask her, “Did you have a bad day honey?” and say, “ Let’s make some chocolate chip cookies.” After your son’s brave solo ride you swing him around while saying, “Wow, you are amazing! Let’s go out for ice cream to celebrate.” Does that sound better? REALLY?

Did you know that , although the leading cause of death among Americans in 2000 was tobacco related (18.1%) the second highest cause of was related to poor diet and physical inactivity (16.6%)? *JAMA. 2004;291:1238-1245

Did you know that obesity in children has doubled in the last two decades and health complications associated with obesity has risen dramatically in children? According to the American Diabetes Association, children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (often associated with obesity) has risen from less than 4 percent of all childhood diabetes cases in 1990 to as much as 45 percent in 2000.*Diabetes Care.3/2000,v23,n3

Many of you have at least a rough idea of what healthy eating entails and are thoughtful about what you eat. But when is it hardest to stick to your diet? Is it when you feel depressed? Is it also when you are celebrating?

Our brain is programmed to create physical and emotional responses to stimuli. We are all aware of how a smell or a song can instantly bring us back in time. We often can’t recall the exact memory but we can “feel” it – the happiness, the sadness, the comfort or the joy of that particular time in our lives, the person or place that we are reminded of. Comfort and reward habits are just like that. A tub of ice cream feels comforting because somewhere in our past we spent time being comforted with someone while eating a tub of ice cream. Having cake and ice cream makes us feel special because, in many families, every year, all the people we love sing to us and make us feel special by celebrating our life over cake and ice cream.

Wouldn’t it be great if your brain had been programmed to crave a good run around the block when you felt down and out? Wouldn’t it be great if celebrating meant eating something that made your body feel strong and taking time to do something that felt good in every way, like sharing your excitement with your friends while going for a walk?

Here is my challenge to you.

Try comforting your children in ways that will create healthy habits. Often what is needed is to know that someone cares enough to stop what they are doing and listen. A walk can be a great comfort. An open sky, a little exercise and a sympathetic, loving soul by your side can do wonders for a drooping heart.

Try rewarding your children in ways that are fun and healthy. How about playing their favorite game (even if it is one you don’t enjoy), or taking them for a bike ride?

By making these changes, your children will learn to associate these activities with your love and support. When they are older and in need of those feelings, they will naturally turn to the activities you used to comfort them or reward them.

The next challenge is to treat your self as you would your children, whether you have children or not. You can change unhealthy habits. Every time you do something different you are taking a step towards creating a new habit. If you falter, it’s ok. Two steps forward and one step back still move you forward.

Poor diet and inactivity are unhealthy habits and are not intrinsically pleasurable. In fact, once you have made a change in your habits, clean, fresh food and a run around the block do feel like a reward. Being healthy, having energy, feeling strong – these are all qualities that make life more fun!

Liesbet and her husband Tim run Contra Costa Adventure Boot Camp. The one hour a day classes offer adults a fun and supportive environment to get healthy and fit., 925-457-4587.

Comments (1)
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I really like this entry. I need reminders myself sometimes that a cookie is not a reward for a job well done. I try to give my son a hug or a word of praise when he does something well and husband follows my lead. For potty training, I will let him "press the button" (flush the toilet) as a reward for successes. To add to this, it is important to celebrate successes and to be sure not to get caught up focusing on negatives. By turning positives (a good day) into even further positives (rewarding with a hug or fave game), as you've suggested, can only result in a positive outlook!
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