The Carrot

From time to time, when I am grocery shopping I will drop my kids off at the PlayLand housed within the store. I used to be skeptical of these rooms but once I was familiar with the childcare providers I realized they genuinely care for children and are very careful about safety. I drop my 4-year-old and 2-year-old off and have one full hour of sanity during which I grocery shop in peace. It’s the small things sometimes.

When I first began taking my kids to the PlayLand they would leave with a sticker and coloring sheet in hand. A few months ago they started giving out a balloon to each kid as they left. When we got to the car-my groceries, two children, their stickers, coloring sheets, and helium balloons-I now had the pleasure of juggling not just the groceries and children into the car but also had to take care to make sure the balloons didn’t fly away. At one point I remember wrapping my son’s balloon around the head rest to get it to stay in place.

This is ridiculous, I thought. I’m not going to accept the balloons next time. But when it rolled around I felt guilty denying my kids the balloons. Every other kid was getting one and now they knew that this was part of the routine and I would have to deal with their disappointment in expecting this. Plus, in some sort of backwards upside down world it makes me appear ungrateful. You’re not going to let your kids take a balloon? 

This last time after I signed my kids out-stickers, coloring sheets, and balloons in hand- the attendant then handed me a coupon for a free movie rental. My initial thought was that’s nice and then I had an immediate sense of defensiveness. What do they think? They need to bribe me to get me to come back?

Ultimately, the meaning of our relationship is now undermined because it isn’t enough for me to just trust them. It isn’t enough for me to look her in the eyes and say thank you. It isn’t enough to pick up my kids and see that they were treated well. Now, it has become about a token, a reward, a carrot, rather than the graciousness of appreciation.


There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.                                                                                                                Alfie Kohn, Punished By Rewards

I’ve recently been paying more attention to the use of rewards in our society. This topic of using rewards is startlingly blatant and dangerously overused. My example above is about a situation in the community but I’m learning that token systems are a typical method implemented in our schools to ‘motivate’ kids to complete their work. I’m deeply disturbed by this as I believe it undermines the enjoyment of learning. I don’t have the answers to our education problems but I am at a loss as to how this is so pervasively acceptable.