Oh lolli, lolli, lolli, lollipop!
I went to the dentist the other day for my bi-annual tooth scrubbing. As I was checking out, there sat a basket full of candy canes.
“A little self-serving, don’t you think?” I joked.
“We’re human too,” the receptionist said a bit defensively. “You’re not the only one who has called us out on this, though.”
I didn’t intend to be a killjoy. In fact, I am pretty flexible when it comes to food—sweets, junk food, fast food— I believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Lately, though, I am getting a little grouchy when it comes to healthcare professionals conveying an image or a message that may go against a healthy lifestyle, especially when kids are in the equation.
If a child can get a candy cane after a dental check-up, what is the message?
If a child gets a lollipop after a shot or a routine doctor’s check-up, what is the message?
I think the intended message is to allay fear, acknowledge bravery, and reward a child for getting through, perhaps, a difficult appointment.
But I think the actual message received is a little bit different. Research on food rewards (read: dessert, candy, cookies, etc) gives us some insight. Many studies have found that children experience a directional shift in their food preferences to reward foods when they are given reward foods. In other words, kids who are rewarded with sweets end up liking and preferring them.
Is that the message you want your child to get from the dentist, the doctor, or the optometrist? That’s a message many parents don’t want their kids to get, period. After all, it’s tough enough to navigate the sweets without getting them from trusted professionals.
Those little lollipops send a message that may have life-long implications—one that is heard loud and clear by most young children.
What message is your child hearing?