Halloween, it arrives every year, and every year parents dread the struggle over the candy. But as a mother and a Dietitian, I would like to change the attitude toward Halloween candy. For the record, I do let Little Bit eat her Halloween candy.
The power of the word No
Before I explain why I let her eat it, let’s talk about something I’m pretty sure every parent has experienced at some point. That is the power of the word no on our children.
I told Little Bit once not to stand in her chair. Obviously, I didn’t want her to fall and get hurt. She took it as a great way to get a reaction from me. Looking directly at me, she would ever so slowly start to stand up. She would keep going, just waiting for my reaction. Blatantly defying me.
How many other parents have experienced something similar? Maybe it wasn’t a chair. Perhaps it was not touching something in the kitchen. Whatever it was, as soon as you made that action forbidden, that is all your child wanted to do. This is the power of the word no.
When I was working with cardiac patients, I was constantly asked for lists of foods. Those that were allowed and those that were forbidden. First of all, there was great disappointment when I told them that such lists do not exist. Second of all, I wouldn’t have provided such a list even if there was one. The moment you tell someone that a food is bad, and to never eat it again, that is all that person wants. It is thought of constantly. Consumed in secret. Carries the weight of guilt. When a parent takes this hard line stance on food at home, that parent is placing a lifelong cloak of guilt on that child.
Hear me say, I am NOT advocating NOT giving children firm and clear boundaries. In fact, children need to respect boundaries in many areas of life. It is not just at home, but also at school. To teach children to respect boundaries and authority is to teach them to be law abiding citizens who are capable of holding down a job. What I am advocating, is that we do not use food as a teaching tool. The only forbidden foods should be those that cause an allergic reaction.
The Teal Pumpkin Project
While we are not a food allergy family, each year we participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project. This is a national effort to allow children with food allergies or intolerances to safely participate in trick-or-treating.
At Halloween I have two bowls. One with candy and one with non-food treats. I NEVER ask a child if s/he has a food allergy, I just ask each child if they would prefer candy or a toy for his/her treat. No child likes to feel different, which is why I don’t ask. I just let each child pick a treat. I’m shocked at the number of kids (who I sometimes know do not have a food allergy) will choose a toy for the simple reason of seeing something fun in that bowl. Little Bit has even chosen fun pencils and toys over candy.
The goal of the Teal Pumpkin Project is to promote safe trick-or-treating for kids with food allergies, but I think we can also use it as an opportunity to offer non-candy treats for all kids.
How to avoid the tummy ache
How do I let Little Bit eat her candy, avoid a tummy ache, and avoid a fight? Like every other kid on Halloween night, the first thing she does when she gets home is dump her candy out all over the table. She then proceeds to sort through it and remove everything she doesn’t like. That is the discard pile. I just smile because I can remember doing the same thing, but also because that discard pile usually has a few pieces that Hubs and I would enjoy snacking on! Honestly, that night I let her indulge in her candy without much influence from me. Of course, we make sure we brush teeth really well.
Once she goes to bed I put the candy away in the pantry, and from that point on, I let her have a few pieces each day as part of her regular meals. She must ask for a piece, and I don’t fight the request. Kids sense our hesitancy, so I don’t hesitate. This gives us the chance to talk about eating candy and how it tastes good, it is fun to trick-or-treat, but candy is something we enjoy in amounts smaller than other foods. It opens the door for wonderful conversations about food and nutrition. I know you may not believe me, but when you take away the power of no, food battles are lessened.
What happens when your plans go off the rails
There is one thing being a parent has taught me, it is that even the best laid plans and notions on parenting can go completely off the rails. Kids are so unique. If you are a parent of a kid that just can’t stay out of the Halloween candy and you are worried, there are usually at least a few dental offices that offer candy buy back. I think that is a great option for some kids, but only if handled appropriately. Parents that go about the candy buy back with a controlling attitude, and focus on how the candy has to be removed because it is bad, are inadvertently giving it the power of no.
My recommendation, before Halloween, start looking for a way to help the child earn a special toy or experience. It needs to be something that requires money and motivates the child earn that money. Let the child go trick-or-treating, but also tell the child about the buy back program. The role of the parent is help the child see that the candy from trick-or-treating has value, and it can be sold to earn something of even more value. It is an awesome lesson in personal finance too!
Don’t forget to have fun
Halloween and candy is a deeply rooted American tradition. Instead of fighting traditions around food, we serve our children better by using them as times to model healthy relationships with food. Go have fun with your kids!