We live in a candy-crazed society, so it probably comes as no surprise that most kids crave sweets. The upcoming Easter holiday is one that is especially candy-coated. How are you responding to the clamor for candy?
Discovering how to deal with candy (without being too restrictive— or completely giving up) can be tricky. I kept my child off sweets for as long as possible. It wasn’t until his first birthday that I let him have his first sweet: his birthday cake. Well, my strategy backfired on me: this kid loved his birthday cake and birthday candy so much that he refused to eat anything else! (And boy, could he throw tantrums!)
That’s when I learned to be compassionate in order to enforce firm boundaries. Who doesn’t love sweets? So, I began to allow my son to have a small piece of cake or a small piece of candy . . . but only after he ate his entire meal.
Well, again—my plan backfired. My son stopped eating for a number of meals, which in turn, started to chip at my resolve. I began to worry that he would starve until a veteran parent reminded me that even though some kids have a very strong will, they aren’t going to starve from a self-inflicted hunger strike. We just needed to continue to state and restate our boundary without getting caught up in his emotional turmoil. He was testing us. Could we pass his test?
We did, although I was a complete wreck. It’s hard being a parent of a child who throws tantrum after tantrum, particularly when he sees you as the enemy.
But we held firm. Then once he understood the boundary, we worked on getting him out of the habit of having a sweet dessert with every meal. Today, this kid hardly eats sweets at all. Who knew?
Television, product packaging, the Internet, and billboards certainly don’t help parents set boundaries. Junk food advertisements catch our kids’ eyes, and what do they see? Unhealthy foods, often times endorsed by their favorite cartoon character or celebrity, that look so delicious that they need to eat them now! The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies researched the influence on food marketing to children and concluded that food advertising on television affected kids in four ways:
1. The food choices children make
2. Children requesting their parents to buy certain advertised foods
3. Children’s diets
4. Children’s health
When my kids were young (toddler and preschool age), I began requiring that they only watch children’s DVDs or children’s TV shows that I recorded (and then fast forwarded through the commercials). The problem was Saturday mornings. The kids were up early, and it was hard as a parent to get up that early. So my kids often watched Saturday morning TV with the commercials that especially appealed to them. Researchers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest discovered that 91 percent of Saturday morning commercials promote foods high in sugar, fat, or sodium. Of foods advertised on Saturday morning, 14 percent are for candy, 18 percent are for snack foods, 10 percent are for beverages, and 19 percent are for restaurants. Twenty-seven percent are for cereal and cereal bars, 4 percent are for yogurt, 3 percent are for frozen treats, and the remaining percent is for packaged meals and breakfast pastries. No wonder we parents feel like we’re losing a battle when our kids pressure us to buy candy, soda pop, snacks, and other unhealthy foods.
So what can we do?
Observe. Where do your kids get candy? When our kids were in child care, they were often rewarded for good behavior with candy. That was a problem. We talked to the child care workers and got that changed.
Notice. We also noticed that some adults think the only way that they can interact with young children is by giving them candy. We know a number of older adults who carry around candy as a way to connect with kids. We asked them to stop and to think of another way to connect with our kids. One began carrying around magic tricks. Another brought children’s picture books. Both were surprised at how much deeper their relationships became with kids when they switched from candy to relationship-building connections.
Innovate. We began creating new traditions around candy-covered holidays. Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween are some of the biggest candy holidays for kids. We let our kids still have candy on those days, but we put limits on how much they could eat. We also taught our kids to analyze the stash of candy they received and really discern which candy they liked (to keep) and which candy they didn’t like (to give away or throw out). We wanted our kids to learn to eat candy mindfully: to eat smaller doses of candy but to eat the candy slowly and to really enjoy the experience rather than just gobbling down large handfuls.
Teach! We taught our kids how to analyze commercials and advertising. What were these commercials promoting? Why? (They were shocked when they learned that these were companies advertising for us to buy things so the companies could earn more money.) Now, I’m not saying advertising is bad, but young children need to learn that advertising can be misleading.
As our kids became teenagers, candy turned into liquid candy: soda pop. One of my teenagers was shocked when he went to the dentist and had four cavities within six months of his last dental visit. The first thing the dentist asked was, “How much soda pop do you drink?” His answered revealed exactly why he had four cavities. After that, we encouraged our son to drink flavored waters, and banned soda pop in our household. At this age, teens have more freedom and can access to soda pop and candy in vending machines and at their friends’ homes. That’s why it’s important to continue the conversation.
Here’s an interesting and alarming fact: Some candy is almost as acidic as battery acid! Battery acid has a pH of 1.0. War Heads Sour Spray® has a pH of 1.6, and Wonka Fun Dip® powder has a pH of 1.8. Dentists say that teeth lose their calcium when the pH is at a 4.0 or lower. (A pH of 7.0 is neither acidic nor alkaline. The lower the pH, the more acidic something is.)
Despite this alarming information, it’s important to take a balanced view of candy. Our family recognizes that candy is “fun food.” Candy is enjoyable to eat, but it’s important to eat it rarely and in small quantities. We also talk a lot about healthy foods and why we should eat them. Both of my kids are fully aware that while candy may be fun, it’s also unhealthy.
Provide healthy options. We like to keep a bowl of fruit on our table. I smile whenever I see one of my kids grab an apple…or a Clementine…or some grapes. My husband and I also try to eat fruit as often as possible—not only to be healthy, —but also to model healthy ways to eat.
How do you fight the sugar monster?
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Overview of the IOM Report on Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity (Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2005).
Center for Science in the Public Interest, Report Card on Food-Marketing Policies (Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, March 2010).
Michael F. Jacobson, Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks Are Harming American’s Health (Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2005).
Carlos Vallecillo, DDS, and Rossana Menna, DDS, Melting Teeth (Gilbert, AZ: Mona Lisa Dental).
Health & Nutrition, Parentfurther.
Image via Terren on Flick’r