As a relatively new parent, I think back to my childhood and try to decide what my parents did right and where I can improve, innovating my children’s lives if you will. My daughter didn’t have a single sweet until her first birthday. I remember nervously trying to take her cake from her because I didn’t want her to get sick, but my husband stopped me in the spirit of getting messy and letting her enjoy her icing.
Halloween is a great time for toddlers and I looked forward to yesterday’s festivities about as much as my daughter did. This year she turns 3, and this year she really got the idea of dressing up, pretending to be a scary dinosaur and have strangers give her candy. Now, my husband and I fully appreciate candy and we’ve seen what it can do even in moderation. Sugar is a drug to children; I have serious reservations when I hear about ADHD diagnoses because I believe at least some of these labels apply to kids who simply eat too much sugar and get too few laps around the track.
In thinking about what to write about my kids’ Halloween (my son’s first as he is 11 months old), I came across an article in Time Magazine that said only bad parents control their kids’ candy stash. I could not disagree more. Kids need limits and, more than anything, they need guidance from their parents and guardians. The proper way to parent is to lead by example, showing kids how to say please and thank you. Don’t cram rules down throats, but explain why things are the way they are. I was never a fan of “Do as I say not as I do,” as that seemed to fly in the face of integrity.
Not only did I take my daughter’s candy from her, I also took out all the candy I disapproved of including lollipops and gum. She ate no more than five pieces of candy yesterday. Today, the first thing I let her eat was one piece of candy of her choice from her bucket. She ate a mini Milky Way bar before breakfast, and then consumed two Tootsie Rolls before lunch and ate about 4 chocolate munchkins in the afternoon. She picked at her decent dinner of homemade noodles and cheese, and is actually still singing in bed while she should be sleeping. So, she is not missing out on any of the holiday sugar high, I assure you.
What she is missing out on is the stomach ache from too much garbage. She’s missing out on possible cavities and she’s learning that she simply cannot have what she wants when she wants it. My parents let me take my candy to bed with me. In all fairness, I doubt they did so when I was a toddler, but by middle school I remember Trick-Or-Treating on the way home from school; we didn’t wait until dark. My brother would even mark out the best houses that gave out full-sized chocolate bars, change costumes and return a second or even third time! Pillowcase hauls lasted weeks. And I remember the belly I had as a kid.
Children are not capable of making responsible choices; they are children. We shouldn’t expect our pre-teens to choose salad over French fries in the school cafeteria and we shouldn’t expect any child to know when enough is enough when it comes to candy. This carries over into alcohol and drug experimentation, which usually leads to addiction and death rather than responsible choices and a trustworthy self-image.
Children need a healthy self-image and they need to feel trusted. I am not saying to withhold all candy, and when my daughter is ready to date I don’t plan to tell her sex is out of the question (but her daddy might). I remember well the way my parents forbid me to see certain friends, and I remember exactly how that didn’t work. What did teach me responsibility wasn’t the ability to run wild. I wonder quite a bit about some of the things my parents let me get away with. But, the only point I mean to make now is that children need guidance, guidelines and parents who lead by example, explaining the reasoning behind rules and making sure that their children understand that actions have consequences.
No. We will not let our kids eat as much candy as they can carry home from Halloween. We won’t let them choose what to eat for lunch when the choices are fried foods or stale iceberg lettuce. We will encourage them to make choices and we will show them how we make choices as adults. It’s a good thing I’ve grown up a lot or I might find myself encouraging my kids to indulge like a frat boy would inspire his buddies to “chug, chug, chug.”