A child holding Halloween candy

Family Health

Why Being A Halloween Candy Micromanager Can Create Long-Term Problems For Kids

Oct 31, 2019

Let’s face it — Halloween is easily at the top of any child’s favourite holiday list. They get to dress up in a cool costume, prance around the neighbourhood and gather as much candy as possible. What’s better than that?

But for us parents, aside from basking in the excitement (and cuteness), Halloween can conjure up feelings of anxiety:

  • "How will we deal with all of that candy?!"
  • "How will I manage it on Halloween night? How much do we allow every day?"
  • "How will it affect my child’s behaviour, dental health and weight?"
  • "Will they become total candy monsters if I don’t restrict it?"
  • "Should I play the Switch Witch this year?"

But as a pediatric dietitian (and mom of three), I’m here to tell you NOT to follow those natural instincts to micromanage your child’s candy stash. In fact, your child’s long-term relationship with food depends on it.

Here’s why, and what to do instead:

1. Your kids will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity

Halloween presents an amazing learning opportunity. According to Ellyn Satter — an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding — in order to help kids learn, it’s important to work towards having them be able to manage their own stash. She argues that for kids to learn how to do this, interference should be kept to a minimum. This can be hard to wrap your mind around as a parent, right? Stay with me here.

Satter suggests the following:

  • When your kids get home from trick-or-treating, get them to lay out and sort their candy, then eat as much as they want.
  • Do the same thing the next day — let your kids have at it.
  • On the third day, have your kids put their candy away and limit it to meal and snack times (a couple of pieces at meals and as much as they want at snacks). If your child is able to follow those rules, they are allowed to manage their stash. If they can't, then you manage it until your child can show you that they are capable, at which point they get to.

If kids have free rein to enjoy their candy (or treat foods in general) sometimes, and they know that they are able to have them (in moderation) regularly, it takes the urgency to “get it in while you can” away. It also decreases the chances of your kids sneaking candy or over-indulging when you’re not there.

And I promise you: one or two days of gorging on treats will not affect their long-term nutritional status or weight (more on that later). In saying this, there might be natural consequences like tummy aches, feeling sick, feeling regretful — and that’s OK! These lessons tend to be the most powerful and help kids learn how to self-regulate.

More treat tips from Sarah Remmer: This Dietitian Mom Serves Dessert With Dinner (And You Should Consider It Too)

2. You run the risk of creating a candy-obsessed kid

If you take charge of the candy stash and police when and how much is consumed, you’re sending the message that your kids cannot be trusted with it.

When kids feel that treat foods (or any delicious food for that matter) are restricted, it all of a sudden becomes more sought after. It sort of becomes a forbidden fruit, and chances are that your child will get it in at any chance they get. This could mean gorging on it at a play date, or sneaking it when you’re not looking.

It can promote emotional or mindless eating patterns. In fact, research shows that when moms restrict desired foods, it can promote overeating and eating in the absence of hunger in their children. We also know that dieting or restrictive eating practices in general are not a predictor of better weight control, and instead can promote long-term weight cycling, overeating and poor body image. And that's NOT what we’re going for!

Instead, make sure that your kids know that treats and sweets can be a part of their day. They’re not “bad," they’re fun and tasty! It’s important that kids know that food isn’t only about nutrition, it’s also about experiencing joy and fun. Which brings me to my next point.

3. It sucks the joy out of Halloween for everyone

You probably remember how incredibly exciting the lead-up to Halloween was as a kid, and the sheer joy you had as you collected your loot door-to-door. Your kids feel the same way! But when the excitement comes to a screeching halt as soon as they bounce through the door (hello, candy police!), that joy quickly plummets. This can be detrimental for many reasons, including your kids long-term food relationship.

Keep the Halloween spirit alive when you arrive home and let your kids enjoy their candy. Help them sort through it, and heck — enjoy a couple of pieces yourself! You might be pleasantly surprised at how well your kids manage it.

Kid just loves candy? More tips from Sarah Remmer: How To Manage Halloween Treats For Candy-Obsessed Kids

4. No, your child’s behaviour isn’t tied to all of that candy

A long-standing myth that just won’t die is the one that links sugar intake with poor behaviour. Despite what you may think, there’s no real correlation. In fact, a meta-analysis showed that sugar doesn’t affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children. Go figure!

What’s interesting is that the sugar-hyperactivity myth is based on a single study from the mid 1970s where a doctor removed the sugar from one child's diet and that child's behavior improved. Ha! Not the most solid evidence. Since then, several larger studies have been conducted and not one of them has found that sugar causes hyperactivity. Still, the belief that sweets play a role in behaviour remains strong among parents, when really, it’s likely more related to the environment and the excitement going on around them.

Now, as important as it is to let your kids learn to manage treats on holidays like this, it’s also important not to forget about the importance of nutrition.

Outside of holidays like this, sugar-filled foods shouldn’t displace other nutritious foods in your child’s diet. If consumed in excess (consistently), sweets, treats and other ultra-processed foods can fill precious tummy space, where nutrient-rich foods should dominate. The main thing is that we as parents maintain structure around meals and have sit-down snack times, both during a holiday and in general.

At Halloween, we as parents choose the rest of the food on the table (a variety of nourishing foods). With a solid feeding structure, the extra treats on holidays like this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

Article Author Sarah Remmer
Sarah Remmer

Read and watch more from Sarah here.

Sarah Remmer, RD, is a pediatric registered dietitian and owner of Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, a nutrition consulting and communications company based in Calgary, Alberta. Her website and blog contain practical tips and advice for parents and families on feeding and nutrition (everything from pre-natal nutrition to teens), as well as nutritious and easy recipes and videos. Follow Sarah on Facebook for free advice, tips and family-friendly recipes!

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