October 2009
Issue No. 16
dad/child chore

Candy: Trick or Treat?

Welcome to another issue of the Solutions in Parenting Newsletter.

We don't want to SCARE you this Halloween, but we can't pass up an opportunity to chat about a topic that causes seasonal upset for families, and potentially fatal results for the children of our nation: Candy.

Why are we so serious about such a short and sweet word like "Candy"? Because, we are entering into the "Official Candy Season". It starts with school candy bar (cookies, candy, bake sales, etc.) fundraisers, Halloween, Thanksgiving, special holiday celebrations, Valentine's Day and Easter baskets. Throw in the usual birthday parties, sports field snack-shacks, movie theaters, grocery stores, shopping malls, media, and grandma's house, and our children and teens are bombarded with candy and sugar-filled foods most days of the year!

The statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are supporting the gravity of this bombardment. Our children are getting "fatter" and "fatter" each year. In 2007, according to the CDC, 16 percent (that's over 9 million!) of American 6-19 year olds are overweight or obese. This is a number that has tripled since 1980. Another 15 percent in the same age range are considered "at risk" for becoming obese. In other words, almost one-third of children today are at risk for becoming overweight or obese. Sixteen percent of them already are. (Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002, Oct.6, 2004)

Combine those statistics with the fact that 79% of our high school students ate fruits and veggies less than five times per day, 34% drank at least one soda a day, and 65% did not meet the recommended levels of daily physical activity! 

The problem of obesity among our children is a grave one, in that it can have lasting effects on their physical as well as their emotional health. People who are overweight are at major risk for severe chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and hypertension (Institute Of Medicine, 2001) as well as gum disease, dental caries and other periodontal issues. The emotional ramifications of obesity cut deep and overweight children may find themselves stigmatized and isolated for their weight in a society that has little to no tolerance for this condition.

As parents, we spend an extraordinary amount of time making sure our kids and teens are safe. We hold their hands when they cross the street, teach them to wear seat belts, and give them cell phones to keep track of them. During this potentially challenging "candy season", protect your kid's health, as well as your family's peace, by following our Five Tips for Handling Halloween Candy Madness.



Five Tips for Handling Halloween Candy Madness

Practice at least one of these tips, and you may find you have healthier, happier kids and families this Halloween.

1.  Set Limits. Setting limits allows kids to understand your expectations, gives them guidelines to follow, and helps them to relax into being kids. Use Halloween as an opportunity to set limitations on candy before your kids go trick-or-treating. Decide on how much candy will be eaten a day, where the candy will be kept (*hint* not in their bedrooms!), and how candy eating may affect other opportunities for treat consumption ("If you choose to eat candy today, you will not be able to eat that cupcake as well.  That's too much sugar for your body"). Setting limits first, may dramatically cut-down on power struggles and increase the amount of peace in your household.

2.  Educate. Candy has a very important role in our nutritional lives. It's a fun, celebratory food, it tastes incredibly yummy, it is a special treat, and it usually has no nutritional value (peanuts in a chocolate-nut bar don't really count!). Parents can use Halloween as a unique  opportunity to teach their kids about nutrition and healthy eating habits . Kids don't need to feel guilty for eating candy, but they do need to know that it is a special treat, to be enjoyed in moderation. Teach your children how candy can fit into their lives, while balancing their diet with healthier foods as well. Teach them to value the enjoyment of candy as a special treat, to be eaten after they have enjoyed fruits, vegetables, proteins, etc. Make sure your kids know what the food pyramid looks like, and teach them how to eat balanced meals when they are young, so they can make healthy choices as they get older. Click here for a copy of the Food Pyramid.

3.  Exchange.  Halloween candy can be a fun opportunity to teach your older kids (starting at about 7 or 8 years old) the value of money. Before trick or treating begins, sit down with your kids and develop an exchange system. Decide the monetary value of different kinds of candy and offer to buy candy from your kids. For example, the little piece
s may be worth five-cents, where the bigger ones may be worth 25-cents. This way, kids can choose to sell or keep candy (either choice needs to be okay), learn the value of money, and learn to make choices with the money they make from selling their candy. Make sure your family has discussed what is appropriate for them to spend money on or not. For example, is it okay for them to buy more candy with their money? Hopefully they will end up consuming less sugar, making a bit of spending/saving money, and you get to enjoy kids who feel good about making responsible candy choices. For more creative ways to use Halloween candy, click here.

4.  A Rewarding Experience?  Many parents may want to use the abundance of Halloween candy as a reward or a motivation to get kids to behave, perform chores, finish homework, or some other task. Using candy this way distorts its role, teaching children that the candy is the more important concept, and not the task at hand. Almost always, using candy as a reward backfires, creating more of a dependency and focus on the candy and more conflicts within a family. Instead, let your children experience the reward of making successful choices about their candy throughout the day. For example, if they are allowed to have three pieces a day, you can give your younger kids the choice, "you can choose to have one piece before dinner and two after, or all three after dinner. Your choice". As long as both choices are okay with the parent, it's a win-win situation for everyone. For older kids, more flexibility is appropriate. They can eat their three pieces when they choose (keeping in mind any previously made agreements); knowing that when those pieces are gone, they don't get more until the next day. Set your kids up for success by keeping choices appropriate and reasonable and chances are they will have a very rewarding Halloween candy experience.

5.  Check Yourself.  The over-abundance of candy during Halloween can be an extremely haunting experience for some adults, as well. Before Halloween comes, spend some time checking in with yourself regarding your relationship with candy. Many adults find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to regulate their candy consumption as well. Does having all of the candy around cause anxiety or temptations for you? Do you eat more candy during this season and fear weight-gain or unhealthy consequences? Perhaps candy is not a problem for you and you feel comfortable with your self-control. Whatever your feelings and beliefs are surrounding candy, you can be sure that your kids will pick up on it. So, if you want to teach your kids to have self-control and healthy beliefs surrounding food, candy and sugar in their lives, be sure to model those behaviors to your kids.

Try using one or more of these tips for handling Halloween candy madness and see what happens. You may just find that the madness doesn't have to be so mad after all!

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How do you help your child manage his or her candy consumption?

During this Halloween, observe your kids and their relationship with candy. Do they become frantic and demanding around candy? Do they eat a piece and then leave the rest for another time? Do you fight with your kids about the amount of candy they eat?

Observing and evaluating your kid's relationships with candy can help you to empower them to make healthy choices. Watch for individual preferences and styles and then custom-design a "candy plan" with your kids. This may help you both win the candy wars this Halloween Season.

Use the tips to the left to guide you through any situations that may arise.

Let us know how it goes, we are always curious.

We Want to Know

How does your family handle the Halloween Candy Madness?
Send us your creative solutions and receive one free Oral-B Toothbrush! (make sure to include your name and address and if you need an adult or child's size!)

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