I Let My Kids Eat Candy to Teach Them a Lesson

Photo: Veer / The Bump
Photo: Veer / The Bump

Since my boys are 7 and 11, I have quite a few Halloweens under my belt. I have tried various approaches over the years to try to reconcile my healthy mom beliefs with the sugar-loaded holiday, from homemade healthy treats to chocolate-dipped fresh fruit on skewers. But deciding on which goodies to hand out at our house this year was only a small part of the conundrum of how to deal with Halloween. The real problem was, is, and has always been, the aftermath… What do you do with all that candy afterward?

When my kids were very young, I would confiscate the candy as soon as we got home from the trick-or-treat rounds, and most of it would mysteriously disappear within a day or so and they hardly noticed. Once they grew older and wiser, I could still make some of it disappear unnoticed, but for the bulk of it, I started bargaining. They could choose one candy after school and one after dinner, if they did their chores and ate all their veggies. It seemed fair and was quite effective and worked well for a few years. I couldn’t ignore the guilty feeling I had, though, for bribing my kids with candy on a daily basis for weeks on end. As a healthy mom, it just wasn’t sitting well with my conscience. How could I, on principle, hardly allow my children any sugar for 10 months of the year and then let them eat candy daily for 2 months? Worse, using candy as a reward for behaviors they should be habits anyway just felt all wrong.

The real problem was that it was dragging out for far too long, rationing out the load at two pieces per day, it lasted well over a month, often even until Christmas. So this year I tried a different approach: I still disappeared much of the pure-sugar candy the first night, and rationed out the good stuff over the first week or so. But after several days of it lying around and being an issue, I decided to let them have at it. They should be old enough to experience self-regulation, right? Well, maybe not. But the free-for-all approach was wildly successful. Not surprisingly they both ate nearly all their remaining loot, and as a result were wired on a sugar high, felt nauseous and couldn’t sleep well.  The next day, they were surprised when I encouraged dessert after breakfast, and did indulge briefly but then complained that they felt kind of sick. Later that day, when both still complained of not feeling great, I feigned surprise: “Oh really? Must be your body reacting to all that sugar. Must not be good for you after all, but was sure to offer them dessert.

By day three of the free-for-all, interest had waned  in the candy stash. When I announced that evening that I planned to give all the leftover candy away the next day, both boys rifled through and took out their favorite 3 or 4 pieces and willingly handed over their bags. No questions asked.

Trial and error is how we learn, in parenting and in life. I certainly have learned time and again that my strictly controlling things tends to make them worse for everyone, especially for myself. Relinquishing that control is difficult, but the reward when you can finally let go and it works itself out, is sweet indeed.

Do you think it’s important to let your kids decide what they should — and shouldn’t — do for themselves?

Plus, more from The Bump:

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8 Reasons Toddlers Freak Out (and What to Do About It)