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Trick and Treat

Halloween can be a treat for parents who know how to use candy to their advantage.

If you’ve witnessed Halloween with princesses and goblins of your own, you know how much candy a pillow case can hold. Always reminded me of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. That image of the Grinch hauling off a humongous bag of toys on a tiny sled. Don’t underestimate the strength of a fairy princess!

Who wants to admit they’ve raided their kid’s Halloween stash late at night searching for the “good stuff?”  I preferred to plot my thievery. I participated in the best part of Halloween night with my kids. The sorting of the candy all over the living room floor. They never suspected their sorting partner was going to steal from them when their head hit the pillow. Oh well, they didn’t need to eat that anyway, right?!

Do you know Americans spend 2 BILLION dollars on Halloween candy per year?  That’s insane! Trick-or-treaters expect candy at the door. Give them pretzels, granola bar, or fruit crisps if you want to see a princess turn into a witch at your doorstep!  Their long term memory instantly activated, fingerprinting the house that gives out crappy treats.

Should kids even be allowed to trick or treat in the first place? Should you allow your children to eat the candy they collect? Is it ok for parents and teachers to use candy as a reward for good behavior or as a teaching tool?

My opinion may surprise you given that I’m all about living a healthy lifestyle. My answer is “yes” to all three questions. Let me tell you why these “yes” answers actually engage healthy lifestyle choices.

Trick or treating is great exercise

Supervised Halloween trick or treating is fun, exciting, social, and active. Kids can burn some serious calories and energy running from house to house. Kids are tough as nails when they’re motivated. Cold weather, rain, and darkness won’t interfere with the mission. Halloween night is a children’s race. The faster they are, the larger the reward at the end of the night.

Let them wear themselves out.

Teach them to decide how much candy to eat

When they come home and look through their candy, consider making the following types of comments:

“Wow, Johnny, you must have run fast to get all of that candy! Good job!” (Acknowledge the physical feat).

“That is the most sugar I’ve ever seen in one place! Do you think that’s a lot of sugar?” (Use the word sugar in place of candy).

“You know, Johnny, some kids eat so much Halloween candy it makes them sick. Do you think they wished they were more careful?”

“How much of this candy do you think you should eat tonight? I think you’re one of the smart kids who can make a smart decision about how much he should eat.”

“What do you think we should do with the rest of the candy? You come up with a couple of ideas and I will too, ok?” (Be partners in the decision).

Every time I asked my kids to decide how much candy they could eat on Halloween night, they picked a number less than what I would have said. By giving them the control and not acting like the candy was evil, they were smart about it. When they made a smart choice, I made a huge deal about it.

“I love that you know this candy is a special treat and not good for your body. By choosing carefully and not overdoing it, you are going to stay healthy and strong.”

Don’t underestimate the healthy lessons that can be taught on a night that’s all about junk food. This holiday is a concentrated opportunity to teach your kids about control, moderation, splurging, bingeing, and willpower.

What to do with all the candy!

I suggest freezing some of the chocolate which can be used for special occasions as a dessert topping. The candy can last for a few months. This way you can bring a piece out as a special reward or surprise.

(If the adults in the house are tempted by having the candy in the house, then it would be wise to get rid of it.)

I have a problem with donating candy if it’s going to end up in the hands of kids who need it even less so than my own. Candy shouldn’t be a staple for anyone.

You can allow your children to trade in their candy for a new book or game. Or some extra TV time. Or a date night with a parent. A treat for a treat.

Should you use candy to reward children?

Remember when the teacher gave you a piece of candy if you turned in your homework in elementary school? My teachers always had jars of hard candy on their desk.

When I potty trained my son, he was awarded an M&M to put in a jar if he went to the bathroom. The goal was to see how many M&M’s he would have by the end of the week that he could eat. He learned to delay gratification and stay motivated with this visual reminder.

There’s been a backlash against using food as a way to reward kids. The rationale behind the opposition is that by using food as a reward, you make kids excited about eating junk. By linking candy to accomplishment, you’re rewarding a good thing with a bad thing. You’re making the candy enticing when you should be demonizing it.

I actually disagree for important reasons.

You can teach people about healthy food until the world comes to an end but that isn’t going to make sweets taste bad. Sugary snacks appeal to the masses. Most of us won’t live out our healthy lives never touching another cookie or piece of pie on holiday.

So put treats on a pedestal out of reach most of the time. Make it a reward and treat it as such.

The absolute best thing you can teach your kids from a young age is that sweets are special treats. In other words, tell the truth. Candy tastes amazing, gives us an energy boost, and makes us smile. It is a reward worth working for!

So if a few M&M’s motivate your kid to go potty, then go for it! It helps you accomplish a goal and rewards the little tike for a good choice. If your kid eats a diet high in sugar, you’ll know because the reward loses all of its oomph.

The pedestal is for adults too. “Everything in moderation,” as I’ve mentioned before, is a great excuse to eat like crap all of the time. I much prefer “Make healthy choices every day and splurge on a special treat occasionally.”

You should say “no” to sugary foods 99% of the time. This includes juice boxes, soda, Fruit Loops, and pop tarts! Their bodies need and deserve better fuel. Many hyperactive kids eat too much sugar. One in four teenagers is pre-diabetic!

But instead of fighting the upcoming holidays and your kids, take advantage of the inevitable. If Johnny behaves nicely at Grandma’s house, and gets one of her cookies as a special reward, I think that’s putting sugar in its place!

If your child will earn a piece of candy, you know you’ve taught him or her that candy is a reward, not a part of everyday life.

"Today is another chance to get it right."

 

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