Halloween Candy: To Eat or To Restrict?

Halloween has come and gone and many kids now have bags full of candy, eager to devour the spoils they have obtained from a night of dressing up and politely asking strangers for treats.  The question that plagues most parents is how to handle the inevitable problem of having that much candy in the house with children who, let’s face it, probably aren’t very good at self-regulation.  Do we restrict it?  Do we allow them, on this special occasion to just go for it and eat as much as they want?

I have used both methods with different kids (and have had different success) and don’t believe that there is one “right” answer, but rather that one needs to look at the individual child.  Some kids will respond better to one method versus another and this may be influenced by other experiences they have had.  So here I’d like to talk about the options open to parents so they can decide what might be best for their individual child.

Open-Season on Candy

Here is where the parent simply allows the child to eat as much as he would like until the candy is gone.  The idea is that by giving children the chance to self-regulate, they will likely overindulge, but will be able to learn from the natural consequences of eating too much candy to help reduce the future occurrence of binging.  My husband and I have used this method quite successfully with our daughter who will now eat a few pieces of candy here and there, but is acutely aware of how gross she feels if she eats too much so we give her free reign (and in all fairness, she loses more than half her candy anyway because of her dairy allergy so we never have a lot to contend with anyway).  What’s important here is that when a child does over-indulge and feel sick, it’s up to us as parents to help the child make the connection between the action of over-indulgence and the subsequent feelings of sickness.  This method may not be good, however, for children who (a) can eat a lot of candy without feeling sick, (b) are too young to make these types of connections, and (c) is older and already has a binge-mentality towards treats because of over-restriction earlier.

“The Switch Witch”

Not everyone uses the “switch witch” as the referent, but this refers to the practice of switching out candy for something else for the child, like a new toy.  This is particularly good for very young children who cannot eat the full amount of candy they receive or for kids who have allergies and thus cannot eat the bulk of what they get on Halloween.  It is also one way to help children learn what they value: do they want a new toy they’ve been eyeing or candy that will be gone?  (Often if they pick candy one year, once it’s gone they realize they might have been better off with the toy.)  For older children, this should be a choice they make instead of something imposed (as you can still moderate candy without the switch witch, see below) and something agreed to ahead of time with the child knowing what gift they are getting and how much candy they are giving up.  This option can be mixed with either open-season or teaching moderation if the child gets a lot of candy and you only want to limit some of it.  It also means mom and dad get candy to eat without having to go out and buy what’s left on sale!

Teaching Moderation

Our attempt to “teach moderation” with my stepson was rather unsuccessful and actually backfired given his temperament.  The idea here is that you allow X number of candies per day after Halloween coupled with discussions about why moderation is a good idea.  In our case, it led to a child who will hoard as soon as he is given the opportunity as he never felt satisfied with the few we would allow him to have and so kept going overboard and ignoring any negative effects of feeling sick.  That said, I know other children for whom this method is amazing and works great with the way they learn about moderation and consequences.  If you know your child will understand the consequences and can understand the effects of candy on the body, this is likely an ideal method of helping them learn moderation and the value of not eating everything at once.  As a bonus, you don’t deal with the stomach ache that comes with letting a child learn that naturally.

So… which method do you use and why?

By Tracy Cassels

November 02, 2015