Winning the Candy Wars

by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

pile of fall candyOur children are being bombarded with candy from every direction. Chocolate bars, gum, suckers, and assorted gummy candies line the checkout lanes in grocery stores. School fundraisers sell candy bars, cookies, and brownies in the hallways during lunch hours. Every mall, skating rink, soccer complex, movie theater, and even the video store has a place to buy candy.

And then there are the holidays. Halloween trick-or-treat bags bulge with every kind of candy imaginable. Christmas stockings are topped with bubble gum and chocolate bars. Valentine messages are stamped on candy hearts, and boxes of candy are the staple of communicating love. Easter baskets overflow with jellybeans and chocolate bunnies.

Candy is everywhere, and its presence is wreaking havoc on our children's teeth and waistlines. Children are visiting the dentist with serious tooth decay at younger and younger ages every year. Obesity in children is a national concern.

With candy universally available and regularly within sight of children, what is a parent to do? How do you combat its influence on your children? How do you lessen the influence of advertisers and get candy consumption under control in your family? How can you win the candy wars?

The following suggestions can assist you in curbing your children's candy consumption. Use them to increase the health and wellbeing of your family.

  • 1. Begin by being a model for your children. If you are a chocoholic and find yourself foraging through the cupboard for the last chocolate bar or eating an entire bag of M&Ms once it is opened, reflect on the message you are sending your children. It will be difficult for you to curb their candy consumption when they see you unable to curb your own.

    So model the message. Eat a small portion of candy and set the rest aside for later. Talk to your children about your desire and your willingness to stay conscious and make healthy choices about your own candy consumption. The positive images you give them on how to set candy aside will help them to set it aside themselves.

  • 2. See candy as a wonderful opportunity to set limits with your children. As parents, we set limits around television use, computer time, video games, bedtimes, friends, and a variety of other issues and behaviors. Setting limits with candy does not mean you make it totally off limits. It means that you provide opportunities for your children to enjoy candy within some clearly defined parameters or guidelines.

    Children want guidelines. They thrive on structure. It is the structure provided by the adult that allows them to relax into being a child. Of course they will push and test the limits. That's their job. Pushing and testing the limits does not mean that your children want them changed. It most often means they want to see if the structure is really in place.

    Set your limits early, before you go to the store, before the Easter Bunny arrives, before the Halloween bags are full, before you bring candy into the house. We will be buying one treat today in the store sets the limit. So does, "We are shopping for food today. This will be a non-candy trip."

    Discuss with your children the rules about candy consumption before they head out to gather a bagful at Halloween. Agree on a portion to be eaten each day and a place to keep it. Do not allow candy to be taken into their bedrooms. Do not leave bags of candy in the cupboard where your children have easy access to it.

    Setting a limit doesn't mean you have to say no. Sometimes saying yes with a qualifier helps you avoid power struggles.

    "Can I have a piece of candy?"
    "Yes, you can have one right after supper."

  • 3. Offer your children choices when it comes to candy consumption. Another effective way to set limits on candy consumption in your family while reducing resistance and resentment is to offer children choices.

    "You can choose five pieces of candy out of your Halloween bag for today and set the rest aside for a different day. Let's spread all your candy out and look at your choices."