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."

    "You can choose one piece of candy now or two pieces of candy for after supper. You decide."

    Remind your children that responsibility equals opportunity. Tell them they have an opportunity to have some candy. If they demonstrate they are responsible by honoring the parameters you have set, then the opportunity continues. If they choose not to be responsible with candy, they choose to lose the opportunity to have it available. In that instance, access to candy is removed.

    This could mean you may have to remove all the candy from the house and make it unavailable to anyone. That would include you.

  • 4. Make the eating of candy something special. Educate your children so they understand that candy is not food. It has no nutritional value for their bodies. Candy is a special treat, and its consumption is reserved for special moments. Keep candy-eating rare and enjoyable. Once candy becomes an everyday occurrence, its specialness wears off and its presence becomes expected.

    Have different candy around at different times to bring attention to the special event the candy celebrates. Focus on the event and how different types of candy are significant at different times of the year. Talk about the cultural or family significance of what a particular type of candy may represent. Change the focus from mass consumption to the significance of that type of candy to you and your family.

  • 5. Don't use candy as a reward. When you use candy to motivate your children to perform a particular task or behave in a certain way, you make it a tool of manipulation. Using candy to get children to behave is a form of bribery and produces children who perform for a substance. You end up with a "candy junky," someone who chases after the next "fix."

    Candy should never be used as a reward by parents, teachers, or any professional working with children. Using candy this way distorts the role it should have in a young person's life and teaches children that the reward is more important than the task performed.

  • 6. Help your children create an inner authority. You will not always be present when your children have access to candy. You will not always be there to enforce a limit for them or give them choices. Your job is to help them internalize the ability to curb candy consumption. This control from within will develop in children if you begin consistently employing the above suggestions early in their lives.

    Another way to help your children build inner controls is to debrief or talk through their choices with them after they return from a place where you know candy is easily available. Help them think about and talk through their decisions. Ask them to articulate what they would want to keep the same and what they would like to be different next time. Help them create a plan to build on their successes.

    Your children's inner authority is the only authority they will take with them wherever they go. Help them learn to trust their ability to decide and make healthy, responsible choices.

By following these six suggestions, you and your children can enjoy the wonderful taste of chocolate and other candies. The holidays can be filled with moments made special by candy consumption that is not an everyday occurrence. The candy wars will no longer be a part of your family life. Eating candy will change from being a weight and tooth decay issue to being a wonderful time when one can simply enjoy a sweet taste upon the palate.

Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for parents. To sign up for it or obtain more information about how they can help you or your family, visit their website today.