Kids Candy: Growing Healthy Children Need to Eat Candy, Too
“How do I handle it if my child just keeps wanting and asking for candy?”
“My kids ask for candy all the time - how do I handle this without restriction?”
Halloween is just around the corner, and if your kids are anything like mine, they’ve already had exposure to a higher-than-usual influx of candy. Ahead of the big night of trick-or-treating, there have been school parties, harvest festivals, parties with friends, and more. With all of these fun events has come the candy and sweets galore, and you know the kids are here for it all.
You may already have a stash of candy at home and find that your kids may be asking for candy more often during this time of year.
Even outside of these candy-focused holidays, you may have kids that seem to constantly be asking for candy.
Can you relate to this?
If your child already is preoccupied with eating candy, holidays like Halloween may seem to make it worse.
Or if you have candy or treats in your home, for whatever reason, if your kids know it’s there, they may seemed obsessed with wanting some.
“Can I have candy?”, “I want to eat candy”, “When can I eat my candy?”, “It’s not fair - you never let me eat candy!”
Yep, I get it, mama.
You might feel like your child is Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - “I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW!”
As much as we love our kids, these demands for candy can feel tiresome.
Not to mention, the seemingly endless preoccupation with candy can be downright terrifying for many parents.
I mean, if your kids were constantly demanding you feed them broccoli, this might suddenly feel like a non-issue, am I right?
But because the thing that your kids may be asking for is a food demonized as less than “healthy” and blamed as the culprit for all kinds of diseases and behavioral problems, it feels unsafe. Candy may feel like something you need to rigidly control access to, but this approach can often make the situation worse.
Have you ever hidden something from your kids, only to find they they seem to become MORE preoccupied with it?
If you haven’t discovered this yet, with yourself or your children, we are naturally drawn to the very things that we’re told we can’t have.
So telling your children that candy is off-limits can actually make them feel more obsessive about having candy.
An added layer to this can be the language and words that are often used to describe candy. Culturally, it’s not uncommon to describe foods in polarizing terms, such as good vs. bad, or healthy vs. unhealthy.
This type of language is typically associated with a dieting mentality. Even while used with good intentions, it creates a moralistic picture with food that kids can begin to adaptive at an early age.
For example, you may tell your children that candy isn’t healthy for them; therefore, they shouldn’t eat it. Or your children may hear that candy is “bad” or “terrible” for their bodies. Again, language like this is often used with good intentions and with the belief that this will in fact deter kids from eating candy and sweets.
However, what this actually teaches kids is that THEY are bad for wanting or eating candy (not the candy itself). Kids don’t view food in the same way that we do as adults, nor do they make food decisions based on arbitrary standards of “healthy vs. unhealthy”.
All they know if what tastes good to them and what feels safe. Food can slowly but surely become UNSAFE when they begin learning that certain foods are “bad” for them.
So the bottom line here is that restriction/control tactics around candy along with polarizing language about candy can not only cause children to feel more preoccupied with candy, but it can create fear, guilt, and shame for wanting and eating these foods.
With this in mind, how might you handle frequent requests for candy without creating more or an issue or restricting access to candy for your children?
Understand the Big Picture Goals, Especially With Halloween Candy:
Because of the fear-mongering messages around sugar and our children’s health, as well as the fat-phobic culture we live in, candy has become demonized to the point that parents are terrified about allowing their kids to have candy.
This fear directly results in restrictive-based approaches that naturally make kids feel MORE preoccupied with candy.
The truth is, you can restrict your child from having candy or access to candy, but this will never be a long-term solution for helping them develop a positive relationship with ALL foods.
A child who has been restricted from candy often grows up to be an adult who has a chaotic relationship with sweets, regularly binges on desserts, or overeats candy whenever they do have access to it.
If you want your child to have a positive relationship with food and their bodies, and if you want to be part of the solution to help DECREASE your child’s risk of potentially developing disordered eating and food issues, candy NEEDS to be part of the equation.
Again, this may seem completely counterintuitive to what you’ve been doing, or even how you were raised and brought up, but it’s so important to keep the big picture in mind in order to help support your kids in a positive, meaningful way.
Remember that your kids are BORN (yes, BORN), with innate programming that helps them self-regulate the foods and amounts they need to grow at a rate that is right for THEM.
That’s right - your child is born as a natural intuitive eater, and by taking a neutral approach and stance to candy, you can help preserve their innate abilities to regulate all foods, including candy.
When kids are presented with restrictive feeding tactics, this will interfere with their natural ability to self-regulate and increase their obsessiveness and preoccupation with these foods.
Keep this important point in mind: Preoccupation and obsessiveness with candy is a direct symptom of RESTRICTION. So if your child is displaying these behaviors around candy, they are likely not having ENOUGH access to candy.
The goal is not to try to avoid giving them candy. Rather, we want to help them gradually and naturally lose interest in their candy or to decrease overall obsessiveness with candy.
We want them to be able to eat and enjoy candy when the opportunities arises in an amount that feels best for them and MOVE ON to other important aspects of their lives.
In order to help you move past the fear that you might be experiencing around kids and candy, you need to understand that regular exposure to candy will not detrimentally affect their health or well-being.
In fact, the opposite is TRUE. Meaning, if your kids feel more obsessive and preoccupied with candy, they will likely develop adverse behaviors around food that will be harmful to both their health and mental state.
Kids who are preoccupied with candy will be more likely to:
Overeat or binge on candy when presented with the opportunity (which can negatively affect their overall physical health)
Feel anxious, guilty, or shameful around candy-eating experiences (which can poorly impact their overall mental health)
Research has found that when parents restrict their children from eating palatable foods, such as candy and desserts, then their kids will be more likely to eat in the absence of hunger, or overeat those foods.
You have to keep these important facts in mind in order to approach candy with your children in a positive manner and to help decrease your own anxieties, fear and stress around candy.
Learning how to manage and self-regulate candy is an important part of being an intuitive eater for LIFE.
If your child has opportunities to learn how to self-regulate candy NOW, within the context and safety of your home, they will be well-equipped to manage these types of scenarios throughout their lifetime.
Remember that good health and nutrition goes far beyond the nutritive qualities of the foods themselves. It involves finding satisfaction and pleasure in food and being able to respond to and respect your body’s hunger and fullness signals.
Obsessiveness/Preoccupation with Candy Vs. Interest/Excitement - Understanding the Difference
Before we talk about some of the strategies that you can use to help approach candy with your kids in a positive way that promotes self-regulation and building a positive relationship with food, it’s first important to understand what a preoccupation or obsessiveness with candy might look like and why aware of these behaviors is critical.
Let’s be real here: most kids get excited about candy, am I right? In fact, I have yet to meet a kid who wasn’t excited about candy or sweets in some shape or form.
But there are key differences between excitement and interest in candy and preoccupation/obsessiveness with candy.
Let’s take a look at these below:
Signs your child may be preoccupied/obsessed with candy may include but are not limited to:
Repeatedly asking you and other adults for candy
Displays food behaviors, such as sneaking, stealing, hiding, or hoarding candy
Unable to focus on other activities due to preoccupation with candy
Prioritizes eating candy about all other foods
Has a sense of urgency, stress or anxiety about eating candy or about when the next time candy will be available
This is in contrast to a general interest or excitement with candy, which may look like:
Enjoys eating candy
Is able to eat candy and move on with other activities
May leave pieces of candy behind when eating
May switch between eating candy and other foods
Doesn’t have a sense of urgency about when they will be able to have candy again
Remember what I shared earlier: preoccupation or obsessiveness with candy is a direct symptom of restriction. Meaning, a child who is showing signs of candy obsessiveness likely has restricted access to candy OR has not had enough opportunities to eat candy to help them feel satisfied and content.
If your child is displaying signs of obsessiveness or preoccupation around candy, know that there are opportunities to help correct this.
By increasing exposure and opportunities to eat candy, you can help decrease any obsessiveness that your child might be having around candy.
Let’s dive into some more strategies about how you can do this.
How to Approach Your Child Who is Preoccupied With Candy
If you have a child who is preoccupied with candy, sweets or desserts, this may be a sign that you need to give them MORE exposure and opportunities to eat candy.
Remember, this may feel counterintuitive, but increasing exposure with more frequent opportunities to eat candy is a proven strategy for decreasing preoccupation around candy.
Your children will need to have opportunities that include both:
Unlimited access to candy (Where they can self-regulate and figure out what amount of candy feels best for them without any direction or rules from you): Kids will need chances to access as much candy as they want without any restrictions. The reason your kids need these opportunities is so that they can learn to self-regulate candy and eat an amount that feels right for them. It’s not uncommon for parents to feel uncomfortable giving kids permission to do this, but I can’t stress how important these times are to help your child learn how to intuitively eat candy and sweets. Many parents may fear that their kids would go crazy and binge on a candy overload. If your child has never been allowed these opportunities, there is a possibility that your kids may in fact overeat their candy or even eat candy to a point where they feel sick. Even if this happens, your kids will be OKAY. They may need to have these experiences with candy to learn what amount feels right for them. Over time and with repeated opportunities to have unrestricted access to their candy, they will eat less of it and learn how to better self-regulate. More info on exactly HOW you can give them opportunities for unrestricted access to sweets beneath the strategies below.
Recurring structured access to candy with meals and snacks: In addition to unlimited access to candy, your children will need recurring access to candy/sweets within their structured meals and snacks. Especially for a child who is more preoccupied or obsessed with candy, the frequency may need to be higher than you might feel comfortable with. This is an important time to examine the rules you might have around candy and to see if your current rules are aligning with the long-term goals you might have for your kids, in terms of helping them build a positive relationship with food. For example, if you currently allow your kids to have a piece of candy or sweets a couple times a week after dinner, but you notice they seem to be obsessive about dessert, this frequency may not be sufficient. Similarly, if you allow your kids to have dessert after dinner every night, but they still are showing signs of obsessiveness around candy, this frequency may not be enough. Especially around holidays or seasons where there is a higher influx of candy (such as Halloween candy), you may want to consider allowing your child to have candy with more than 1 meal per day. The habituation of recurring exposure to candy will drastically decrease your child’s obsessiveness and/or preoccupation with it. When kids can trust that candy is a regular part of their present and future meals, they will become significantly less preoccupied with it. Also, by allowing candy at meals and snacks, you can have a designated time to defer your kids to if and when they do ask you for candy. Instead of saying “No”, or “Not right now” (which can further increase their preoccupation with candy), you can say, “Yes! You can choose a candy to eat with your lunch [or enter whichever meal/snack is coming up]”.
Let’s talk more about the strategies you can use to create these opportunities for your children in a way that helps you AND your kids feel confident with how you’re approaching candy.
Allow times of regular access to candy:
As discussed earlier, your child needs to have regular access to candy with meals and snacks without any stipulations or rules attached. You can decide how many pieces your child can have, but again, be aware of any hidden agendas that you might have.
If you’re still trying to control their candy intake, this can potentially defeat the purpose. Allowing a couple pieces of candy WITH their meals can be helpful, especially for kids who may be fixated on sugar.
The key here is no stipulations, meaning, your child should be allowed to eat their candy with the meal, not IF the meal has been eaten, or certain number of bites of vegetables or food have been eaten, etc.
Your child may eat the candy first then move on to other foods, or vice versa. You don’t need to be the food police. Let your child pick their candies out and decide at what point during the meal to eat them and how much of the candy they want to eat.
Allow periods of unrestricted access to candy:
In addition to regular access to candy with meals or snacks, your kids may also need periods of unrestricted access to candy.
This is where you can give opportunities where they have unlimited access to candy/sweets.
What might this look like? My recommendation is to allow this within a structured snack time. I still strongly recommend having regular meal and snack times for your child.
This does not mean candy should just be a free-for-all or that your child can eat candy whenever they want throughout the day. Pick a snack time, such as afternoon snack for example (between lunch and dinner) as the time that your child can have unrestricted access to a bowl of candy or another dessert type food.
Let them have access to their candy bag or a bowl of candy WITH 1-2 other food components, such as a glass of milk and produce; however, there should be no stipulations to have to eat/drink anything in order to eat their candy.
Let your kids pick out how many pieces of candy they want to eat without any guidance from you. Other times you can allow your kids these times of unrestricted access to candy might include holidays such as Halloween night.
Have boundaries around candy:
Kids still need healthy boundaries around candy, just as they do around food in general. These boundaries might include where candy will be kept and when it can be accessed.
Candy should be in a place that your child can both see and access. If candy is out of reach/sight, they will likely become MORE preoccupied with it. In the same way, your kids may feel obsessive about their candy if they don’t know when they will be allowed to have it.
This is why it’s also equally important to communicate with your kids about when they will be allowed to eat their candy. Make sure you and your kids are on the same page about when they can access their candy bag.
If they know they will be able to have some of their candy with their meals, this can help decrease their preoccupation with eating candy.
As an example, if they’re asking for candy between meals and snacks, you can let them know that a time to eat candy is coming up soon. Offer your kids gentle reminders for adhering to and holding boundaries established around candy.
Create positive experiences around candy:
In order to build positive experiences around having and eating candy, your kids will need you to help. More than anything, kids learn about food and eating through their environment and from their caregivers.
If your kids are picking up on negative language (verbally or body cues), this will not make them feel safe to enjoy their candy. Be aware of the language you’re using to describe candy, and be cautious about your own attitudes and behaviors.
Try not to use phrases or words that demonize their candy intake, such as “That’s too much sugar”, “Too much sugar is so bad for you”, or “Are you sure you want another piece?”, etc.
This type of language puts fuel to the fire and can make a preoccupation with candy even worse. Instead, seek to create enjoyable and positive experiences around candy.
Talk to your kids about their favorite candies, why they enjoy them, or even the types of candies you enjoy eating. If your child can see you enjoy some candy alongside them, this will also help put them at ease about their candy eating experiences.
Check Your Food Issues Around Candy
Do you feel anxious/nervous about your child eating candy? Where might these fears be stemming from?
Fear around sugar often goes hand in hand with fear around being in a larger body (or growing into a larger body). Many parents may fear the potential ramifications of their children eating too much candy or sugar, including worries about kids being in a larger body.
Having a history of being in a larger body yourself or having a child that may already be in a larger body can put you on the candy alert.
Some parents that have fear around their kids eating sugar stems from their own poor relationship with candy/desserts. Some may have a history of eating disorder, disordered eating, or chronic dieting that created a chaotic relationship with eating desserts and candy.
Understanding your own history and past experiences around candy can help create awareness around your own feelings that may be triggered when your child is eating candy.
Be aware of verbal, non-verbal cues around your kids eating candy that might create stress/anxiety for your child (give examples).
Your child will pick up on this, and this may further feed into their preoccupation with candy, or may cause them to hold on to their candy more tightly. You don’t want your child to potentially pick up on your own fears/anxieties around candy, so be careful if you’re projecting these things on to them.
Even if you’ve struggled with food or your body in the past, you can try to separate your own issues or fears from your children in order to help them create new and positive experiences around candy and food.
This can also help you identify any areas from your past that may need some attention as well. When you can heal from these past issues, you can grow in your confidence to build a trusting feeding relationship with your child.
Creating a positive/neutral environment for your child around candy - let them see you enjoying candy in a relaxed, neutral setting.
“How can I help my kids if I’m not yet comfortable with eating candy or don’t trust myself to eat candy?”
Maybe you don’t trust yourself to eat candy, or perhaps you don’t allow yourself to have candy or other desserts in the house for fear of how you may eat it.
If you don’t quite feel like you’re in a place where you can allow your kids to have regular access to candy, you may want to include another caregiver in this process in order to support your children.
Let another adult take over the candy responsibility if you don’t feel like you’re in a place where you can help your kids build a positive relationship with candy.
Again, if you’ve found yourself in this position, it’s OKAY to recognize that you’re not ready to do this with your kids. You will get there in time. In the meantime, please give yourself all the grace in the world.
Try to create opportunities for your children to have candy and positive experiences eating experiences. Enlist the help of another adult who may be in a better place to handle this, such as your spouse, partner, or another family member.
Trusting Your Child to Eat Candy
At the end of the day, this boils down to trust. You can trust your children’s innate ability to self-regulate the foods they need to grow at a rate that is right for them, including candy. You can trust that your children have the ability to eat foods that feel the most satisfying for their bodies.
You can trust your child to eat candy, even if your child:
Is in a larger or smaller body
Didn’t eat vegetables or protein at a meal
Already have candy earlier in the day
Eats more than you feel comfortable with
Again this is about keeping the big picture in mind to help your kids feel positive about eating all foods and building confidence in themselves. They need regular access to candy with scheduled meals and snacks along with positive experiences around eating candy (I.E. no food policing, shaming, guilting, rules around candy, etc.) to make this happen.
Ultimately, they need you to TRUST them as they work through this process.
A Note about Candy and Food Allergies
If your children have food allergies that require limits or restrictions around candy and desserts, there are still ways to help them have enjoyable experiences around candy while keeping them safe.
The two most important things to focus on with food allergies and candy include:
Focusing around language used around candy
Focusing on what can be substituted versus what is eliminated
Kids with food allergies can feel a sense of deprivation around the candies that they may not be allowed to eat. With this in mind, be careful of how you talk to your kids about candy and why they may not be able to eat certain foods.
Remind them that there are some foods that might not feel best in their bodies but that you’re going to help them find other candy they can safely enjoy.
Finding suitable substitutes can help them enjoy candy and minimize feelings of deprivation that might come up when foods are eliminated.
Remember that ALL foods, including candy, are an important part of creating memories and enjoying life together. Don’t let short-sightedness or untrue fear-mongering tactics around candy or sugar to rob you of the potential memories and joy that you can create with your own children in life and around the holidays.
By implementing these strategies, you can create a safe and nurturing space for your kids to build a positive relationship with food and their bodies, as well as learn how to confidently navigate candy and desserts.