Why I gave my kids total control over their Halloween candy

Halloween candy haul
CC BY 2.0 Nina Hale

Attempting to control candy consumption is exhausting work for parents, which is why I've taken a different approach -- no control at all.

The neighbors were generous this Halloween. My kids came home from trick-or-treating with bags full of candy, chocolate, and chips. They poured it onto the table, sorting and examining their treasure with delight. When they went to sleep, their stash much reduced and their bellies filled with chocolate.

The next morning I told them that they were in charge of their own candy, as long as they followed a few guidelines. I didn’t want them filling up right before dinner and I asked them to please toss the Kool-Aid pouches and Skittles, to which I have a serious aversion. Other than that, they could go nuts.

Upon hearing my declaration, their eyes nearly bugged out of their heads. Their usually strict-with-treats mother had morphed into a strange creature of benevolence. They agreed to my guidelines and have now spent the past two days appearing with mysterious candy stains on their faces and fingers throughout the day. They’re happy and so am I.

It is the first time I’ve relinquished control over Halloween candy. Prior to this year, they were too young to understand, and I carefully metered out the treats until they forgot all about Halloween and I dealt with the rest (in other words, ate the good stuff and tossed what was left). Once, we even employed the Switch Witch, a tactic that trades a child’s candy haul for a new toy, in an attempt to avoid all that sugar consumption.

But this year I felt differently.

I don’t want to fight over candy. I don’t want them to barrage me with requests for candy, which become endless, exhausting, and a source of contention within the family.

I want them to exercise self-control. If they gorge to the point of a stomachache, then that is a good lesson to learn. If they realize that eating one or two pieces a day makes it last much longer, then that, too, is valuable knowledge.

I want them to experience Halloween as I did as a child. My parents never controlled my candy stash; it stayed in my bedroom and was mine for the taking, whenever I pleased. That freedom was an incredible feeling at a young age and I won’t ruin it for them.

I don’t believe in “forbidden foods.” I want my kids to enjoy everything in appropriate quantities. Candy is a lovely part of our world, a real treat and pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it occasionally. I don’t want to give it more power than it deserves. In the words of dietitian Julie Dillon:

“A young adult never exposed to fun food will have a tough time eating them without shame. Shame never promotes health. This food relationship produces an adult who feels out of control around certain foods. For many, this develops into bingeing and secret eating. These are typical eating disorder behaviors. Oh, what a web we weave.”

Finally, I need to put my emotions into perspective. The fear of excessive post-Halloween sugar consumption is overblown (just as Halloween night paranoias are, too). It’s not going to kill them. Yes, they might get a bit rangy and wild, but that can be dealt with.

While my kids revel in their freedom, I discover candy all over the house, as they express their gratitude with generosity. My favorite Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups await me on the stairs, a caramel hides under my pillow, and a bag of chips sits beside my computer. They want to share their abundance with the whole family – a reaction that surprises and delights me. They’re already more mature than I thought.

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