If you have signed up for our online toddler course course (specifically the step on Sugar, Candy and Desserts), you know that our approach to Halloween candy may be a bit different than you would expect for people who talk about nutrition for a living. Sure, candy is not a "health food"...but we eat for many reasons. Health isn't always one of them. And collecting, sorting and enjoying Halloween candy is one of the joys of childhood for many kids.
As with most things parenting-related, it's all about balance and seeing the big picture. Candy will likely be part of your child's normal food landscape. We can help them learn to manage it and get their fill so they don't feel compared to sneak or binge on it. Furthermore, we won't always have control of how or what our kids eat - it's important for us to continue to let them trust their bodies and hunger/fullness cues so they can rely on them as they gain more independence.
Oftentimes parents assume that when they completely restrict sugar or candy, their kids simply won't want it or won't gravitate toward it. Research suggests otherwise. More restrictive habits around food actually lead to children eating beyond their hunger cues. This makes sense - we tend to want what we perceive we cannot have. Read more about this in our blog post all about sugar.
Also remember, it's OK to eat something simply because you love it. Not everything has to be eaten for our physical health. When we are satisfied by the foods we eat, we are more likely to eat an amount that's appropriate from our body and move along with our day. Food has less emotional power over us when it's neutral, not "good" vs. "bad."
So, how do we handle this with Halloween or other holiday candy? The main premise is to let them have their fill when you decide to serve the candy and to not make a big deal out of it. Don't use it as a bribery tool or as a reward - you'll automatically elevate the candy and make it seem "special." Remember, we want what we perceive is "off-limits."
Here's how we recommend handling it:
1. Offer a filling dinner and plenty of water before trick-or-treating. If your kid is hangry during trick-or-treating they may want to eat on the run, which can be a safety hazard. They also might want to fill up on candy because they're so hungry. Before you head out, offer a whole grain pasta dish with diced turkey and veggies, Pumpkin Chili (vegetarian if desired), or pizza.
2. Decide if your kiddo is old enough for candy. Most babies aren't ready for many types of candy because it's difficult to chew, plus babies don't quite understand what they're missing. One- and two-year-olds may be very aware that they're receiving candy and may want to try it, especially if they have older siblings or friends. As the parent, it's your choice whether or not to start exploring candy with your young toddler. (In our home we allow our kids to try Halloween candy once they're one year of age, but this is a decision you'll have to make.) If your child is going Trick-or-Treating, it may be difficult for them to understand why they can't eat the candy.
3. Once you get back home, sort it! Remove any choking hazards or candies that may be difficult to chew like taffy, gum, or hard candy for kids under 4. (Use this opportunity to put together a Parent Stash of your favorites! You know, for safety and all...)
4. Allow your child to sort, explore and eat as much candy as they wants when you get home. Try not to comment on how much they are eating or pressure them to stop. Also, avoid overexcitement about candy - remember, we want our kids to see all food as food, not "something special." Let them feel their own fullness and decide when to stop. If you haven't been doing this with your kiddos, they may test you and overeat - which may lead to a stomachache. Try not to take the "see, I told you so" route with them; rather, gently discuss what happened and explain that sometimes if we eat more than our belly is hungry for, it hurts. If you start this approach young, you will likely be very surprised by how little your little actually eats! You might also notice that they're more interested in collecting and sorting the candy than actually eating it.
5. You provide, child decides. Decide how often you want to serve Halloween candy again for the next few weeks. Maybe you have some with each dinner or put some in their school or daycare lunch for a few days.
When you do serve it, let your child decide how much to eat and avoid tying it to behaviors ("You must finish your vegetables to get candy" or "No candy if you don't clean up your toys"). Rather, serve it with or after meals without making a fuss about it. You can do it once, five times, with every meal, or never again - this is up to you. If you remain neutral about it, oftentimes children lose interest.
Important caveat: we still recommend that you as the parent decide when it's served. If your child has constant access to candy, they might not have an appetite for other foods. Remember, you provide food of your choice at regular meals - they decide how much to eat.
6. Keep it out of sight until you decide to serve it again. A child who sees the candy in plain view will ask for it often. Put it out of sight, and if your child asks to have some when you weren't planning to serve it, explain that "We aren't having candy right now - let's have some with dinner. Would you like applesauce or crackers with your cheese for snack?"
7. Decide if you want to phase it out. In our family, after a week or two my kids forget about the candy altogether and I donate it. Interestingly, they don't notice it and don't discuss it. Some families keep it longer or put it in the freezer. We don't recommend having kids use it as payment (like the "switch witch") because that makes the candy seem special. Rather, phase it out how it seems appropriate for your family or continue to enjoy it until it's gone.
Need more help with mealtime? Check out our video-based online course, which has helped thousands of parents raise happy, confident eaters!
Let's talk sensory processing! This is a big topic, but we wanted to give you some basic information so that you can understand your child's needs and development a little better.
In short, your child's sensory system dramatically impacts how they perceive the world, how they learn, and even how they eat. When it's functioning as expected, you may not even think about sensory processing. However, when sensory integration goes awry, it can affect many facets of your child's life.
We want to share with you some background regarding sensory integration so you can understand why your child may react to certain sensory inputs, how to best support your child's sensory system, and how to know if your child needs help with sensory processing.
Sensory integration/processing helps people “make sense” of the world around them.
Think of all the sensations you experience while dressing, bathing, walking or even driving a car to the airport.
Sensory Integration is the process of using our senses to:
We usually think of five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch (tactile), and smell.
We also receive information from our body position sense known as proprioception, and balance and movement sense known as vestibular sense.
Touch Sense - Tactile
The tactile sense gives us information from our skin, including inside and outside our mouths. Every time you touch something or you are touched, your skin provides you with detailed information; this comes from the tactile sense. It allows you to tell the difference between a friendly touch versus to the uncomfortable feeling of a bug biting you on the arm.
Think of a child licking ice cream from a cone as it drips down their arm. Does the child continue eating the ice cream and lick off the drips, or is the child bothered completely by the drips, drops the cone, and becomes very upset? This is the tactile system hard at work, it is either seen as pleasurable or averse. As you can imagine, when a child perceives certain tactile sensations as "bad," it can dramatically affect their success with feeding, playing and learning.
Body Position Sense - Proprioception
Proprioception is our body's position sense. Proprioception is the ability to know where a body part is without having to look, and it helps us know how much pressure we need to do certain things. We use this sense when we pick up a paper cup filled with water without spilling or holding it too tightly.
For example, have you ever watched your child pull a wheeling suitcase or push a play shopping cart around the house and then change the weight of the suitcase or cart? Their proprioception changes when they realize they must push or pull the object harder. This sense is automatic and happens without much conscious thought, and it is a result of their proprioceptors hard at work within their joints. Pretty cool, right?
Movement/Gravity Sense - Vestibular
The vestibular system is our balance and movement sense. The vestibular sense allows us to move smoothly and balance while engaged in activities. We use this sense when riding a skateboard or sliding down a slide at the playground.
Watch a toddler as they practice their balance on uneven surfaces at the park. They may struggle at first, but it usually improves with each trial.
When Our Senses Unite
Integrating and processing information from the tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular systems, along with the other senses (sight, sounds, taste and smell), makes it possible to successfully participate in everyday activities.
For example, visualize a six-year-old holding a baseball bat and trying to hit at a T-ball.
The tactile (touch) sense helps them hold the bat correctly. Proprioception (body) sense helps them know their body is in the correct position. Vestibular (balance and movement) sense helps them stay upright while swinging the bat. Their vision (sight) and hearing (sound) are also key to his success in the game.
Our bodies are truly amazing when they work as expected. However, what happens when things don’t work automatically?
Some kids struggle with sensory integration, which can affect their success with feeding. These behaviors may include:
If you notice any of the above behaviors, which may affect your child's home or school environment, talk to your healthcare provider. Ask to be scheduled for a full assessment that includes a Sensory Processing Evaluation. Therapists trained in Sensory Integration utilize a play-based, child-friendly approach.
I know therapy sounds overwhelming, but it can really help. In this setting, children improve their ability to process and organize sensory information while engaging in a variety of fun sensory experiences. Therapy can help kids simply be kids, playing alongside friends, and fully enjoying their young lives while learning to respond to a sensory-rich world.
Want to help support and develop your child's sensory system? Utilize the following activities on a regular basis, and make sure to never pressure a child to do something they're not ready for yet (e.g. touch a texture they're averse to).
We wish you fun and playfulness on your sensory development journey!