Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dealing with the treat in the trick-or-treat

We're about to embark on one of the most beloved holidays for children -- Halloween.  I remember being excited about Halloween as a child. Maybe some of that had to do with the fact that it was also one of my dad's favorite holidays, too. As you reflect on your memories of this particular holiday, does any specific aspect of it come to mind?  Could you be thinking of the overflowing river of candy that is collected on this spooky night?  Many parents wonder how to handle all of that Halloween loot because it's full of sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Well, we can stir in the anxiety over the candy battle that could ensue or we can focus on the wonderful learning opportunity for our children.  So, how do we deal with the treats?

Relax!  When we consistently rely on the Division of Responsibility for feeding children, there's no need to worry that a little indulgence in the Halloween booty will cause a nutritional disaster.  If I've learned anything about feeding children, it's that extremes really wreak the most long-term havoc on a child's health and eating abilities. On one extreme, some parents establish total restriction of certain foods, nutrients, and amounts, and on the other, parents embrace a laissez faire attitude of "Oh eat what you want, when you want, and where you want."  Neither extreme will nurture a competent, well-nourished eater. Balance and moderation are two of the keys to a nutritious diet and to helping children foster a positive, enjoyable relationship with food.  While I genuinely admit that these dietary characteristics can be challenging to adopt at times, Halloween presents a perfect learning opportunity for your child.  It's okay to have some candy sometimes.

Decide on a few simple guidelines up front:  how much candy can your child have and when can he have it?  When your little one arrives home to admire the Halloween treats, help him divvy up the loot into stockpiles of "faves" and "not-so-faves".  You may just let him eat to his heart's content right away.  While that may sound startling, be reassured of this...children are very intuitive eaters.  They still get great pleasure out of eating certain foods and they know when they've had enough because they're very in tune with their natural hunger and satiety signals.  The Division of Responsibility gives us permission to let our children listen to their own internal cues to eating rather than relying on external cues (us).

Of the remaining treasures, one or two pieces can be eaten with meals and snacks. Allowing your child to satisfy his natural sweet tooth in this way provides an opportunity for your child to learn about balance and moderation -- two keys to his long-term nutritional health and well-being.  Your child will discover that he can delight in his candy and eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal.  Practicing these principles can be helpful in relieving some of the anxiety about those Halloween treats and will hopefully make the experience a happy and healthful one for everyone.


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