Halloween can be scary for parents, and I don’t mean the plethora of ghosts, little witches, and goblins that roam our streets. Our society comes with a helping of fear-mongering around sugar, particularly unnerving when sugary treats are part of the norm at celebrations like Halloween, Christmas, or birthday parties.
We’re bombarded with messages claiming sugar is “toxic,” “addictive,” and linked to an array of health issues. When we want the best for our children, the scariest thing at Halloween has become the idea of our child consuming too much sugar!
Raising healthy children with a positive relationship with food and their bodies becomes challenging when certain foods are marketed directly at them. These foods taste good and are often readily available. If they’re also seen as harmful, bad, and toxic, where should we stand on this issue?
In an ideal world, we want to empower our children to make choices that lead to both happiness and health throughout their lives. This includes learning to regulate their own eating and deciding what’s right for their bodies. It’s a skill that takes time to develop. The most effective way for children to learn is through direct experience. So, how do we create a safe environment for them to learn while protecting their healthy relationship with food and body?
The idea that ‘sugar is poison’ may make good click bait, but it’s not entirely accurate or helpful. Let’s start with getting the facts straight on sugar:
- Sugar, in itself, is not toxic. Too much of anything can be harmful, but research suggesting sugar toxicity comes from animal studies, which aren’t directly applicable to humans. They used much larger quantities of sugar than most people would consume in a week, let alone in one sitting.
- Sugar has actually only been shown to be addictive to those who have previously restricted it
- There’s no strong evidence showing sugar leads to hyperactivity in children.
Research suggests that if we completely restrict children from eating sweet foods, they never have the opportunity to learn how to manage these foods.Which can lead to issues trusting themselves around these foods and often binging on them in later life.
Encouraging a balanced approach to sweets on occasions like Halloween allows children to learn moderation. Embracing a growth mindset, we let go of fears, focusing on the joy of celebration. This shift helps children develop a healthy relationship with treats, turning them into a simple part of the festivities, not the main focus. It's about being open to a new perspective. If we let go of the need to control our child’s eating, we can relax and enjoy the celebration with them. Creating memories of mischief and fun, rather than battles over how much chocolate they can have. Here's a take on a plan for the days around Halloween:
- Allow your child to eat as much or as little as they want on the night of Halloween. They may eat more than their body feels like (especially if this is a new freedom) and feel sick after, and that’s OK.
- Use neutral language in reference to the foods on offer. Try to bite your tongue by referring to them as “treats” “occasional foods” or “unhealthy”. Food is food.
- Allow your child to self-manage their sweet collection the next day. Invite them to hand it over to you when they are done. Give another opportunity to eat as much or as little as they like at a snack time and to choose a couple of foods to have at dinner time alongside the family meal.
Allowing this freedom at celebration times not only allows them to genuinely enjoy the excitement and fun of the moment, over time this becomes the knowledge that they can be relaxed around sweet foods because it’s no big deal. It may provide an opportunity to learn that you can have too much of a good thing. Those errors of judgement provide an opportunity to learn from mistakes and make different choices next time.
Encouraging freedom during celebrations fosters genuine enjoyment without making a big fuss about sweets. It’s a chance to learn about moderation and making better choices. This mindset towards food is a precious gift, turning mistakes into lessons. It’s normal for children to occasionally overeat; this approach encourages open communication without shame.
As the novelty fades, balance naturally emerges. Knowing that treats can be enjoyed guilt-free eliminates the need to sneak these foods or to excessively indulge. This perspective recognises that food serves both pleasure and nourishment. These are lifelong skills nurturing a positive relationship with food and a healthy body image. This is a vital part of raising healthy children.