Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
ATLANTA — Limiting your child's candy this Halloween might be more of a trick than a treat, experts say.
Once you're an adult raising kids, that bag full of candy might be the scariest part of Halloween — whether it's concern about a potential sugar rush, worries of parenting perfectionism or diet culture anxiety.
"It makes sense to be scared, because we've been taught to be scared," said Oona Hanson, a parent coach based in Los Angeles. "Sugar is sort of the boogeyman in our current cultural conversation."
But micromanaging your child's candy supply can backfire, leading to an overvaluing of sweets, binge behavior or unhealthy restriction in your child, said Natalie Mokari, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As stressful as it may be to see your child faced with more candy in one night than they would eat in an entire year, the best approach may be to lean into the joy, she added.
"They are only in that age where they want to trick or treat for just a small glimpse of time — it's so short-lived," Mokari said. "Let them enjoy that day."
Experts aren't suggesting kids have sugar all day every day. The American Heart Association and the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — groups charged with providing science-based recommendations every five years — have recommended lower daily levels of sugar. Too much added sugar has been associated with cardiovascular disease and lack of essential nutrients.
But a healthy relationship with food has balance, and you can keep your kids' diets full of nutrients while allowing them to eat sweets, Mokari said.
She and Hanson shared some tips on how to relieve candy-eating stress this Halloween.
Watch how you talk
Some stress over limiting children's Halloween candy may reflect the adults' relationship with food.
If you look at the candy in your child's bag and worry that you will binge on it or get anxiety about weight, it may be a good idea to talk to a mental health professional or dietitian about reworking your own relationship with food, Mokari said.
It is especially important because what we say about food in front of children can make a big impact on the relationship they have with it and their bodies, Hanson said.
A passing comment of "I really need to work out after all that sugar" or "I can't have that in the house — I'm going to get so fat" can have long-lasting impacts of overeating or under eating, she said.
Should you trade out the candy?
Many communities have their own traditions to encourage kids to give up their Halloween loot. Maybe it's making a "donation" to dentists for a reward or switching candy with the Switch Witch for a toy instead.
There is a place for weeding out candy after Halloween for some children, Hanson said.
If your children just aren't excited by the candy, they may ask to trade it for toys, Mokari said. Or if they have allergies or aversions to certain candies, they may welcome an opportunity to get rid of what they can't or don't want to eat, Hanson said.
But if your child looks at the full candy bag with glee, enforcing a reduction could turn the sweets even more valuable in their minds and heighten a fixation that may not have been there initially, Mokari said.
Should Halloween be a candy free-for-all? Maybe, Mokari said.
Just as adults find themselves craving whatever they have outlawed for themselves on a restrictive diet, kids who have their candy highly managed may start to value it more than they would have otherwise, she said.
"The forbidden Twix tastes the sweetest," Hanson said.
Enjoying different foods on different occasions is part of a healthy relationship with food — so try to relax and lean into the holiday, Mokari said. And remember that though they may be breaking into a lot of candy on Halloween, that isn't how they always eat, she added.
If you are worried about a candy binge in the days following, make a plan with your child to divvy up the treats in ways that are exciting, Mokari said. Maybe that means packing a few pieces up with lunch or adding them to an afternoon snack with a few more food groups, she added.
Turn tummy aches into lessons
It can be difficult to relax around a pound of chocolate, however, when you are worried about the negative impact that candy might have on your child.
Maybe it's a stomachache from eating too much. It isn't the worst outcome, Hanson said. That upset stomach can be an important lesson in how to listen to what their body needs and know when they've had too much of something that tastes good, she added.
Maybe you worry about a sugar rush. Well, sugar affects everyone differently, and some kids might seem to get a boost, while others grow irritable, Mokari said. But both will likely end in a crash.
And either way, kids will likely be extra enthusiastic on Halloween, Hanson said. Even without all the sugar, she said to remember it's exciting for them.