4 ways to help your child form a healthy relationship with sweets
There is a lot of fear associated with certain foods, which are often the sweeter foods: ice cream, cookies, and candy. Many parents believe that these foods are harmful to their children. We think it’s perfectly alright for kids to crave sweets. So, what should a parent do? Give our child candy all day? Or do you never serve them? Not-at-all. There is, in fact, a very happy medium. Let’s go over four strategies for helping your child develop a healthy relationship with sweets.
Where to start?
Let us return to the division of labour. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, parents are in charge of what, when, and where children eat, while children are in charge of how much and whether they eat. That means we get to decide when and how much we serve these foods, and our children get to decide how much they eat.
Kids notice when we completely restrict sweets, shame them, or create a negative atmosphere around them. They may desire these foods even more.
Here are my four best tips for removing sweets from their pedestal, i.e., treating them like any other food and teaching your children to do the same.
- No Limitations!
When I mention this, I am sometimes met with a look of surprise. “Do you mean I just let my daughter eat all the cookies? But she’s not going to stop there.” But I want you to take a good, hard look at this; is she truly never going to stop, or is that just your preconceived notion? What you discover may surprise you: when we allow children to eat as much as they want of a particular food, it ceases to be special. It assists them in learning self-regulation.
- Avoid referring to these foods as good or bad.
Stop transforming sweets into something they are not: something that makes us feel ashamed or judged when we consume them. When we label foods as good or bad, we begin to assign judgement to those foods. Does eating a cookie make us a bad person? No, but this message of good and bad can be internalised by a small child. Food is food, and we must remember this if we are to instill in our children a healthy relationship with food. Simply call the foods what they are: “We’re having cookies.” “Ice cream is on the menu today.”
- Do not use them as a substitute for other foods.
I dislike using sweets as a reward for eating other foods, or for anything else. I want you to consider the message you are sending when you offer food as a reward: “I have to eat my broccoli to get my candy (yum).” We’re making the sweet seem special once more.
- They can sometimes be served with a meal.
Here’s another opportunity I get a lot of strange looks and stares. However, to put sweets on a level playing field, serve them with a meal. Consider this: when a child knows they will be having a cookie (ice cream, etc.) as dessert at the end of the meal, what are they thinking about throughout the meal?
Getting that cookie. But if we give them the cookie with the rest of the meal, they won’t be talking about it and asking for it the entire time. You don’t have to give them all of the cookies they want, but you do have to decide how many.
If children do not understand when more opportunities for candy or sweets will arise, this can heighten their anxiety, making them MORE likely to continue asking and obsessing over it.
Instead, focus on strategically using language to reassure them that more opportunities to eat candy are on the way. To understand your kid’s needs better consult an expert.