Dear Dr. Debbie,
With Halloween approaching I’m pondering what my 3-year-old will make of trick-or-treating. She likes to dress in costumes at home and at her school, so that part will be fun. She knows a few of the neighbor families on the block, so that’s about as far as we’ll go. As for the treats, we limit sweets in favor of healthy foods as a regular practice, and I’ve always been one to give out either bags of whole grain corn chips or pencils and such. The fear I’m having is that the neighbors will shower her with candy corn and chocolate bars which she may want to eat. Am I being age-appropriate in my thinking that her acquired candy could “disappear” after the evening is over and she’d be none the wiser?
Don’t miss last week’s column The importance of positive affirmations for behaved children — Good Parenting
This is one enduring holiday tradition that perplexes the health conscious among us. Once upon a time home-made popcorn balls, apples and shiny pennies were distributed among the “store-bought” goodies to costumed children.
Once upon that same bygone era, almost everything children ate was home cooked, and overdoing sugar consumption had not yet become a national health concern. Packaged candies were indeed treasures because they were a rare treat. Some kids gobbled all they could Halloween night and the rest was either rationed by parents or savored as long as possible by those with wisdom and willpower (and a good hiding place).
Fast-forward to today’s growing awareness of how our dietary and lifestyle changes have affected children’s health. Bypassing the discussion of the rise in deadly food allergies — which should deter us from giving out food altogether — let’s look at sweets.
Today’s children typically have excessive amounts of sugar, corn syrup and artificial sweeteners in their daily diet. The ill effects of over doing sweets can be seen in a variety of problems including children’s learning, behavior, dental health and general health. The American Heart Association reports that children ages 1 to 3 years old are taking in an average of 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, while 4 teaspoons is the recommendation for “discretionary calories” that could come from sugar. Children ages 4 to 8 are taking in 21 teaspoon of sugar while the recommendation, due to slowed growth rate, is 3 teaspoons. Children ages 14 to 18 consume the most — 34.3 teaspoons of sugar daily — when the recommendation is 5 to 8 teaspoons. The AHA defines discretionary calories as the non-nutritious foods, such as those high in sugar, that are eaten in addition to the foods that supply the nutrients for the body’s energy needs, growth and health.
To be proactive, you might share your concern with your neighbors about limiting the sweets given out on your block and suggest alternative choices of treats that are not to be eaten, such as stickers, pencils or trading cards. In the event you can’t sway the neighbors with your reasoning, you might ration your daughter’s goodies over a few days, marking the final gobble on the calendar. The excess goes in the garbage.
Your 3-year-old will indeed remember the thrilling experience of going door to door in her costume Halloween evening, but the lessons you teach her about healthy food choices will always be with her.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com