By Dana Spencer, PEP Certified Parent Educator
Halloween brings many happy memories including time with family and friends and stuffing oneself full of all kinds of goodies. As parents, some of us struggle with how to balance the fun, the candy and good limits for the holiday. Kids grow, and eventually the cute little pumpkin bag is traded out for the pillowcase. Then what’s a parent to do?
As many of us have found out the hard way, if candy is a focus of control it can set us up for power struggles. Before the pillowcase of candy comes through the door, have a plan in place with your child. In the days leading up to Halloween, talk with your children about how the family will handle all the candy. Let them have input; listen to and factor in their suggestions.
Work together, in a give-and-take, to find a plan that everyone is okay with. The more input your kids have in the process, the more buy-in they will have for the plan. There’s no right or wrong answer, and every family’s plan will look slightly different.
Choose what works for your family. It’s okay to let the kids know that you are all for fun, but not for a year’s worth of candy in the house. Some suggestions to get you started:
Consider limiting the amount of time for trick-or-treating by having a fun dinner before and building in time to trade candy afterwards. Lots of skills in sorting, math and negotiation get practiced in the post trick-or-treat bartering.
Let your child chose his favorite candies just for himself, and all others KEEP OUT! Agree on some reasonable amount, maybe whatever fits in a Ziploc bag or other container. Clearly mark it with your child’s name.
Decide what to do with the rest of the candy. One possibility is a family bowl that is left for parents, teens, babysitters and other visitors. Another idea is to have your family make a donation to the troops or another organization. This is a great discussion starter for talking about how military families are separated, and those serving are missing Halloween with their families. Talk with your child about how fun it might be for troops to celebrate, thanks to your child’s generosity.
With younger kids, after the excitement of Halloween night, consider putting the candy away to avoid the unnecessary frustration of battling over it. Out of sight, out of mind. Bring the candy back out after meals to encourage balanced nutrition. Let your child know, in advance, that this is the plan so she won’t be surprised the next morning.
Consider giving the kids complete control over their candy consumption, at least on Halloween night. When we treat something as forbidden it can develop a special mystique or allure. At PEP we say, “Where attention goes, energy flows,” which means, the more we talk about why they can’t have the candy, the more they will think about it. When we offer it freely, we remove the struggle and teach kids that it’s okay to indulge once in a while. Also, when we let go and our kids have nothing to push against, their interest is more likely to wane. Last year my youngest hid his favorite candy in his closet, out of the way of his two teenage brothers. This is a kid who really loves candy, yet eventually he forgot about it! I found it last summer when I was looking for dress shoes.
Model and teach good eating habits and nutrition the rest of the year. If we’re mostly getting good, healthful foods into our kids and limiting processed foods throughout the year, it’s easier to let go and let Halloween be the exception.
Whatever you do, make sure the plan is respectful to your children, that they are involved in the decision-making process, and that they agree with the plan. After Halloween, evaluate this year’s process with your kids to see what needs to be changed for next year. Good luck.
PEP is a thought leader in the community! Dana Spencer appeared as a guest on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on October 29, 2018, during a segment about Halloween. Listen here.