Should you let your children have candy? You know it’s bad for them. There’s no question that you know that. But candy is out there. It’s everywhere.
But there is yet a further dilemma to the question of candy. There will always be some parents who will give their children sweets in moderation. If you do not, and decide to ban candy from your home, will the end result be lasting trauma for your child? After all, the candy we eat in childhood is something we remember with fondness into adulthood. Can a candy-less childhood lead to feelings of deprivation?
Let’s say you think that’s a minor risk. Some children, barred from sweets, will inevitably sneak it on the sly. Which leads to a further candy question: does banning sugar teach children to keep secrets from their parents and lie?
Yup. Parents are between a rock (candy) and a hard (candy) place when it comes to dispensing sweets to their children. If you deprive them of candy, they’ll sneak it and lie. They’ll also think you’re the mean parent from hell. Giving candy to them, on the other hand, is as bad as giving them poison (more on this later) or drugs (ditto). Not to mention, candy is a direct route to the dentist.
So what’s a parent to do?
Candy Isn’t Dandy
Let’s begin with examining what the experts have to say.
Sherry Coleman-Collins, a registered dietitian, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that children ages 2-18 consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar daily, which excludes the naturally-occurring sugars found in fruit or milk. Children under two, according to Coleman-Collins, should avoid added sugar altogether. “It’s easy to get six teaspoons of added sugar even without eating candy since it’s added to crackers, bread and pasta sauces, just to name a few common foods,” said Coleman-Collins.
Okay, you’re thinking. But what can sugar do to my child’s body, anyway? Will the occasional sweet treat damage my child for life? Is sugar really that bad? Can eating a gummy bear set up some sort of endless vicious cycle?
So here’s the thing: you already know that candy causes tooth decay. You most likely know that eating more sugar has led to increasing rates of childhood obesity and diabetes. But did you know that eating lots of sugary foods can actually change your child’s perception of how food tastes?
It’s true. Eat too much candy and soda and an apple or a banana will no longer taste sweet at all. The next time your child wants something sweet, fruit isn’t going to cut it. That child is going to want more candy to slake his sweet tooth.
This being the case, how should a parent handle a child begging for soda and sweets? “Instead of saying, ‘No, you cannot have a soda,’ you might tell a young child, ‘We drink water because it’s really good for our bodies and it doesn’t have a lot of extra chemicals in it,’ says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a parenting coach. ‘Chemicals are not so good for us. It’s okay to have them sometimes, but we don’t want to make it a habit, because we want to make healthy choices, right?’
“Or perhaps you set an expectation that sweets come after healthy food. So you might say, ‘Yeah, that candy looks really yummy, and I can see how you want that right now. But we have dinner in a little while and we really need to make sure that we are eating foods that are good for our bodies and our health before we eat the candy,'” says Taylor-Klaus.
Parents who give children sweets within limits after eating a healthy meal will generally have to continue that conversation about healthy eating for the long term. Once kids have candy, you see, they’re going to want more candy. And that’s not just about perceptions or taste buds. When your child eats candy, a certain part of his brain lights up—the same part of the brain that is activated in cocaine addiction.
So do you give your child “in moderation,” something his brain treats as an addictive substance? “The truth is that children don’t need candy at all, since it provides no nutritional value,” says Coleman-Collins.
Adina Pearson, a registered dietitian who works with families, doesn’t disagree, but suggests that nature predisposes children to want candy. “Kids are naturally drawn to sweet flavors—even breast milk is sweet. And there is research that suggests that this affinity for sweets stays strong until lineal growth is complete. So there’s a likely biological basis to help kids get enough calories.”
Coleman-Collins says those necessary calories can come from other foods, “There are lots of other sweet treats that have some positives without the side effect of empty calories and increased risk of cavities. All that said, I’m not militant about candy with my own child and don’t suggest that my clients be either. The occasional candy treat is just fine in the context of an overall super nutritious diet.”
Taylor-Klaus believes that just as parents talk about the effects of sugar on the body, so too, they can and should talk to even very young children about the effects of sugar on the brain. Parents can explain things in simple terms: “‘Did you know that candy can actually make you not want to eat healthy food? It’s sad, but true. So let’s wait on the candy until after you’re body has gotten all the good stuff it needs, first — what do you think?’ If the child says s/he is hungry, you might add, ‘Well, it’s funny, but just thinking about candy can actually make your brain start really wanting something sweet. What if we have a piece of fruit to help your brain and body feel good until dinner?'”
Pushing off sweets until after healthy foods have been consumed and allowing sweets in moderation seems sound in theory, but did you know that sugar can harm your child’s metabolism? It appears that when kids eat sugar, their bodies stop responding to satiety cues. That means they no longer know when they are full. Which means they’ll keep eating—which can lead to metabolic syndrome, in which several disorders occur at once: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and belly fat. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk for such health issues as stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
Then there’s the fact that your child’s diet, good or bad, paves the way for the state of his dental health, both now and in the future. Children don’t know enough to brush and floss every time they eat sweets. One end result of unlimited or unregulated candy consumption is bound to be damage to your child’s teeth from tooth decay.
At the same time, depending on your approach, your child can learn to associate candy consumption with cleaning their teeth. The trick is to give children candy only in moderation and to always make sure they brush and floss after eating sweets. “Once the candy is eaten, it should be followed by good oral hygiene including two minutes of tooth brushing to avoid cavities. Ideally, this would happen within 30 minutes of consuming the candy to avoid the detrimental effects of sugar on the teeth,” says Dr. Seth Newman, an orthodontist.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy keeping your child’s candy habit as “moderate” as the experts would like, and that is because of marketing. The food industry purposely targets children and teens to the tune of $2 billion every year. There can be no doubt that much of that marketing involves plugging sweets. Children are suggestible. If they see a beloved cartoon character telling them to buy lollypops, they will want to obey that command. They will beg you to buy that product for them. Marketing to children may not be fair or right. But it is a significant problem for parents struggling to keep sugar out of their children’s diets.
It bears noting here that the number one choking hazard for small children is hard candy. How significant is this hazard? It’s significant, all right. Choking is the fourth leading cause of death in children under five.
You may not have thought it possible for a four-year-old to choke on a lollypop or a candy. You might have thought that a child that age was old enough to be in control of her eating process. You would be wrong.
So now you know what candy can do to your child. Candy is bad. As bad as it is, however, forbidding a child candy may make him sneak it. “When we make something ‘forbidden’ from our kids, it tends to give it more power than it would have if we treat it matter-of-factly,” remarks Taylor-Klaus. “Candy is a terrific example. When we take a moderate approach to candy and sweets, we can teach our children about healthy eating and how our body works. Ultimately, we want to help them practice decision-making when they are younger, and learn how to make healthy choices for themselves as they get older.”
Dr. Newman agrees, “We all remember those children growing up who were not allowed to have any candy. Studies have shown that complete deprivation of sweets or other desirable foods only makes them more appealing to children. Excess candy consumption could lead to weight gain and dental cavities”
By far the wisest parental approach to sweets is to educate children about them. Parents can teach children to eat healthy food. They can help them to understand that candy can hurt their bodies. At the same time, a parent can explain why it is important to brush their teeth after sweets and show them how to do it. Finally, we can educate children to understand that if they’re going to eat candy, it should be on a very limited basis, and only when mommy and daddy say it’s okay.
Read a terrific rebuttal to this piece, HERE.