The Internet is teeming with ideas on how to curb your children’s consumption of candy over Halloween.  DON’T DO IT!

Don’t fall for the idea that your job at Halloween is to cut off the candy.  Being the Candy Police is no fun. Worse. It’s high risk for teaching your children the wrong habits about candy, about eating, about holidays, about power dynamics, about fun, about LIFE.

Last year I wrote about the “hidden” problem with Halloween: it teaches kids to eat what they have, not what they want. I countered the problem by encouraging my daughter to turn in any candy she didn’t absolutely LOVE and then I gave her money to go shopping for candy she adored.  Read A Better Buy-Back.

From a nutrition perspective, sugar is everything.  From a habits perspective, however, there are lots of other pitfalls—especially during Halloween.

5 Unintended lessons kids learn when parents try to restrict Halloween candy consumption.

1) I’m going to dump it so you better eat as much as you can now.

All the suggestions to take candy away from your kids are especially high-risk.  These include letting your kids go at it for a week (or giving them one candy for every year old they are) and then dumping the rest. Buy-back programs that send candy to overseas troops are wonderful if your motivation is to teach your children the habit of generosity.  But this strategy only works if your children want to share their haul.  If they don’t, they’ll feel that what is theirs isn’t really theirs.  This type of insecurity leads to gorging, hoarding and a lack of parent/child trust.

Want to limit how much candy your kids have? Limit the amount of candy your children can collect. Reduce the number of houses your kids can hit up, or make sure their Halloween bag is somewhat smaller than a suitcase.

2) Candy has power.

Allowing your children to trade their candy for something else, such as a trip to the toy store, teaches kids that candy has power. Powerful items are sought after, not discarded.  But even if this strategy works for awhile, it won’t teach your kids a thing about how to moderate their own candy consumption. What’s more, you’re not always going to be willing to pay their trade-in price. What then? Can you say car?

Neutralize the candy by letting your children choose when they eat their Halloween delights… until they are all gone. The only caveat is this: the candy has to be folded into your kids’ sweets routine—candy or a cupcake, candy or an ice cream, candy or a cookie—not supplement it.

3) Feel guilty when you eat candy.

Some people advocate that you show your children pictures of decayed teeth, rotten from candy consumption. This is like showing smokers pictures of tar-filled lungs. These kinds of pictures don’t do much to change behavior, but they do a great job producing guilt.  And for what? These pictures are misleading. Halloween isn’t to blame. One day (or even one week) of extreme candy eating won’t make your kids’ teeth fall out. It’s chronic candy consumption the causes all the damage.

Similarly, the suggestion to use Halloween to talk about nutrition is misguided.  Nutrition education doesn’t change behavior because kids (actually all people) make food choices based on their hedonic value — i.e. their taste.  Besides, kids already know the difference between candy and carrots. One more lecture won’t tip the scales.

Instead, teach your kids the difference between plenty and greed.

4) It’s best to eat candy when you’re full.

In theory, filling your kids up on a healthy meal before they go trick-or-treating will dissuade them from sampling their stash…too much.

Unfortunately, when it comes to candy, it’s more likely that if you fill your kids up on a healthy meal before sending them out on the hunt they’ll still snack, I mean overeat.  It’s better to give your children a small or moderate healthy meal, thereby teaching them to save room for their Halloween haul.

5) You’re not to be trusted around candy.

Some people suggest that parents give their children a few treats and then put the candy where the kids can’t get to it.  Of course, the idea is that what’s out of sight is out of mind.  This definitely is a strategy that works to limit consumption but at what cost? It teaches kids to feel out of control and to covet the candy they crave.

Kids need to learn to regulate their own intake of candy and sweets, and they can do this even when they are young. Put the power in your kids’ hands. They’ll eat less than you think. Read Lollypops Whenever They Want?

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the concern about candy.  By some reports, our kids stuff 5% of their yearly candy consumption into their Halloween candy bags.

From a nutrition perspective, that’s a lot of crap compressed into a short amount of time.

From a habits perspective, though, 5% is no big deal.   Flip the statistic around and, well, that’s another story.  If 5% of all candy is consumed around Halloween, then 95% of all candy consumption happens during the rest of the year.  In other words, when it comes to candy, Halloween isn’t where the action is.

Research backs this up. Kids are increasingly snacking throughout the year on…you guessed it…candy.  In the longrun, this is a much more detrimental habit than Halloween, but no one’s writing about it.

Halloween is a great holiday.

It’s communal, silly and thrilling.  It’s also filled with candy.  No wonder kids enjoy it!  This year, instead of worrying about the sugar, think about the lessons you want your kids to learn.  It’s a strategy that pays off.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~