Thanks to the reader who linked me to this question on Quora about giving kids unlimited access to candy.  It explores the idea of giving kids unlimited access to candy, with the idea that restricting candy consumption only makes kids want more of it.  On the other hand, make it readily available and kids might indulge for a while, but eventually they’ll get over the thrill and start eating the appropriate amount.

What do I think of this approach?  It’s great.  Kids need to learn to regulate their own intake of candy and treats.  On the other hand, most kids also need some guidance.  They need to be taught how junk should fit into their day.

The idea that we either control the junk or give our children unlimited access to it is a false choice.  There is a middle ground.  And it’s supported by the research.

As the article rightly points out, the research shows that kids who are denied foods crave them.  But the research also shows that in the face of too many choices, kids don’t choose wisely.

If you want to put a candy drawer in your house – I have one in mine –  go for it.  Make a decision about how much candy your child can eat in the day (or in the week) and then let him choose when he eats it.  And by when, I mean, let him have his candy WHENEVER he wants it.

Most people gasp when I recommend this.  They imagine their child going for lollypops or chocolate bars at breakfast.  But really, why not?

  • It won’t ruin your child’s appetite for real food if you limit the quantity.
  • Eating sugar later in the day is no “better” for your child. It’s not like healthy food inoculates your kid against the sugar.  It’s the quantity that matters, not the timing. Foods should be considered in their own right, regardless of whatever else is eaten.
  • Giving your child control over when he has his treat, while you control the amount of the treat, removes ALL the control issues for your child and will stop the whining and the begging. (But only if you are firm about how much.)

If you decide to give your child control over when he eats sweets…

  • Have a conversation about how many treats per day (or per week) he can have.  Even very little children can understand this, so don’t hold back because your child is 2 or 3.
  • Start giving your child choices. “You can have your treat now or later.”  You know later is coming because most kids have the opportunity to eat sweets, cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, chips, multiple times per day.
  • When the later treat comes and your child begs for it – and you know he will – reinforce the structure by reminding him he has already chosen his treat for the day, but that he might want to make a different choice tomorrow.
  • Tomorrow when he asks for his treat, say yes but then remind him that there might be more (and better) stuff coming his way later in the day.  Ask him to choose.

I’m sure you’re skeptical, but if you stick to the structure – you decide how much  and your child decides when – you’ll be surprised at how well this technique works.

Developmentally, small children will always choose “now.”  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the process of giving them choices.  It just means that you have to help them remember their choice, and sometimes guide them to a better choice.

This is a great teaching moment.  Not only are you teaching your child proportion – how often to eat foods in relation to their healthful benefits – you are teaching him how to make decisions and how to take responsibility for those decisions.

Many parents have used this technique and it works.

Source:  There are many articles on this topic. Here are two.

Jansen, E., S. Mulkens, and A. Jansen. 2007. “Do Not Eat the Red Food!: Prohibition of Snacks Leads to Their Relatively Higher Consumption in Children.” Appetite 49(3): 572-77.

Patrick, H., T. A. Nicklas, S. O. Hughes, and M. Morales. 2005. “The Benefits of Authoritative Feeding Style: Caregiver Feeding Styles and Children’s Food Consumption Patterns.” Appetite 44(2): 243-49.