“Mom, I Want Candy!”

Ah, so your kid figured out what candy is. You knew this day was coming…what now??

Let me give you the backstory of my own daughter’s upbringing around candy, and then I’ll tell you what I do now when she asks me for candy.

I’ve been a pediatric RD since before I had children, so my story may look different than yours. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no added sugar in the diet before age two, and I followed this almost to a T with my almost 3 year old (she may have had a bite or two of graham cracker before her second birthday). Yep, no cake on her first birthday, no ice cream on a hot summer day, no extra sugar or honey when we make smoothies, the whole nine (if you want to know more about no added sugar before age two, check out this video). Once she turned two, I relaxed. I let her have carrot cake on her second birthday, and she developed an affinity for cake playing pretend kitchen with my mom. But, she still didn’t know what candy was until just recently. Last year, just before she turned two, we went to the Fair Day Parade (the biggest thing to happen in Belchertown all year…) and she had fun picking up candy and handing it to me. She had no interest in eating it or even asking what it was. Well, this year, as she’s about to turn three, that candy was pretty interesting. She saw the older kids eating it and has learned what it is over the past year from books, other kids, and probably some TV.

As you can imagine, she essentially *begged* me for candy after her nap that afternoon. I panicked! What do I do!? I’m so not used to this. Then I remembered I’m the pediatric RD, and I counsel parents on this all the time. The most important thing here is that I followed the division of responsibility. If you don’t know what that is, listen to pretty much any episode of my podcast and you’ll learn what that is! If I had given her candy in that moment she was begging for it, that would have taught her that if she whines and cries enough, she’ll get what she wants. No thanks! Here’s what I said instead. “Candy. That sounds good. Maybe we will serve it at dinner!” She continued whining for it NOW, but I held my boundary and redirected, as we parents of toddlers do four thousand times a day.

When I was serving dinner, I let her pick from two options of candy, and she picked a fun size pack of sour patch kids (not my fave, but hey, this is a teaching moment for all of us). Because we do family dinner in our house, we all were served candy. There were six in the package, so we each ended up with two sour patch kids on our dinner plates. Naturally, she ate hers before her main meal (pasta with meat sauce). I know this really freaks some parents out, but don’t let it. She ate her two sour patch kids then happily went on eating her meal, all the while admiring the sour patch kids on dad’s plate. She couldn’t wait for him to eat them! He waited until the end of his meal, and that’s fine too. She did not ask for more candy, but if she had I would have said “that’s all the candy we have right now, but we can have it again soon.” What that does is hold the boundary around candy, while reinforcing that the candy isn’t gone forever and “soon” we can have it again.

It’s been about four days since this event, and she’s only asked for candy one more time. She also wanted a snack (clementine) RIGHT before dinner, when she had already had a snack just 20 minutes ago. So, I gave her a choice. “You can have a clementine now, or you can have some candy at dinner.” She chose the clementine now! This tells me that it’s not really even about the candy, it’s about testing her limits to see what mom and dad will allow.

Feeding kids and dealing with snack and sweet requests is HARD. There’s no perfect way to do it, but there are definitely ways to set your kids up for success. I’d love to know how you handle candy in your house, OR constant requests for snacks. Drop a comment and let’s chat!

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