As Halloween has come and gone I have had the opportunity to reflect on my personal growth over the past two years. Once upon a time, not very long ago, I absolutely hated Halloween. I hated the pressure of creating costumes, I hated the way it made me feel uncreative and not up to the task. I wasn't fond of the slimy pumpkin guts that I cleaned out of each child's pumpkin. However, these negative feelings originated from the fact that I hated the candy. And as much as I hated the artificial colors and dyes and the high fructose corn syrup, what I really hated was the added negativity the candy brought to our house. I hated being asked over and over and over for "just one more piece." I hated trying to set limits and then getting angry because I was being pestered or I gave in and let the kids eat more. I hated my own desire for the candy because I really wanted to eat the stuff, too. My feelings about candy lead me to resenting the teenagers who came to the door in thrown together costumes "just to get the candy."
This year Halloween was great! I really enjoyed the night as we walked around the neighborhood with friends and our family, the kids going to doors we would never approach otherwise. The people handing out candy were friendly, the kids often said trick-or-treat in unison and even said thank you most of the time. The older kids helped the younger kids without being asked. And I now firmly feel that you are never too old to trick-or-treat. I even dressed up, instead of just putting on our hat w/ ogre horns and calling it my costume. We arrived home tired but content. The kids dumped out their candy for sorting and trading, while the men caught a bit of the football game on TV.
The holiday didn't change, the candy didn't go away, the need for costumes was still there, we carved pumpkins and I roasted seeds. Nothing changed except my perspective. The only big difference was that I no longer hated the candy. I let go of my need to control the candy and that made room for peace in our house, and for my children to make the decisions about how much candy they would eat and when they would eat it. The interesting truth is that when we let go of control, and give our children information instead of rules, our children are remarkably capable of knowing what they need. Yesterday afternoon, November 1st, I read multiple accounts on facebook from mothers whose children had asked to eat eggs or "real food" after the children had been enjoying eating their candy. Mothers told of how their children had decided when they were done trick-or-treating the night before. It happened in my own house, too.
Over the past two years we have let go of all control over food at our house. We do not tell the kids what to eat or what not to eat. We do not tell anyone that they have to eat at a certain time. The girls often come along to the store and help me pick out the food that we will be eating. No food is off limits. In the process, we have all developed a healthier relationship not only with food, but with each other.
When you control foods you give them extra value. The forbidden fruit concept. The more restricted something is the more precious it becomes. Candy, cake, ice-cream, and cookies are often given higher value. They are used as treats, bribes, and rewards. They are highly desired because they are kept in scarce supply. The more they are limited or controlled the more desirable they become. If, at this moment, you are saying that if you didn't control foods your children would eat candy all day then you are proving my point. When something is given such a high value then when it is available binging becomes much more likely.
When we originally dropped the controls on candy I really struggled with letting go. I had a daughter who would eat up to a pound of candy a day. That was terrifying to me, and brought up a whole lot of issues from my own childhood. It was not until I truly let go mentally and emotionally, and stopped those voices in my head that were going on and on about how terrible it was that my children were eating candy, that my children had the freedom to figure out what they really needed. It was not until they got past their feelings of lack created in the past that they could move on to listening to their bodies and understanding how different foods made them feel.
If you have a child who has allergies, sensitivities, or reacts behaviorally to certain food additives then you may feel you have to control what your child eats. Unless the allergy is life threatening, letting go of control and respectfully providing your child with information is still an option. And if the allergy is life threatening, being respectful of your child when you need to protect them should be your focus. Children do not want to feel sick any more than an adult. If they are given the opportunity to see how foods affect them and are supported in making their own choices they will almost always end up choosing not to eat the food that is problematic, or will eat it mindful of the potential negative effects.
As we walked home this Halloween I asked the girls if they wanted to go to more houses along the way. They said they didn't, pointing out that they can wear costumes, eat candy and walk around in the dark any day. The only thing different on Halloween is that they go knock on doors, and they had done enough of that to satisfy their needs for this year.
For more ideas about food visit Sandra Dodd's Full Plate Club page.
She has a page just about Halloween candy, too.