What About the Children?

All my talk about chocolate this month, and I realized I’m missing something, something which looms rather large in my life. Kids and chocolate. I’m thinking especially about this right now because my preschooler and 1st grader both had Valentines’ Day parties in their classrooms this week and came home crazy-eyed from all the sugar-laden sweets.

Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to go into a tirade about sweets at parties. The kids have three class parties a year. If they get a little wired on those days, that’s fine. I’m more concerned about the daily doses of sweets my first grader gets at school, as a reward for doing something well. It frustrates me as a parent because I am trying really hard to instill healthy eating habits in my kids at home…only to find them undermined at school.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew up with desserts as a reward. It wasn’t until I was faced with an extremely picky toddler that I took stock of the messages I was sending her. The little thing was born with her father’s eyes…and my sugar cravings. And here I was, promising her sweets if she’d finish those vegetables. Ahhh, it really doesn’t take a genius to see what kind of message I was sending regarding food (sweets=good, vegetables=bad), but it was such a hard habit to break. I’m doing better, but have to remind myself on an almost daily basis.

So, when she started coming home from school showing me all the tootsie rolls, lollipops, mini candy bars, etc. she was getting (for having a clean desk, for being a good reader, for helping another student), I admit I was upset. But I took a deep breath and reminded myself how engrained the whole food=reward idea is in our culture. And then I explained to her how having a healthy body is a reward and having energy to play and living a long life, and all that stuff kids don’t want to hear. But, she’s smart, and she gets it. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t have cravings, though. And it doesn’t mean she doesn’t ever get sweets. We’ve taught our kids that sweets are a sometimes-food, and we try to never use them as a reward.

Given the rising childhood obesity epidemic, it’s not surprising that our public school, like I imagine many other schools everywhere, is trying to send a message about healthy eating to kids through various school assemblies and the like. It’s just that the messages don’t always leave the auditorium. So, I talked to my daughter’s teacher. I was a little nervous about it; I didn’t want her to think I was being confrontational. I talked to her about how I was trying to help my little girl develop healthy eating habits and that I was hoping she could help me out by not giving out candy at school. I was so relieved that she was very receptive. The truth is, she just hadn’t thought about her reward system. She’s been teaching a long time and has always given out sweets. She also gives out small toys, but when the kids had a choice of a toy, or a sweet, she admitted they typically chose the sweet. The result of this discussion? My daughter is no longer bringing home candy from her teacher. She gets stickers or bookmarks, or sometimes just a smile and a pat on the back, and she doesn’t seem to feel any less “rewarded.”

I’m interested to hear what other parents are doing. How do you control the sugar cravings when your kids are in (and outside of) your care? In the meantime, I’m thinking of having my daughter try the dark chocolate mindful eating challenge. Stay tuned.

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