It's summer and it seems like everywhere parents turn there are ice cream trucks, slushies, cotton candy, freeze pops, smoothies, bubble tea, penny candy, lemonade stands with cookies too, the list goes on. Parents may be wondering: “How do I slow this summer sugar train down?” They may be feeling concerned not only about the sugar their child is consuming but also the healthy foods that aren’t being eaten.
I hesitated to write about sugar because the more I read the more I kept finding that fanning the flames of sugar-phobia may increase parent anxiety, resulting in a more restrictive parenting style that will have kids running full speed to the nearest gelato stand. But as a parent myself, I still felt that parents wanted some suggestions to right the ship, as well as a reminder that if your child isn’t eating well and has been over indexing on sugar it doesn’t make you a bad parent.
How you feel about sugar and how you feel about being advised about sugar is as personal a thing as anything else when it comes to parenting. We all carry our own beliefs based on our family culture, nostalgia, education, our own personal focus on health, our own childhood experiences, and many other things. You can find research to support just about any claim or belief these days when it comes to the consumption and effects of sugar.
There are books written and research has been done that says that sugar should be restricted and regulated like a drug not just because it causes tooth decay but because it is also correlated with other health and developmental issues and is highly addictive. So, there are of course, many families that say no to processed sugars and anything with high fructose corn syrup for their children.
Then there are those that say, if you limit sugar, kids will become sugar addicts. If we try to inhibit our children’s sugar intake by pushing alternatives or restricting sugar, we tap into the human psychological experience that is once you forbid something that’s the thing the children will want most. Then when the child finally gets their hands on it, of course their behavior with that sweet is going to look “disordered,” and it’s not their fault, that’s what happens when a kid is unsure that they will ever get to have something that sweet and delicious again.
Many people fall somewhere in between, wanting to allow for some sweet fun while at the same time staying healthy, preserving their children’s teeth, their health, as well as their healthy relationship with their body.
If you are in this group, here are some strategies and considerations:
- Sweets, and eating in general, fall under the same umbrella as sleep and potty training in that control can become “a thing” quickly. You can’t force a child to happily eat their greens and pass on ice cream any more than you can force a child to sleep or use the toilet. To avoid the battles I always say, less is more on the parents’ part. Try not to make a big deal about sugar.
- Avoid offering dessert as a special occasion or reward and do not negotiate with your child how many bites of “healthy food” they need to eat before they can have sweets.
- Try to keep things like ice cream and candy as outside the home treats where possible. That allows you to have a say over how often your child gets these treats without having to say “no” to them. More “no’s” at home will grow your child’s desire for sugar.
- If you, as a parent, are anxious about your child’s sugar intake, do some self-reflection, and see what kind of work you might need to do yourself. Talk to your therapist about your relationship with food or your child’s pediatrician to discuss what is normal for sugar intake.
- Find a way to focus on the sweet and healthy things you and your child can enjoy together. Freshly picked berries with whipped cream, fruit and veggie smoothies, watermelon at the beach, or homemade energy bars or balls are all great options.
The goal is to help your child have a healthy relationship with food and sweets by maintaining a nutritious diet and not over focusing on the sugar. You got this!