How to teach your child self-control around sugar

My daughter didn’t know about the existence of sugar until she was one. But then she figured it out what she was missing. On her own. One day, I found her under the table quietly eating chocolates and making sure NO ONE saw her.

Sugar is all around us. And even though it has massively negative effects on the health of our kids, sugar itself is not the greatest evil. Rather, it is the attitude that we are actively helping our kids form about sugar and sweets.

According to the Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility Method, it is wise not to give power to any one food. We often do it with sugar.

Does this sound familiar to you? “You can have dessert after you finish your veggies!” Or, “No candy today until you finish your homework!”

The child who hears such comments thinks: “Dessert and candy are the stuff to fight for, and the rest of it is…whatever!” 

Dessert and sweets quickly enter into the ‘forbidden food’ category and never return.

You and I start policing our supplies of sweets in the pantry and any type of peace that we had during that first year of naive ignorance quickly evaporates. Our kids become sugar obsessed munchkins.

If you are in a place where you’ve given the power to sugar, don’t despair. It is reversible. It will take firm grip and consistency on your part, but it is completely doable. Just think, there are much worse things to conquer out there!

Here are a couple of things you can do.

Option 1 - A Candy-full Snack

Offer your child a snack consisting of several pieces of candy or cookies in a bowl. You can offer it with a glass of milk. Be very neutral about it so that your child sees that you are not making a big deal out of it. Even if they are. Let them have at it. Do it a couple of times per week. You can give them something healthier, like oatmeal raisin cookies if that makes you feel more comfortable. Make no comments. You, the mom, provide the meal and the timing. This is your boundary and you are keeping to it. You are giving them a bowl of goodies and milk for a snack at a certain time.

Even though it may sound unorthodox, it works in the long run. Remember, you are trying to get your sugar obsessed child to realize that sugar is not that big of a deal. If she sees it is not a big deal to you, then it will not be a big deal to her. Kids take cues from their parents, and this is just one of the things they will learn from you.

Option 2 - Eat Your Dessert First

When you serve a family-style dinner, include a single serving of dessert on the table along with the rest of the dishes. You can make it as healthy or as unhealthy as you want. Let your child serve himself and let him eat it whenever he wishes to eat it: it will most likely happen before the rest of the meal.

Over time, he will likely notice that everyone else is having their dessert at the very end and will follow suit. It may take some time, but be consistent and firm. You don’t have to serve the dessert every night, so be prepared to kindly but firmly say no when you get the dreaded request for dessert. And remember, unlike the rest of the food, dessert is not unlimited. Everyone at the table gets one serving with no second helpings.

Quality vs. Quantity? 

There is a beauty in giving your kiddo freedom around sweets in your own home. What gives me the most peace is the fact that when I offer my daughter sweets at home, I can control quality and quantity.

After all, there is a big difference between a home made hot chocolate and a commercial hot coco as well as between an Oreo and a home made oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

My daughter now knows she can have something sweet at home and even though it is in limited quantities, it is no big deal. She has learned that she can ask for some at certain times and that most of the time, she will get to have some, whether it is a cookie or a piece of her favorite fruit.

This understanding between us has been super helpful to me especially when we are out and about and there is either an ice cream truck or shelves of candy at the grocery store.  

Instead of throwing a fit (which was the case in the past) and making me want to crawl under the shopping cart, now my daughter responds in a reasonably calm manner when I say “No, we won’t be buying ice cream/candy right now.” And to my utter delight and relief, we manage to leave the store in an orderly manner.

Sometimes I end up giving her something sweet at home (and I get to control quality, yeah!) and other times she entirely forgets about the whole thing and we move on through the day. What a delight!

We can’t keep our kids from the sugar craze. But what we can do is teach them self-regulation and self-control. Just like with everything else in life, these things are learned. You just need to offer your kiddo many opportunities to do so.

When you give them the autonomy to eat as much or as little candy as they want at home where you can control the quality, you are helping them learn to control themselves, which is a huge step in the maturation process. You are giving them something invaluable in the long term, and that’s worth a bowl of cookies for a snack. In my humble opinion.