It seems children today are offered candy or junk food during or after every activity in which they participate. Where do you draw the line? This is the story of how I’m learning to say no.
Meghan had her first day of school yesterday. (She’s repeating kindergarten at a new school.) I picked her up and she chatted happily the entire ride home, telling me all the details of her day. It was such a relief to have her be happy, such a relief to know she had a good experience.
It’s a hard line to walk. I want her to go out into the world and be independent, yet I want to protect her and keep her safe. The world is a scary place. There are so many things out there that can hurt her. How can I keep all the bad things away? What do I let her experience on her own and what do I shelter her from?
I’m learning that there are times when I need to let go more and times when I need to hold on tighter.
This summer, Meghan did three activities. She took swimming lessons, tennis lessons, and did a golf camp. Every single one of those activities ended with a sweet treat. Swimming and tennis were ongoing activities and after every lesson the kids were presented with a Dum Dum sucker. The golf camp was only a 3 day event and at the end of each day the kids were given a full-sized candy bar.
Through the years I’ve settled on the philosophy that I will control what foods I buy, but won’t make my kids refuse treats at special occasions like birthday parties. The older Meghan gets, however, the more I realize that those special occasions are not so special. Candy and junk foods are being handed out to my kids for everything they do.
And why do kids need candy after a sport lesson or camp, anyway? What, exactly, is the purpose? To reward the kids? Why do they need a reward for taking a lesson? Isn’t the lesson the reward? It’s a privilege to be able to take a lesson. The kids who are able to take lessons are lucky. Why on earth would they need a piece of candy? It certainly seems to contradict the message of active, healthy living, which I would think any sport lesson should be trying to convey.
The breaking point for me came near the end of the summer. I was sitting with Luke, watching Meghan get her tennis lesson. There was a group of moms, none of whom I know that well. Luke, as a typical two-year-old, was not sitting still and he fell and started crying. The head tennis coach went right for the sucker tub, declaring, “Oh, he needs a sucker!” Don’t get me wrong. His heart was in the right place. But my kid did not need a sucker because he was crying. If I gave him a sucker every time he cried…well let’s just say he’d be eating suckers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He’s two.
The tennis coach went on to say how popular the suckers had been that summer. They’d gone through 1,500 suckers. I wanted to say, “No, shit. Artificially colored sugar’s been a big hit among kids?! You don’t say?!” Instead I just smiled and nodded my head while my two-year-old got a blue mouth from the Blue #2 he was licking frantically.
After that day, I realized I’d had enough. I didn’t understand why I didn’t have it in me to speak up. Why I couldn’t say the things I wanted to say to the people handing these candies that are potentially damaging to their developing brains? Nobody wants to be the overbearing, crazy mom, right? But I knew something was going to change.
I started by buying an organic bag of lollipops. Still a ton of sugar in those things, but at least there wasn’t the artificial food dyes. I put it in my purse and was armed with an alternative to the suckers they were handing out. I felt like at least I was doing something.
Meghan, of course, wanted to know what the difference was. 5-year-olds ask questions like this. So I told her. Those Dum Dums she’d been given were full of food dyes that were proven to be bad for our health and they could hurt her brain. I liked giving her candies that were naturally colored better.
After that, she didn’t look twice at the Dum Dum bin after a swimming or tennis lesson. Tim brought her to her swimming lesson one day and came home shocked: ”What did you tell her about the suckers? She said she didn’t want one because they weren’t healthy for her.” And he didn’t even have an alternative to give her. She basically forgot about wanting a sucker at all and since then doesn’t ask for the organic lollipops.
I kick myself for waiting so long to just say no. I’m not sure what I was afraid of. My kids throwing a fit? (Wouldn’t be the first time.) Being judged by other moms? (I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time for that, either.) My kids feeling deprived? (Doesn’t every kid need a healthy dose of that once in a while?)
Slowly, I’m learning to say no. It’s okay to stand up for what I think is important in real life, not just hidden behind this blog. Why is it so much easier to publish it on the Internet than say it out loud? I don’t have to pressure anyone to make the same decisions for their kids that I do. I won’t judge you if you aren’t as afraid of artificial food dyes as I am. But I’m done being quiet about my kids getting candy or junk food that I don’t want them to have day after day. Sometimes, it’s my job to say no.
What do you think? Am I crazy or is the amount of candy offered to our kids outrageous? How do you handle it?