After a summer of watermelon and popsicles, today we enter the season of candy holidays: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter (and someday they will figure out how to sell lots of candy for Thanksgiving). For kids, Halloween is all about the candy, since there isn't much about the holiday for them outside of trick-or-treating. But parents worry about that big bag of candy their children will haul home tonight. That many sweets can't be good for a child, right?
Many parents restrict the amount of sugar available to their kids as an ongoing habit, and are tempted to confiscate or ration trick-or-treat candy. But unless your child has an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, a once-a-year binge will cause no lasting damage. And science says that restricting your kids' goodies may make them crave them even more.
This idea isn’t just based on speculation. In a 1999 study, Penn State researchers identified three types of snacks—wheat crackers, cheese fish-shaped crackers, and pretzel fish-shaped crackers—that a group of 4- to 6-year-olds found equally tasty. Then they split the kids into groups and seated them around tables. They allowed all of the kids as many wheat crackers as they wanted but put either the cheese fish-shaped crackers or pretzel fish-shaped crackers in a clear container in the middle of the table and told the kids they couldn’t have them. After several minutes, a bell rang and the groups were each allowed to eat as many of the formerly banned crackers as they wanted in addition to the wheat crackers. The researchers found that the kids talked positively about, asked for, and ate whichever type of cracker they had been denied—far more than the always available wheat crackers. Interestingly, the kids who became most preoccupied with the forbidden crackers were those who had parents who restricted certain foods at home.
Further experiments show that restrictions will even increase a child's desire for treats they don't even particularly like! Of course, any child can excitedly overindulge on trick-or-treat candy and become sick, but that's temporary and they might even learn a lesson. As kids mature, they learn to respect their own limits, but only if they get an occasional chance to test those limits. Read more about the science behind candy craving at Slate.
(Image credit: Flickr user Rochelle, just rochelle)