I don’t like Halloween.
What? I don’t.
I like my “horror” and “fright” properly contained in a magical electronic box, not out on the streets by way of begging-ass-kids.
That being said, I oblige my kids and allow them to trick-or-treat, get Halloween candy, or help me pass out treats at little Halloween park-and-play type events (some schools, in areas with lots of doormen or key-entry apartment buildings, have booths or parked cars where the kids can trick-or-treat the booths, cars, stores on a street, classrooms at school—PTA event!—you get the drift.)
However, I didn’t always feel this way.
What I’ve learned the hard way over the years, is that you can’t hide your kids from the world…and you can’t hide the world from your kids. At the same time, we have our own issues to work through while we’re trying to teach our kids to know better than we ever did. So, while we’re trying to figure out what “healthy consumption of Halloween candy” looks like to teach our kids, weeeee are trying to keep ourselves from stealing fist-fulls of it and eating it while we watch American Horror Story.
Lots of people would likely mutter something to themselves about simply needing willpower or “just keep your hands out the damn kid’s candy” or some such nonsense. The reality, though, is that “willpower” isn’t simply a well in your brain that you haven’t tapped into yet—it’s a skill that you develop over time, a skill that becomes increasingly difficult to develop when you’ve been doing the exact opposite of “exercising willpower” for much of your life.
What lots of people mistake for “willpower,” is really what could be classified as “a habit.” You have to develop the ability to turn down something you know is going to satisfy a craving, and then you have to turn that ability into a habit.What feels like “developing a habit” on the inside actually looks like “using your willpower” to everyone else.
Our brains already know that junk food satisfies us in a certain way, and therefore makes it easier for you to desire that thing. It makes you happy, it fills you up, it satisfies you, it gives you energy, it keeps you going—everything your body needs to feel better. Why would your brain steer you away from that?
Now, we know why. It’s the how that’s making it difficult.
For many of us, the “how” in developing that willpower will include keeping it out of the house. Yes, that means the Halloween candy, too.
I know, I know. Bummer. But, if you’re looking for the start of my apathy towards Halloween, it started here.
That doesn’t mean I’m a complete curmudgeon, though. Even though I don’t buy the candy or other sweets during this time of year—and man, I used to buy the big bars to give out, too!—here’s what I do instead:
1) Hit up Oriental Trading or any other number of massive wholesale retailers who offer up big fun toys in bulk for cheap. Little rings, fake jewelry, action figures, pretend nail polishes, temporary tattooes, glow-sticks, clip-on earrings, things that will provide fun for little kids that’ll extend far beyond the junky candy bars they might get allows you to still bring joy to the kids in your neighborhood and keep the candy out of the house.
3) For the older kids, take a bunch of gift cards, and only put 5-10$ on a few of ’em while the rest of ’em are completely empty… put them in a giant bowl and let kids fish for them with the hope that they’ve chosen one of the ones with money on it. (I mean, that is if you’re ballin’.)
Suppose you take your little ones trick-or-treating, and they come home with the mother load of candy.
Here’s what you do—offer them an exchange. It’s time to play “Let’s Make a Deal.”
“So, I know you like candy, but…I know you’ve been wanting that new Minecraft book series that we saw at the bookstore…”
“I mean, the candy will only last you a few minutes… you’ll have those books forever…“
“Can we go get the books now?”
“Sure…but you’ve got to give up the candy. Give me your candy, and we can go get the books.”
They’re kids. There’s always something they’ll give up for the candy. It’s your job, as parent, to figure out what that thing is, and steady yourself to make the bargain work. Shoot—sometimes, depending on the kid’s age, they’ll give up the candy for a big candy bar, or a big jelly doughnut, or some time baking cookies with you. If it helps you to keep the candy out of the house and, by extension, avoid the frustration and disappointment of trying to test yourself and subsequently falling short, then I’m all for it.
I know that some people deride this method, claiming that it denies the child the right to learn “moderation,” but I don’t agree. It teaches the child that “candy” isn’t the most important thing in the world; that there are more appealing and enjoyable experiences in life than bingeing on candy; it helps the child avoid developing the kind of attachment to candy that leads grown adults to believe that kids need the “experience” of bingeing on candy to learn that bingeing is bad (seriously, think about that—my kids didn’t need to put their hand on the stove to know it burns); and, if you’re careful, you can help your child develop a taste for better-made sweet treats, thereby preventing them from ever even developing a taste for the junky stuff.
Look. Parenting is hard. It’s hard enough trying to help our kids reach adulthood without killing them first, let alone trying to help them reach 18 without killing ourselves in the process. If you’re one of those parents who can do fine with the candy in the house and around, then that’s great! But, for those of us who cannot, don’t feel bad if you have to take alternative measures, especially if you still want to participate. You can give fun toys out for cheap, trade your kid’s candy for something they love, and come out of October unscathed. And guess what? Your kid will thank you for it!