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Too Much of a Good Thing - Teaching your Child Self-Control with Treats

Portrait of a boy with candiesMost adults can admit to overindulging a little here and there. The “one more bite” of cheesecake that turns into, um, one more piece. That “just a handful” of chips that turns into, um, the whole bag. But most of us know our limit, and it’s because we’ve learned that we don’t like how we feel after we eat too much, or the extra weight that will come on later.

It’s a bit trickier with kids, who tend to live more in the moment and not think about long-term effects.

I’ll never forget the time I picked up my 7-year-old daughter from her best friend’s birthday party. From the time I got her in the car, I could tell there was something wrong. She was sullen and quiet and didn’t at all look like a child who had just been happily running around playing freeze tag and wearing a party hat. I asked her what was wrong and she said “my tummy hurts” and promptly burst into tears.

I asked her what she had eaten and she guiltily told me she had gone back to the treat table many times, eating cookies, pop and gummy bears and then two pieces of birthday cake and ice cream. “Well,” I said. “That explains it.”

Despite her misery, I knew better than to think my daughter would abstain the next time she was presented with a table full of goodies and nobody looking over her shoulder or counting cookies. Kids need some guidelines when it comes to treats at parties or weddings or Christmastime, when there is a lot more access to food you would restrict in your own home.

Here are a few tips for getting through the upcoming holidays without too many tummy aches:

1. Plan ahead: Coach your children around “party etiquette” so they don’t embarrass you by diving into the food table like starving sharks. Discuss what your treat limit is for them before you go so you don’t have to constantly monitor what’s going into their mouths. Remember, if you put your trust in your children, they will often rise up to keep that trust.

2. Suggest that they choose wisely. I tell my children to have a good look first. If you stuff the first thing you see in your mouth, you might be sorry when you notice later that your very favorite treat was on the other table. First survey the landscape, then make your choices.

3. Make sure they eat before you go. This is a big one. If you bring a hungry child to a Christmas party where they’re serving crab puffs and asparagus skewers, your child will probably go for the Christmas cookies and bowls of candy to fill up. Most adults have learned the dangers of going shopping for groceries on an empty stomach, and this is a similar problem.

4. Suggest that she can take one treat “to go” so they don’t feel pressure to stuff their face before it’s time to leave. They can wrap it in a napkin and give it to you.

5. Lead by example. This is a big one. It’s not fair to put treat guidelines on your children if they’re going to have to watch you fill your face all party long and then complain about it later. In fact…it might not be a bad idea to follow these tips yourself, Mom and Dad. 

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