Last month, I took my three girls to a Christmas market and gave them each some spending money. My middle daughter saw a giant, brightly-coloured lollipop on a stall and begged me to let her buy it. Everything in me wanted her NOT to eat that lollipop. It was bigger than her face - seriously - and the rainbow colours implied a cocktail of E numbers.
Our policy on sweets (candy) is that I'm pretty laid back if other people give them to my kids; I don't want to make my children feel different from their peers, but at home we only have them once a week, after lunch on a Saturday. I was just about to tell my 7 year old that she couldn't have the lollipop, when I went with a hunch and tried an experiment: I told her that it was her choice, but that I was worried that the amount of sugar in the lollipop, along with the chemicals that would have been used to make it so colourful. I explained that it wouldn't be great for her teeth or body. She said "fine" and skipped off to buy it.
Half an hour in, she came to me looking a little peaky and asked me to throw the lollipop away. She'd eaten half of it and said that the sugar and chemicals were making her feel sick. A bit later, we bought some drinks and she wanted something fizzy. I said that a water or fresh orange juice might be better for her body and she said "Okay - I'll have a water, you were right about the lollipop!" Amazing.
I was so pleased, because she was learning to make healthy choices by herself. Plus, if I'd forbidden the lollipop in the first place, it would have become the holy grail of sweet treats in her mind... I'm not really advocating a permissive approach to sugar, but I think it's an interesting idea to educate children and then give them a bit of choice.
Traumatised by apricots
When I was a girl, my parents were super strict about sugar and I remember vividly how it felt to be on a school trip age 10, where everyone was allowed to bring a tin of sweets (tins were a thing back then) and my mum packed me off with a tin full of dried apricots and nuts. It was so awful to feel different and all I wanted was to have a pile of toffees and jelly babies like the other children. Having said that, I've managed to get to (nearly!) my 4th decade with only two fillings and I never feel the urge to buy myself sweets as it just doesn't ever occour to me.
"The way to approach sugar as a parent? Moderation and education."
On balance, I feel that the answer to how to parent in relation to sugar is moderation and education. If you restrict it completely, your children are much more likely to obsess about sugary treats because the forbidden fruit always has the most allure. If you let them have lots of sugar in their diet, the negative health implications are significant and you could be contributing to life-long unhealthy habits.
There is so much in the media about sugar that almost every parent can access the information they need in order to educate their child about sugar, but it needs to be done with a light touch. A balanced and varied diet is key, and focusing too heavily on one food group is not helpful.
In my next post, I'm going to explore the official messages about sugar being communicated in the UK and US media at the moment. It's certainly got people talking.