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My kids have been out for the night and returned each with a big bag of candy. My wife and I are wondering the best rules for the consumption of such.

In the past we've set limits of letting them have one after each meal but I know some parents let them eat as much as they want, telling them that when it's gone, it's gone and if they get sick, to don't go complaining about it -- might as well learn lessons about over-eating at an early age.

What facts are there to support either of these two policies, or any other policy for that matter?

Follow-Up: Thanks everyone for all the information. FYI, here's what we decided:

  • You can eat as much or as little as you want.
  • You can only eat it directly after a healthy and balanced lunch/dinner -- not breakfast, not snacks.
  • Any eating of candy outside these times will result in immediate and permanent confiscation of all remaining candy. (My son actually asked, "Will we get the bag back for next year?")
  • You must brush your teeth well as soon as you're finished after which no more candy.
  • When it's gone, it's gone. No asking the other if you can have some.
  • If you eat so much that you get sick or a tummy-ache, don't be complaining about it -- learn from it.

Funny thing... My kids (boy=8y, girl=5y) are already talking about how they're only going to eat one or two at at time to make it last. I really love kids! <tearing up>

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A friend and I were talking about that last night. My personal deal with Halloween candy is actually not the Halloween candy itself, but its representation of the beginning of a season of on-going candy and sweets and treats that come trekking through my house from now until after Christmas. This dentist in Virginia has a good set of policies and the reasons behind them on his website.

  • Set Rules Early You know, discuss how the candy is going to be doled out, when it can be eaten, and how much can be eaten at a time.
  • Screen the Loot Obviously, make sure the candy is safe to be eaten by your kids and is age-appropriate. We pull out things like hard candies (which simply aren't appropriate for a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old in addition to being hard on the teeth) and bubble gum (I have a personal distaste of bubble gum--sorry) as well as candy that we know none of us are going to eat anyway (licorice)
  • Control the Candy This is pretty obvious. You're the parent, you set the candy rules.
  • Soft and Sticky Steer kids away from candy like gummy bears, taffy, caramels, etc. as they tend to stick to teeth and braces. And if you're kids have fillings and sealants, they need to stay away from caramel and candy apples as they can pull them out (my mom had this happen once when eating a Sugar Daddy!).
  • Hard Candy Sucking on hard candy exposes the teeth to sugar for long periods of time; crunching down on it too soon (as kids are want to do) can cause damage to teeth (I did this when I was pregnant with my daughter. Cracked teeth=no fun!).
  • Safe Candies Include soft, non-sticky candies like chocolates, M&M's, and peanut butter. Granted, while these are safest for teeth, if your kid is allergic to peanut butter then clearly you need to stay clear of candy that includes that.
  • Set an Example In other words, don't let your kids know or suspect that Mom and Dad are eating their stash of candy without following the rules that you (as parent) have established.
  • Bait and Switch This particular dentist legitimately points out that if you eliminate all the candy he's listed above, you're going to have a bowl of much-reduced candy. He recommends purchasing some bags of sugar-free candy to beef up the bowl. He also recommends adding small toys to the bowl.
  • Gum for Dessert The ADA recommends certain brands of sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production to help keep your mouth healthy.
  • As always, brush and floss

Obviously, the American Dental Association suggests that children eat their candy with meals, avoid hard or chewy candy, drink more water and avoid sugary drinks, chew sugar-free gum, and brush and floss frequently.

Your goal at this point is just to control the damage. You can certainly allow your kids to decide what they're going to do with the candy, but there are other options than simply letting them gorge themselves silly on it. A lot of this is dependent on their ages. I am not letting my 2-year-old eat herself silly on suckers. The older your kids are, the more say they can have in what happens to the candy. Some dentists are offering candy buy-back programs where they pay kids for their candy which may be more appealing to your kids than eating the candy. Some of these dentists are working in conjunction with a program called Operation Gratitude which collects the candy for troops and sends it to them in care packages. I don't know if that last bit is of any use to you, particularly since I don't know where you are located, but even if you're not in the U.S., something similar may exist for you.

My kids are very young (my oldest is in preschool), and last year we kept all the candy he received trick or treating, but we put it in a bowl and kept it in a cabinet so it wasn't just sitting out, staring at us all the time. This worked well from an "out of sight, out of mind" perspective, but it almost worked too well because we still had Halloween candy sitting around until Easter when I finally just threw the last of it away. Eventually, my son just got tired of it and stopped asking for it. This year, we're doing things differently: we have guests coming over this weekend. We'll keep the candy through the weekend and then whatever is left on Monday morning is going to the receptionist at my husband's work so she can refill the communal candy bowl at the front desk. With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, my kids are not going to miss the Halloween candy.

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My kids are 8 and 5 though it's the youngest who seems most likely to stop and say she's had enough. Thanks for the links -- just what I was looking for. We like to give our kids as much opportunity to choose as possible so any time the consequences are not too severe, it seems good to let them learn on their own. –  Brian White Nov 1 '12 at 15:24
    
Just in case that excellent dentist webpage goes away: could you add just the essence of it to your post? Also, I love your approaches! Out of sight is always good, and swapping/donating is kind. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 1 '12 at 19:28
    
My husband got a tip from a co-worker: Each of their kids gets a small Tupperware or Rubbermaid container and can fill that container with whatever Halloween candy they want to keep. Everything else goes away. How you choose to distribute the candy in the containers is up to you, but they get to control what they want to keep. I thought this was pretty brilliant, too. –  Meg Coates Nov 5 '12 at 5:25
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I think this is a good question, but I'm not sure there really is a right or wrong answer per se. Families always have their own traditions within larger holiday traditions. Some kids open presents on christmas eve, some aren't allowed to until after church christmas morning. It really just depends on your family.

The only thing I can think of is that as far as I know Dentists prefer kids to eat whatever they're allowed in one sitting and then brush their teeth, rather than letting them spread it out all night long and not ensuring they are brushing. And of course, candies that linger in the mouth are not so great from a dental perspective.

But, I mean, I think it would have been better to figure out your family policy before the night in question! They should know what to expect before putting on their costumes, otherwise you're setting yourself for battles needlessly.

And, holidays should be fun and it is good to have treats! Certainly I think it is okay to lighten up and celebrate with your kids on holidays that your family participates in.

Ultimately, I don't think kids will really get that sick from eating their candy in one sitting, but the long-term effects are a problem. And, its near impossible to get kids to understand long-term consequences so you're going to have to set the limit on this one.

If it were me, I'd have them each pick out 10-15 favorites to eat tonight and the rest becomes a dessert option after dinner or something like that.

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It was too late for them to eat any tonight (well, maybe one). It's the rest of the nights we're thinking of. Is it okay to let the kids decide on this one and deal with whatever consequences may come. (Brushing well afterwards, of course.) –  Brian White Nov 1 '12 at 2:14
    
I the second poster captures the bigger picture better. Find a balance that works for your family and, relax! The fact that you are aware of potential long-term consequences of your choices as a parent puts you ahead of the game in my opinion :) –  Christine Gordon Nov 1 '12 at 15:06
    
I think letting them celebrate halloween night and eat a decent amount of their haul with supervised brushing afterwards, and then giving it away to sources mentioned in Meg's post makes good sense to me. I always had leftover candy the next year as a kid. You know, when I lived in England, we trick or treated for coins, not candy. I think we should do that in the US! –  Christine Gordon Nov 1 '12 at 15:08
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I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that you're missing the point: Halloween is about fun. Rules for candy? Not fun.

Here's a couple assumptions I'm making

  • you don't have tons of candy all the time.
  • you generally balance your kids diet (neverminding school lunch).
  • they brush every night.

All that being said... When you go to the park, aside from the general boundary "stay on the dirt part, don't go over by the trees", Do you buckle down on specifics about the stuff they play on? "Have 2 turns on the slide then we'll come back for 2 more turns after dinner". Of course that's absurd but I'm making a point.

"Oh but that's different" No, it's not. Question: which do you believe is more potentially damaging to a 4yo's teeth; a hand full of jolly ranchers, or :20 on the steel jungle-gym dome thing when they insist on climbing to the top?

I generally agree with hard candy (jolly ranchers specifically) for young kids (4 or less), but my real advice is lighten up. I think that more important than the potential dental or physical damage is that they follow whatever rules you have.

Sure there is potential for long term dental consequences, but I don't think that 2 evenings of filling up on candy is going to do anything more than make your kid's belly ache for a couple hrs. I would further argue that 2 evenings of oh say 8oz of smarties, m&ms and tootsie rolls would be less damaging than 1oz per night for 16 nights.

It's all about perspective and moderation. We all want to do right by our kids, but sometimes we get caught up in it and the real world just kind of shrinks away. Filling up on halloween candy 2 nights in a row won't kill you. Do it for 2 months and it might. I say let them 6 or older have fun. Let them gorge themselves, mainly because it's not bottomless and it'll be over in a couple days. If they get sick, they'll certainly remember having to take the tums/pepto.

Bonus Question: how many pieces did you tell your kids they could have? How many pieces did you have? Hypocrite. (= Me too.

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I told them they could eat them all. Being "light" isn't generally a problem. I'm actually considering far more what lessons they will learn from it that what damage may come to their teeth or bodies in general. I like to be clear with my kids what the rules/limits are, not to come down on them but so they know. Otherwise, it may seem completely arbitrary to them. –  Brian White Nov 2 '12 at 17:10
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I let my kids pick at most 2 candy and toss the rest. I wish people would give out fruit or toys instead.

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