Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trick or Treat – I LOVE sweets!

“Can I please have candy?”  My daughter asks with an innocent big-eyed look with the most angelic smile.  She asks me just as I walk into our house after a long day at work. 

With my mind still transitioning from my work thoughts to how-to-be-a-mommy thoughts, I stammer, “Uhhh….. sure!” 

Then my heart is briefly happy when she cheers and jumps up and down.  She proclaims to her three brothers, “Yay!  Mommy says I can have candy!”

And then, my responsible parent brain kicks in when my sons start to clamor loudly (and less politely) for candy.   Ooops, what I have I done?  I didn’t have any idea how much sugar they had already eaten that day, and we all know candy just isn’t healthy. 

Candy -  it’s been around since ancient history.   The first candy confections were made from fruits and nuts rolled in honey.  Then around the middle ages, sugar was manufactured.   Initially it was very expensive so that only the rich could enjoy it.  However, by the 17th century, sugar was cheaper and hard candy became a popular treat.  In the mid-1800’s, there were over 400 candy factories in the US. 

When you add up our total sugar consumption, the average American consumes around 135 lbs of sugar PER PERSON in a year!  That’s about 2-3 pounds of sugar a week.  It’s not all straight sugar of course.  This amount includes dextrose and high fructose corn syrup which is found in many of our foods.  In the mid-1800’s, the average consumption per person was only 5 pounds a year.  It’s really quite sad how addicted we are to the stuff.

So, how to control the candy craving with Halloween just around the corner?  Here are few tips and tricks.

1.  Use a smaller bag/bucket.  If you allow your child to carry a pillowcase-sized bag, it not only allows unlimited amount of candy collection, but it encourages people to throw handfuls of candy into it, instead of just giving 1 or 2 pieces.  Older kids tend to go out later in the evening and tend to carry bigger bags.  At that time of night, people are trying to get rid of excess candy.  So, having the jumbo-sized bag just encourages people to give your child more candy.

2. Limit the trick-or-treating time.  If you trick-or-treat for hours, your children will get more and more candy.  Then you’ll have to deal with the ten gallons of candy that they’ve acquired.  Set a time limit and set expectations ahead of time.  Find other ways to celebrate Halloween that don’t involve candy.  Have some friends over for party or play Halloween games or watch a Halloween-themed movie.  You can make trick-or-treating just a small part of a fun day.

3. Allow them to eat it (at first).  Sometimes you create the craving by limiting it.  Imagine if I made you live in a room full of money and told you that you could only have one dollar each day.  Most people would really look forward to the moment when they got the chance to have a little more of the stash – at least at first.  And even if you didn’t care, it would likely be a part of your thoughts throughout the day since you could see it, but you couldn’t have it.  Halloween trick-or-treating is all about the candy.  So, let them have a chance to enjoy it. 

4.  After the binge, set a limit.  No one NEEDS candy.  So, consider it a treat.  Just like all sweets, you should limit it to once a day at the most.  If they want something sweet to eat, give them a piece of piece of fruit.  As your children learn to get their sugar fix from healthier options, then you will give teach them a lifetime skill that will pay off in the future.

5. Set a date for when you are going to throw the leftover candy away.  Very often Halloween would roll around and I would realize that I still had candy from LAST Halloween.  While some candy doesn’t ever seem to expire, it can go bad eventually.  Plus, if you don’t have it in the house, no one can eat it.  So, just toss it.

6. Consider a barter.  Let them “buy” fun things with their candy.  This way you don’t squelch their fun, but they don’t risk their health and their teeth.  Try five candy bars for a trip to the movies, or eight Tootsie Rolls for a pizza dinner.  Be creative.

7. Take it to work or to other events.  Get the excess candy out of the house.  If it’s in your house, your kids will find it.  Either give it away or throw it out. 

Have other ideas for how to limit the candy craziness?  Please share them!  For now, I need to find an apple or something – all this talk about candy makes me hungry!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tantrums – Can I Throw One?


(pleading adult voice)  


(more pleading from the tired grownup) 

This is my two-year old son in his gymnastics class today.  I can hear them as I am sitting in the waiting area for the parents.  I feel bad for the coach.  I knew it was going to one of those mornings.

You know how you just know on some days that your child just woke up on the wrong side of the bed?  Everything is a battle.  From changing clothes (“I can’t dooooo it!”) and then to brushing teeth (“I don’t waaaant to!).  Eating breakfast is a mini-Congressional debate.  “Eat your oatmeal, you said you wanted oatmeal.”  “I want pancakes!”  “You told me you wanted oatmeal, now you have to eat it.” “I want pancakes!”…. and so on.

The “terrible twos” start somewhere around fifteen months and end around age 4.  This is a normal part of development and can be very trying for most parents.  Your cute, adorable sweet baby has turned into a seemingly stubborn little monster.  Tantrums are a normal part of this.  It’s caused by your child’s need for independence and inability to harness feelings that they are having. 

Approximately 20% of toddlers have at least two tantrums a day.  And most will have at least one a week.  They are emotional outbursts that help children express the feelings that they are having.  For young children, they revert to primitive behaviors that express their feelings – yelling, crying, hitting, kicking, and even biting.  Luckily, most are short-lived and children recover quickly from them once they are distracted.   

How to handle tantrums? 

1.)  Ignore them.  Tantrums require an audience.  Has your child ever thrown a tantrum when no one was around to watch?  Children naturally want attention, especially from their parents.  So, when you are paying attention to them because they are screaming and throwing themselves to the floor, you are just reinforcing to them that “Hey, this is a great way to get mommy to put that computer down (or that baby , or that book, or those dishes, etc) and, by the way, I should remember to do this again in the future.”

2.) Be sure your child is safe.  If the tantrum is happening somewhere unsafe (as you are crossing the parking lot), pick your child up and move to a location where they can flail and cry and dramatize the end of the world because you wouldn’t buy the toy that they suddenly need.  

3.) Avoid the tantrum.  If at all possible, avoid your child’s triggers.  Hunger, tiredness, overstimulation are common triggers for kids.  Make sure they are well fed, that you are avoiding activities during naptime or late afternoon, and that your child is prepped for the activities to come.  Every child has a different temperament.  If your child gets a little crazy every time you go into a crowd, it may be too much stimulation for him/her.  Go to the festival or the museum when there aren’t so many people around.  It will be better for all of you.

4.) Take deep breaths and count to ten in your head.  It’s easy to throw the adult version of a tantrum when you are frustrated with your child or embarrassed by your child’s behavior.  Losing your own temper in front of your child just teaches them that yelling is okay.  Spanking is a grownup temper tantrum , hurts your child, and teaches him/her that hitting is fine.  Don’t be surprised if your child hits or “spanks” other kids when they think the other child has done something wrong.  Child abuse happens commonly when adults lose their patience.  If you need it, make sure that your child is safe and give yourself a time-out. 

Well, apparently, this coach knows how to handle cranky frustrated two-year olds, because my son is now happily working his way through the mini-obstacle course in the gym.  Thank goodness.  Perhaps today will be a good day after all!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Birthday Party Madness

“When’s my party?”  asked my daughter.  She’s turning four next month.   Ooops.  Guess I'd better start calling places! 

I used to be really great at planning parties for my kids.  Now, I’m on the 20th birthday party (if I add up all the birthday parties for my four kids) and my enthusiasm has waned drastically.

Once I had a party at my home, and it was soooo much work that I vowed never to do it again.   Hours of cleaning and prep beforehand, then hours of cleaning afterward.  The kids loved it, the parents and adults had a nice time hanging out together, but I was exhausted.   I’m much too lazy to repeat the experience.

But the alternative is really pricey.  One can easily shell out $300 for a 90-minute playdate for your child and 14 of his/her closest friends.  It’s really nice to just show up with a cake and walk out an hour and half later lugging leftovers and presents.  The kids are sugared-up, worn out, and a good time is had by all.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember these kinds of parties when I was a kid.  I seem to remember small gathering of a few neighbor friends or school friends, a grocery store birthday cake (loved the frosting flowers!), and some simple games.  

Now it’s an event.  Bouncing, dancing, climbing, exercising, arts and crafts, petting zoos, swimming, cooking, video games, and so on.  I know…  because we’ve done them all.   As my oldest is getting out of the mega-party phase, we’ve moved on to sleepovers and movies and smaller (but longer) affairs.

The birthday party social calendar is equally nuts.  Any of you who have young kids know what I’m talking about.  If you figure an average of 20 kids in a preschool class, it’s a lot of birthdays and parties.  My children have more parties and events in one year than I’ve had in the last ten years!  I’m glad they’re having fun – but it’s crazy!  I remember shopping on Black Friday one year and buying over twenty potential birthday gifts.  It’s so much easier to have a stash of pre-bought presents to choose from as opposed to remembering last minute and having to run out to the store before the party.

Our county recently banned food for birthdays at school – no more cupcakes, donuts, cookies, or other treats.  In an attempt to curb the obesity epidemic, they want to reduce the junk food that kids are getting at school.  At first, I was a little upset because I thought of how disappointed the kids would be.  But then, they allow other goodies – pencils, books, and so on – just not food.  As I thought about it, I was really impressed by this decision.  It sends a great message that you can celebrate without eating junk.  Also for the kids who are trying hard to maintain a good weight, it reduces the temptation of that yummy cupcake with frosting and sprinkles.  (Plus now I don’t have make them!  Don’t get me wrong, I love to bake – but not at 8 p.m. at night after work!)

So, birthdays – a great time to celebrate, but how to make it less materialistic?  One parent I know asked for donations to charity instead of presents.  What a great idea!  For that party, my kids learned how to donate money, what it was for, and how it helped others.  It was a valuable life lesson.  Others I know said no presents, just come and play.  That was also great fun.   Perhaps a memorable event (like a circus outing or laser tag with a few friends) instead of a party of 15 kids from school.   And don’t even get me started on goodie bags (talk about kids feeling entitled to things… it’s so embarrassing when your kid demands a bag at the end of a party… what is that about?)

Oh well, time to get planning – yikes, I only have three weeks left!  Got any birthday ideas?   I’d love to hear them!  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Video Games – The Brain Drain

The other day I was sitting with my four kids at a restaurant with some friends and their children.  One of our kids was playing Pokemon on a handheld Nintendo DS.  Surrounding this child were a total of six other kids, varying from ages 2 to 9, who were staring intently at this tiny 3 x 4 inch screen.  They all had the same look and I'm guess that you know the look… slack-jawed, eyes glazed, brain off and ears closed to everything except the high-pitched music coming from the little machine.  They were completely quiet, mesmerized by the moving little creatures on the tiny screen.  The adults wondered at the absence of the normal chaos and stress that comes with taking seven children to a restaurant together.

It’s confusing to know what to do.  The relief that comes with having the children entertained is so wonderful.   The adults could actually TALK to each other… instead of scarfing down bites of food, trying to yell bits of conversation to each other while pulling little Johnny off the table and pleading with little Meagan to eat another bite of broccoli. 

But we know that this cannot be healthy.  They don’t appear to be using any higher brain function.  They are completely zoned-out while watching video and computer games, movies, television.   There is minimal physical movement.  It’s no wonder that there is an obesity epidemic in our country! 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be limited to one to two hours of screen time TOTAL.  This includes television, computers, and handhelds.  While this is achievable with very young kids, it becomes much harder to do this as your kids get older.  So much school work now requires the use of the computer, and much of today’s social life exists on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and texting. 

So, how to counter the couch potato syndrome and video game brain drain?  The evolution of game systems that make kids (and adults) move their bodies when they play is a nice compromise.  One of the most popular systems out now is the Nintendo Wii.  They have several sports and exercise games that combine exercise while having fun.  Microsoft will soon have an Xbox add-on called Kinect that will allow you to play video games just moving your body – no controller needed!  Even adventure and driving and simulation games using Kinect will require you to move your body.  Sony will also have a device that adds to the Playstation 3 to add functionality similar to the Wii Remote.   

Of course, if you played video games as a kid (or now), you know this stuff is addictive.  Much of my young life was spent in front of Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Tetris.  Try to limit it now for your kids – they have a lifetime of computers and cell phones and who knows what else in the future.  Get them to read books, use their imagination with playdough, coloring or crafts, run around outside (or inside), play board games, or whatever else you can come up with so that the rest of their brains can develop.  Teach them to entertain themselves without needing a battery or a plug!  It’s hard I know (as I sit here in front of a computer on my second cup of coffee)… but we should at least try!

Thanks for reading!