When my kids were younger, I watched everything they ate or drank. I fed them nutritious foods, and I carefully guarded their sugar and caffeine intake. We still laugh about sitting in the front seat of the car eating ice cream cones in the Dairy Queen parking lot, while Christopher happily munched on a "cookie" (it was actually a graham cracker) in his car seat. He didn't know what he was missing. That kept both of us happy!
Then, the kids started growing up. And, while I eventually gave them ice cream and other treats, I preferred to keep those foods to a minimum. But I was no longer with my kids every minute of every day, and not everyone in my children's lives looked at their nutrition the same way I did. Other adults who loved and enjoyed my kiddos liked surprising them (and me!) by giving them yummy treats that made me cringe. I witnessed a mom of littles go through the same thing at church this Sunday when her preschooler came up with a huge wad of gum in his mouth, after he'd also been given a couple of sugary juice drinks. Surprise! So, what's a mamma to do?
Here are some ideas to cope with these sticky situations (literally):
-Safety first! If your child has an allergy or food intolerance, let the adults in his life know. Make it clear what foods will make him ill. Also teach your children what foods they must avoid. Safety trumps everything else.
-It's your kid. You are the one who is responsible for the health and well being of your kiddo. It isn't always easy to be the bad guy, but that's why they pay us the big bucks. You may need to tell the Sunday School teacher or doting aunt that red dye will make junior bounce off the walls for the next three hours. You might feel the need to make your little one spit out the gum or wrap up the sucker that was given to them. Just be sure you are doing everything with humility and love. Remember, the adult who shared with your child was acting out of kindness. Be as discreet as possible to avoid embarrassing them.
-Try to relax....at least a little. Yes, it is your kid. Yes, you should have been asked first. Yes, it does seem a bit irresponsible for someone to give your toddler a jelly donut. But, consider the worst case scenario. Your toddler will need his hands washed and probably won't eat lunch, but he will eventually be hungry for "real food" again. Your gum-chewing preschooler won't get a cavity from a few minutes of sugar munching. And your first grader most likely won't turn to a life of Mountain Dew simply because Grandma gave them a glass of soda with dinner. You don't always need to look the other way, but it's alright to occasionally let some things slide. At least every now and then.
-Teach your kids to say "no". We had to do this when Christopher was a preschooler. He was regularly being given soda within an hour of his bedtime. The poor kid would lay awake for hours, unable to be still for more than a few seconds. Our attempts to stop these drinks was met with a cheerful, "Oh, that's fine! Next time I'll get him a milkshake instead." Some grown-ups just don't get it. So, we had to teach Christopher to say, "No thank you," and ask for water. Before his special outings, I would remind him that he would probably be offered a soda or milkshake, and would walk through a proper response. Then, we would do a little role playing for practice. It didn't take long for the caffeine overload to stop.
-When possible, talk about the "why". Sometimes "because I said so" needs to be good enough. But, it can help your kids understand that your rule-making is compelled by love if you discuss with them why you don't want them to have the forbidden food. As soon as they are old enough, talk to them about why you don't want sugar to be on their teeth. Explain the dangers of walking around with a sucker. Help them understand how certain foods affect them. They may still want the treats, but at least they'll know you have your reasons. And you'll also be preparing them for making their own healthy choices one day.
-Make Mom and Dad the final word. I cannot emphasize enough how important this one is! Most of the unwanted treats can be stopped if your kids learn that they must always ask you first. Always. Over the years, my kids have learned that their dad and I should be asked permission for special privileges, and that we always have the right to overrule whatever was offered to them. A lot of that perspective started way back when they were little and had to ask if they could have that cookie being handed to them. They learned that I would be fair, but firm. There was no use fighting it. This principle still guides our children, even as they're growing older. Since they know that they need to ask permission first, they avoid getting their hopes up, which helps keep them from being disappointed every time I can't give in to what they want. Of course, I try to say "yes" whenever possible. After all, I'm a pushover when I look into those puppy-dog eyes!
Those are some things that have worked for me. Find more helpful ideas over on Works for Me Wednesday.
Photo credit: Saucy Dragonfly