Tried To Make Her Go To Rehab; She Said No, No, No

November 25, 2008

My child is a junkie.

It started innocently enough. A little hit now and then, at parties. It couldn’t hurt, I reasoned, and besides, all the other kids were doing it. The buzz they enjoyed seemed harmless, and besides, I’m partial to that buzz myself, and it would be hypocritical to deny my children something that I don’t deny myself. So I let her have some, just a little bit, now and then. I thought that I was being careful: never too much, and only on special occasions. But then summer came along and the temptation was everywhere: in the parks, on the beach, near the shops. And after summer, fall, and with fall, Hallowe’en, and after Hallowe’en, it became obvious.

We have a problem.

Emilia is an addict. She is addicted to candy and treats and desserts and any and all things that make good use of sugar, with the notable exception of any dessert-like creation that contains fruit or – god forbid – raisins. She (rightly) regards all fruit-based desserts and raisin-contaminated baked goods as corrupt treats – like bad acid or cheap ganja – that should be avoided at all costs. We’re not sure when it started – I had always been vigilant about treats in the house, restricting her to 100% natural fruit bars and oatmeal biscuits and yogurt with honey, except for the occasional cupcake or ice cream on birthdays or holidays or outings – but we think that the addiction took root in her summer ice cream habit and blossomed into full junk-dependency with the candy windfall that came this past Hallowe’en (helped along, no doubt, by the Jellybean Potty Incentive Program that we were running this fall.)

Hallowe’en is a sugar junkie’s dream, and I’m sure that it’s responsible for creating more jacked-up sugar bingers than Christmas and Easter and birthdays combined. I could see it in her face, as she sped deliriously from house to house, clutching her bag to her wee chest, eyes flashing like highbeams, mad with longing and anticipation. Look, Mommy! she’d squeal gleefully. I have TOO MUCH CANDY! TOO MUCH! We tried to intervene, appropriating her smack bag and only allowing her to select a few choice pieces, but it was too late. She happily traded most of the contents of the bag for a new toy, but we discovered the next day, and over subsequent days, that she had performed some sleight of hand and purloined a sizable quantity of candy from the bag before it was removed, a stash that she then divided and tucked into Ziploc bags and squirreled away in hiding places (the oven of her toy kitchen, her sock drawer, a toy suitcase, her backpack) around the house. We would stumble across remnants of her stash while tidying, or discover her under the blankets at bedtime, furiously working the wrapper of a lollipop. Every Ziploc’ed baggy was appropriated, only to be replaced by another. How she had managed to loot and smuggle so much junk was a mystery to us, but there it was: she had an addiction that she needed to feed and feed it she did.


We think, now, that we’ve tracked down and re-appropriated all of the candy in the house, but she persists in her efforts to acquire a new supply. Can I have candy, Mommy? Can I have candy after dinner? Can I have candy after bedtime? Can I have candy for Christmas? Can I, Mommy? CAN I? We respond with wholegrain biscuits and no-sugar added fruit chews, and she freaks out. THAT’S NOT CANDY I WANT CANDY I WANT CANDEEEEEE! Or CAKE. We offer yogurt with honey and soy pudding (chocolate!) and coconut-date cookies; she throws herself on the floor and wails.

So we decided to compromise, and plotted a harm-reduction scheme: we stocked the cupboards with a better-quality candy substitute, with the idea that we’d ply her with that, the better to wean her from the hard stuff. We’d provide sugar-methadone to ease her candy detox; we’d supply some jungle juice to get her off the smack. We bought her Froot Loops and Corn Pops.

And now she’s a sugar-cereal freak.


What do we do? We want to break her sugar habit, and rid our home of all candy and sugar-cereals (which I SWORE up and down I would never, ever allow into my house), but seriously: THE SCREAMING. Also, we don’t want to be total buzzkills: what’s Christmas without gingerbread and candy canes? I was a sugar freak as a kid myself, and I know that my obsession with sugar was made worse by my parents’ attempts to keep me from it (some of my earliest memories are of climbing onto kitchen counters to raid the cupboards for brown sugar – straight up – and baker’s chocolate.) Can a sugar obsession be tempered? Do we make it worse by cutting her off, or is cutting her off the only option? WHAT DO WE DO?

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    { 87 comments }

    Anonymous November 26, 2008 at 1:29 am

    My 3-year old also loves candy. Doesn’t like cake, cookies, muffins, pie, or any kind of home-made baked or boughten treat. Just straight up candy, or straight brown sugar or honey. She will try to help herself to straight butter if it is available, and will only eat bread and butter, if it is available. She was an excellent eater and has now become picky. So, I have no good advice except that is comforting that there are other 3 year- olds out there who act the same!

    mothergoosemouse November 26, 2008 at 1:59 am

    Climbing the kitchen counters in search of brown sugar?!

    I hate to say it, but there’s no hope. And I say that as I dig into a half gallon of ice cream with a soup spoon, so you know I understand.

    Amanda November 26, 2008 at 8:37 am

    First off, I love the way you wrote this. I found a link to your blog on a friends and have been reading every now and again.

    I was a chocolate addict as a child, and grew into an addicted adult. I don’t think its horrible to let kids have candy. They all go through a phase. I used to organize and count candy bars in line at the grocery store hoping my mother would let me have one…..I was a sad child.

    I say go with it, sounds like a phase!

    Erin, Nick and Merrick November 26, 2008 at 9:19 am

    OMG- ziplock bags of candy—that is priceless!

    strawberriesandwhine November 26, 2008 at 9:26 am

    I disagree with those people who suggest going cold turkey, because, as you say, anything that is totally banned is sutomatically really interesting. And I also fear that if you do the whole Do chores / eat veggies etc thing, you are setting yourself up for non-stop negotiations. My suggestion would be that Emilia is allowed a certain amount of sweet stuff a week – one small bar of candy, a few sweets, whatever you feel comfortable with. That is hers to do with as she pleases. If she wants to eat it all in one go, her decision. But that is all she gets till the following week. The first few times, she’ll likely eat it straight away, and whinge at you for more for the next 6 days. But I would bet that, in time, she’ll realise the benefits of spreading it out throughout the week.

    Her Bad Mother November 26, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Anon – if I let Emilia just go at it, full access, she would eat it ’round the clock, skipping all other food. And I’m pretty sure she could sustain that diet for some time ;)

    Parent Club November 26, 2008 at 10:32 am

    My dd is a chocoholic. She’ll admit to the addiction.

    So 4 o’clock has become “sweet snack” in the house. 4pm is a crappy hour anyway – the arsenic hour really. So, sweet snack was born. “Yes, you can have a two-bit brownie. How many you ask? How many hands do you have? Two? Well then, you can have one for each hand. Not three – that would be silly – you don’t have three hands!”

    Mimi November 26, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Oh God, Catherine — I used to eat baker’s chocolate and brown sugar too. Yeesh.

    Munchkin buzzed out on candy on Halloween night, but we let her think she had eaten it all, so after a major tantrum on the morning after, we were okay. Still, she loooooves sugar.

    We give her one little bag, when necessary, of those 100-calorie snack bags of cookies (oreos, chips ahoy, shortbread). It’s sweet, but it’s not that super cloying sweet, and it’s portion controlled. We’re hoping her palate, um, becomes a little more attuned to sugar nuance.

    Still. I was a secret brown sugar eater for years. What do I know?

    Wendy Hill November 26, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I still eat brown sugar… Mmm, yummy!

    Mimi November 26, 2008 at 10:56 am

    Oh, you know what? I wouldn’t link getting candy to finishing vegetables or whatever. That makes nutritious food sound like a chore and then you’ll battle over it, and broccoli’s intrinsic appeal is not such that you want to freight it with any additional negative overtones.

    But that might just be at my house ;-)

    Mom101 November 26, 2008 at 11:12 am

    My daughter’s dream job is jellybean caretaker. So yeah, I’d say we’re in a similar boat.

    Of course I am totally the wrong person to ask for advice since we’ve done the total wrong thing in allowing her to have dessert if she finishes dinner. But you know? Without that there’d be no dinner. She’s like a camel, this one.

    Can I also say how awesome that costume is? Maybe you should be calling it ultra-dessert or something.

    kgirl November 26, 2008 at 11:20 am

    We allow one ‘treat’ after lunch, and just wear earplugs the remainder of the time.

    But I do usually have a bag of chocolate chips around (for baking. and stuffing into my mouth by the handful.), and have trained mischa to believe that 3 chocolate chips are the ultimate haul.

    Her Bad Mother November 26, 2008 at 11:39 am

    kgirl – just THREE? You are a NINJA.

    Shonda Little November 26, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    I’ve battled the same tragic addiction, it’s plagued by two kids. The intervention was a calamity. Halloween is a real binge, too, so we let them go nuts that night and then throw it out as soon as they go to sleep. And we don’t buy any for the house. They go nutso at Grandma’s, but the its not that big a problem here. They know its not gonna happen at the house.

    Angela November 26, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    You know, now that’s a thought. (Parent Club’s comment above)

    4pm is tea-time right? What about instituting a tea-time for a small treat and “tea?” Wouldn’t necessarily have to be at that time, heck I’m at work then, but something like that might make it a special, ritualistic, memory-building kind of thing.

    Della November 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    We had a sugar problem with my stepkids; when we had them all week and their mother/grandparents got them on the weekends, they would give the kids everything (sugarwise) that they asked for – and even things that they didn’t. This, in turn, made us want to limit them more during the week, knowing that both kids were overweight and how bad it would be on the weekends.

    As you can probably guess, this quickly broke down into a vicious cycle, with their mother tsk-tsking about how their evil other parents wouldn’t ever indulge them, and then she’d indulge them even more “to make up for it”.

    After a few months of misery, we instituted a candy debit account system. We picked a number of treats per week that seemed reasonable. (I think it was 9 since we had them for 4.5 days a week… came out to about 2 per day.) ANY crazy sugary item counted from this list – including pop [pardon me, that's soda for the non-midwesterner], dessert, party snacks, and so on.

    So, they were “in charge” of the sugar. If they wanted to blow it all in one day (never happened), they would have a miserable week! Granted, our kids were 7 and 8 at the time so they were a little more logical about it.

    The nice things about this system are:

    1) It sets a limit without removing sugar entirely.

    2) It lets the kid feel they’re in charge.

    3) It teaches kids about savings, limiting portion sizes, reasonable limits in general, even fractions and proportions in a way (figuring out how to divide up their allowance to have an equal amount each day, or how if you get more on one day you get less on another).

    4) It makes you feel less like a bad guy, and gives you logic on your side, when a day comes up without any candy. (She can’t blame you if she made all the choices!)

    It really did work for us.

    Mrs. Natasha Sawatzky November 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    i love love love love chocolate!!!!!!!!! it has never stopped and never will! Even tho i’m allergic. I cant help it… its so addicting!!!!

    i’ve eaten less and less as the years go by, just for the sheer fact off…the complete and utter Blah feeling.

    We never had a restriction on candy when my siblings and i were little… not sure if it helped or what…i really have no advice, except that i would have to agree with not quitting it cold turkey, considering when you allowed her candy, she ziploc’d it away!!!

    I honestly see no end to it! if you chore it, like one person said, it’ll just get into negotiation after negotiation, if you healthy food it, she’ll just associate it with candy, and likely negotiate that as well..

    Maybe try talking to a doctor…or a child specialist on addictions?! *if there even is such a thing…sounds like there should be!!*

    Or just see how it pans out?

    Animal November 26, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    We started giving Roslyn a little chocolate around her first birthday, and that has morphed into a stash of mini-M&Ms that we treat her from after dinner. She seems to have gotten the idea that "ca-cao" (she can't say "chocolate," and I was tired of her yelling for "cock!" at the table) isn't for breakfast, but she'll sometimes still try to pull a pathetic "Ms?" after she finishes.

    I'm seriously of the mind that, fuck it, dude. We're 70s kids, which means we ate tons of candy at Halloween & every other time, and we had cereals that still had sugar in the NAME, like Sugar Smacks and Super Sugar Crisp and Frosted Flakes, which were "GrrreeeEEEAAT!" None of my friends are Type-2 diabetics from this, so I gotta think that giving Rozzle chocolate, even on a daily basis, ain't gonna hurt.

    Her Bad Mother November 26, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I should add – she’s a skinny little ectomorphic fast-metabolism speed demon. We don’t have a weight concern – but blood-sugar imbalance and displacement of ‘good’ calories ARE a concern.

    All these suggestions are awesome, including the ones that suggest chilling out about it. I feel better just knowing that we’re not alone ;)

    Ursula November 26, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Hey, what does she think of fruit smoothies? My son isn’t a big fan of either fruit or milk, but every day we mix up a big shake with bananas, frozen mangoes and berries, orange juice, soy milk, and sometimes some flax seeds (for fiber) or avocado (for good fats). Now THAT he loves. Again, I think lending a hand and watching it get made are part of the appeal for a toddler.

    Della November 26, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Ursula – awesome idea. I know our kids will scrape around the outside of an apple and say it’s done, eat half a banana, aren’t too big on any kind of berries… But if I take frozen strawberries and grape juice and put them in a blender and call it a smoothie like the kind they get at Frullati, they will drink it all and ask to lick the blender-cup.

    And these are BIG kids that technically understand about ingredients… But they’re so excited to be using the blender and making something, they just don’t think about it, and they don’t notice that it’s not anywhere near as sweet as the mall smoothies. It’s a smoothie! It’s here in my hand! There’s MORE of it over there!

    Reading some of the other comments also reminded me that another favorite at our house is pumpkin muffins (15 oz can of pure pumpkin, 1 box duncan hines spice cake [the betty crocker stuff tastes wrong in this recipe]… mix, put in muffin tin, bake at 375 for about 20 min, they’re done when they bounce back after poking.)

    It’s got sugar from the cake mix, yeah, but you’ve also got vitamins and fiber like crazy from the pumpkin. In fact, for special occasions, we treat these as cupcakes and put frosting on them… so then when you get to have them for breakfast it really feels like you’re getting away with something.

    Anonymous November 26, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    My son was the same way and I made a deal with him that after a candy treat he had to brush his teeth. If he refused, I refused the candy. It worked genius! He was so tired of brushing he eventually figured it wasn’t worth it.

    Laura November 26, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    sugar free ice pops
    bowl of berries with sugar free whipped topping and a few chocolate chips sprinkled on top

    I also like to add the word “candy” to the end of every food…
    “Hey, Annie, how about some turkey candy?”
    “Jack, try it…it is meat loaf candy”
    “Belle,would you like more spinach candy?”

    Yeah, sorry..I am not a real help..but you are asking the woman who has a naked two year old holding a box of Christmas cookies at this very moment…

    Jozet at Halushki November 26, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Wait…is your daughter dressed like the guy from Clockwork Orange?

    You should try taping her eyes open and making her watch Barney being beat up while putting M&Ms in her mouth.

    Just kidding. I don't know what to do. I've given up. I let them gorge themselves on candy when they have it and then blend Brussels Sprouts and inject veggies into everything else they eat.

    Anonymous November 26, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    sounds like my 9 yr old daughter. we decided if less is around the house, then less for her to get & hide away. she's gotten quite good at finding candy & chocolate hidden around the house – got her sweet-tooth from me :) she gets treats after something healthy (meal or fruit) & has to brush after. but we have no control over her snack trading at school or when we are not around. sometimes we have fun with her, once we found a ziploc sandwich bag filled with chocolate chips, we replaced them with raisins giggling the whole time.

    Amanda November 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    I find an introduction, without preamble, to unsweetened baking chocolate, tends to leave scars that temper the sugar craze, or at least begin a new stage of, “Let me test it with my tongue,” before the characteristic inhaling of the candy at hand.

    Anonymous November 27, 2008 at 6:38 am

    Another spin on the fruit/ caramel sauce idea – melted chocolate or chocolate sauce to dip in. I don’t know a toddler who doesn’t like dipping things and if the only way to get the chocolate is on that strawberry then it’s a means to an end isn’t it?

    My son is also a cheese addict, so, we cover everything in cheese. Broccoli and cauliflower baked in cheese sauce or grilled with grated cheese on them. Pizza’s (we eat so many pizzas) that we top ourselves, he gets a sprinkle of cheese for every veggie he puts on. Want more cheese? Then stick another pepper on there kiddo. Home made pizzas are the answer to everything, I’m convinced.

    Laural Dawn November 27, 2008 at 9:12 am

    We had to go cold turkey at our home because Matt was having some major problems with hyper-activity.
    Around that time we took him to his first dentist visit with pediatric specialist. They taught him all about sugar bugs. from that moment on he was scared of sugar.
    They used the dissolving purple tablets to show him the sugar bugs.
    We now buy that blue mouthwash.
    He still loves his candy though

    Her Bad Mother November 27, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    Laural: Purple tablets? SUGAR BUGS? Now I’m scared of candy…

    Anonymous November 27, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Reality is — it isn’t about the sugar…..or candy….it is about getting what you want by SCREAMING. Don’t cave. It is okay to give her candy or sweets but it should be you deciding when. She isn’t old enough to decide how much sugar is good for her.

    Susanne and Corey November 28, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Great post! I can totally relate.

    We have gone cold turkey–a few times. The problem with this approach is that the freakin’ candy keeps coming back.

    It’s not like an illicit drug addiction which requires a complete change in lifestyle. Hopefully, once you quit, you’re not in places or with people that have access to your drug of choice.

    But sugar is EVERYWHERE. It never goes away.

    I get my kid off it for a week, and they give them lollipops at school. And I know the teachers take silent glee in sending them home to us all wigged out and bouncing off walls, as revenge on the parents who put CANDY in their lunchboxes! Problem is they can’t discriminate, so my kid comes home all buzzed up and wanting candy all over again.

    Shawna November 28, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    My daughter wasn’t going to be allowed sweets until she was two, but a few months before then she was underweight and didn’t much care for most dairy, so we allowed some vanilla ice cream from time to time. Now she’s almost 3 and has treats a few times a week, but they’re mostly (but not always) limited to home-baked (by my mother or myself with her “helping” us) goods and, in the summer, ice cream. She got a few pieces of candy all at once at Halloween, and at visits to the grandparents all bets are off, but the rarity is what makes it special.

    Diet is important to us so we found a home day care that cooks food from scratch and doesn’t give candy or junk food to the kids. I have a feeling that our bigger challenges are coming though, since we haven’t had to deal with the food-at-school situation, and we don’t intend to let our son have any sweets before two either, and that’ll be hard when his sister is eating them.

    But we figure, they have their whole lives to eat food that’s bad for them, why not start them out right for the first couple of years? After all, our job as parents is to do what we think is best for our kids, not just what makes us popular with them, right? And what we think is best (within our family – your mileage may vary) is a mostly healthy diet with the occassional treat.

    petite gourmand November 28, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    I’m all about the sugar bribe.
    If it works it works.
    Bonus that they get a second set of teeth when the first set turn black and fall out before the age of five.

    kidding..I hope.

    Now, where’s that Hello Kitty toothbrush?

    Love the costme btw

    Anissa Mayhew November 30, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Seriously, I have a JAR of candy sitting in my kitchen…my kids barely give it a second glance. If I put in something new or interesting, they’ll go for a splurge, but otherwise, they really could care less. They know they can have it any time so they don’t really care, and I use it to reward, so they get a little now and then anyway. You’re really right that the more you fight it, the greater the allure and it becomes this great big freaking holy grail of all foodstuffs.

    My mother in law? Perhaps she and Emelia can share a room at rehab…the screaming should be epic.

    Andrea November 30, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    I have this problem, but for myself. But, seriously, what if you tried to replace it with good sugar – i.e. fruit. Find something that she really likes – for my daughter that would be watermelon, blueberries or clementines. Call them candy and let her have as much as she wants. I would bring home some type of new fruit – maybe a kiwi or something and tell her it’s “candy” and let her have some…it’s worth a try…

    Lori November 30, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Keep one type of candy – no variety. It will lose its appeal after a while. As long as she eats well at meal time, a piece now and then won’t hurt.

    Shannon December 2, 2008 at 1:57 am

    OMG! Maryn, too! Though – thank God – she never thought to stash the stuff. She’s a serious rule follower, though, which is probably what saved us. I’ve discovered several things – 1. refined/processed sugar/flour/dyes/preservatives have a NOTICEABLE affect on the kids. This has just been confirmed by our Thanksgiving trip to my sister’s house. Other than this annual trip, we tell the kids they are allowed to have occasional ice cream, good dark chocolate (preferrably organic), organic fig newmans, or stuff I’ve made for them with honey, molasses, or organic sugar, juice, etc. It works. Mainly we stick to the fig newmans as our treat. It’s hard to lose your mind on fig newmans. And we’ve done a lot of talking about what happens to our bodies when we fill them with junk, which may not work for everyone, but does for Maryn. She hates to get sick.

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