In a week where there has been lots of media coverage on children and sugary foods, the Inconsistent Earth Mother, Jackie Heffer-Cooke comes clean about her own family’s sugary guilty secrets……
Up until the age of three my eldest, Megan, didn’t know what a ‘fruit shoot’ (or any other designer soft sugary drink) was. At the nursery she went to I asked that she was given fruit rather than arctic roll, she never seemed to notice, or mind. And then she cottoned on. As she was invited to more birthday parties, and we went for a leisurely afternoon in a pub garden where the other kids were having something she wasn’t, well she wanted a piece of the action. A piece of the sugary, bright purple plastic, haribo glistening, action. Was I going to say no? Was I going to make her feel different? Was I going to spoil her fun?
And that’s what ‘treats’ come down to really. All wrapped up in a big ball of fun. Sure, it’s momentary, shallow fun that leaves you begging for more, but it’s fun all the same. Doesn’t really matter why. Whether it is attuned with the taste and our biology, or whether it is nothing more than a social fabrication, sweet stuff seems like fun. And I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to enjoying a tequila once or twice a year on a big night out, or a white Ferrero Rocher at Christmas.
When I started on my mothering journey I was certain I wasn’t going to get into chocolate treats as bribes (ahem, sorry I mean rewards). A nice crunchy carrot stick, or a date at the cinema with mum was much more positive conditioning to use on my children. But that doesn’t work, because carrots are not treats, they are staple. And the cinema is great, but whoa – where has my week gone! Did it just fall out of my diary again?
So, I have settled into acceptance that a small treat a day when they get home from school, and maybe at the weekend, is not a bad thing. Indeed sometimes that ‘treat’ is dressed up in emperor’s clothes and it’s actually pretty healthy, but sometimes it’s not. It’s just chocolate and fizz.
What I think is wrong though, what I think is bad, is when you have people who psychologically connect being loved with sugary treats. My mum was a bit like this, and I think it may have passed a little down the family. After my daughters last trip to Auntie Polly’s she said: “Auntie Polly always gives us sugar on our Weetabix because she says she loves us”. So, does that mean I don’t love my children because I won’t allow the sugar?
At my sons pre-school I once overheard one of the staff actually say, “Ah, your mum has cut the crusts off your sandwiches – she must love you”, whilst my son stared down at his wholemeal, seeded crust with prickling tears in his eyes. I whispered in his ear, to cheer him up, “Ah but you’ll be fit and healthy and your teeth will be your own, now that’s how much I love you”. But I am not proud of lowering myself to take a secretive swipe at a poor little defenceless boy, who didn’t really care whether or not he had crusts, or if anyone else did, until it was pointed out by a nursery teacher. (Just to clarify, in case of misinterpretation, not having crusts will not actually cause your teeth to fall out, although being unkind to defenceless children may mean your nose drops off!).
What I do think is happening though, is that my kids are now ‘getting it’ themselves. They love a treat, but they don’t ‘craze me’ ever, and sometimes when I do allow a particularly big ice cream they don’t get through it, as their taste buds just aren’t developed that way. Which is super good, as it means I get to finish them…. Stick to an 80%/ 20% ratio of good and bad, that’s the way I tend to live. And sometimes – holidays, christmas – just let it slide. There’s always January to be healthy in….
Now, where did I put that last Ferrero……
Jackie Heffer-Cooke is Co-Director of The Orange Grove Clinic and Baby Centre and Director of ‘BeCalm HypnoBirthing’, ‘YogaBumps’ Pregnancy Yoga and ‘YogaBubs’ Baby Yoga. She is also a Pregnancy Massage Therapist and author and presenter of ‘How to take the labour out of labour’. To tune in regularly go to her, ‘The Inconsistent Earth Mother’ blog in The Baby Centre section.
If you would like specific advice about nutritional health for children, the Family Nutrition Expert and Nutritional Therapist at the Orange Grove Clinic, Catherine Jeans, is holding a Childrens Health and Nutrition Workshop on April 22nd 2015. Find out more here.