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Why We Ditched the Switch Witch And What We’re Doing Instead

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The Switch Witch is a fun tradition in some families to help get candy out of the house. I made up a similar version of it to use with my boys and we used it for several years. This article outlines how my approach to candy has changed over time and how we will move forward with Halloween candy.

Halloween and candy. All. That. Candy. When I was a mom with a two-year-old, I was worried about all that candy and how it would affect my little guy’s teeth. We eat candy, we just don’t usually have 2 pounds of it laying around. My two-year-old, well, he wasn’t eating much candy at all.

That year, we went trick or treating, he ate a sucker, and promptly forgot about everything else. It was no big deal, the candy just went away and he never asked about it.

I love using “covert restriction” with little kids. They don’t know what they are missing, so you just leave them in the dark. They enjoy life, they eat less sweets, everyone is happy.

Kids grow up though.

How We Started Using the Switch Witch Concept

Next year, we had 2 kids, and one was a three-year-old who wouldn’t forget candy. I started asking my friends what they did to deal with Halloween candy.

A friend of mine introduced me to the idea of the Switch Witch. She had her kids put out the candy they didn’t want, and then in the morning, there was a small toy in its place. Great idea!

I loved the idea. My kids wouldn’t like the idea of someone coming in the house, so I created the Magic Halloween Box (aka – plain cardboard box). That year, my son ate a few pieces of candy and happily put the rest in the box to see what would happen.

Next morning the candy had turned into his favorite art supplies! He was hooked. It was so fun!

At this point he still wasn’t that into candy, but he loved novelty and surprise.

The little Switch Witch Concept was still serving us well. And the next year, it worked great as well when the kids were 4 and 2. We let them keep out whatever candy they wanted, and put the rest in the box. They put most of it straight in the box to see what would happen.

split image of candy on the left, being put into the magic Halloween box and turning into fun art supplies on the right

Signs that the Switch Witch Wasn’t a Good Fit Any More

When my little guys were 3 and 5, I started to see signs that our Switch Witch Magic Halloween Box had a limited life. At this point, my kids were very aware of candy and they loved it. Candy now had an appeal of its own, beyond just being something to put into a box and get a toy.

I noticed my 5 year old had some mixed feelings about putting candy in the box. He wanted the toy, but he also wanted the candy. This is when I started to see that the box was out of line with how we handle candy at other times.

At other times, we serve candy on the same playing field as other foods. We don’t use candy as rewards, we often serve a piece with a meal, and when it’s served at snack times, they eat as much as they want of it. Suddenly, because my kids had more preference for candy as older kids, putting candy in the Magic Halloween box gave the candy more value.

Exactly what I didn’t want to do.

Compound that with my 3 year old, who didn’t want to give up any candy at all. He viewed putting candy in the box as a loss to him. When people think they will lose things, they hold onto them more tightly, again, making candy more valuable.

Exactly what I didn’t want to do.

So, I thought, okay, cool. This needs to be the last year using the Switch Witch concept. It was fun for a few years, but it wasn’t doing us any favors anymore.

Split image with a regular lunch on the left and a lunch with 3 small chocolate candies included

Related: The Most Overlooked Reason Your Child is Not Eating Food

Confirmation that the Switch Witch Concept Was a Bad Fit for Us

Unfortunately, I didn’t tell the kids it would be the last year for the Magic Halloween Box. I guess I thought they would forget about it (silly me). So next year, when they were 4 and 6, they expected the box to be there and they started talking about it non-stop. Back into Switch Witch mode we went.

This time I told them upfront, this would be the last year because they were too old for the Magic Halloween box. I felt good about it, especially after watching how they behaved with the candy once they got it.

They were much more obsessive about their candy that year. One snuck his candy and ate more than he normally would in one sitting. They clearly felt that it could be restricted or taken away from them. What I saw was that in older kids, the Switch Witch concept can foster an idea that candy is only here for a short time, so you need to eat tons of it now when you have it. That’s exactly what played out in our house.

Related: Child obsessed with sweets? Try these 19 Tips for Managing Sugar

What We’re Doing Instead of the Switch Witch

We’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen with trick-or-treating in our neighborhood this pandemic year. Assuming they have it and my kids go, the kids will just keep their candy.

They’ll dress up and have fun. They’ll collect their candy. We’ll inspect it when we get home to make sure it’s safe. Then they will eat some candy with their bedtime snack and hopefully share something with me! I like to enjoy candy with them to show them how to mindfully eat candy and because candy is delicious and fun to eat!

We’ll add candy into our meals or snacks for a week. They’ll keep their candy until it’s gone or they get tired of it. Basically, we’ll do our normal thing with candy, but just have more opportunities to eat it.

When we don’t make a big deal out of sweets or draw attention to them, they are enjoyable, but aren’t put on as high of a pedestal. They don’t feel as scarce, so the kids are less likely to binge eat them or hide a stash in their room to eat in secret.

Image of a dinner plate with chicken, quinoa, vegetables, fruit  and a small piece of candy

Why I Don’t Feel Bad About Using the Switch Witch

A lot of people have strong opinions on giving kids full control of candy or taking full control of candy. It’s hard to know what’s right to do, because honestly, there has been no research at all on “managing Halloween candy.”

Kids get a lot of candy these days. They get it at school year-round, they sometimes get extremely large amounts for many holidays per year, including Halloween.

I think it’s good for us to try things and see what works. I tried the Switch Witch concept and I think it was genuinely fun for a few years. The thing is, it was fun for only the very tiny years and once my kids’ awareness kicked in, it wasn’t helpful for us anymore and started to cause an unhealthy relationship with candy.

Related: 4 Fun Ways to Have a Healthy Halloween

The Nuance of Managing Candy Through the Switch Witch

I don’t come down hard on whether or not parents should or shouldn’t restrict their child’s candy intake or use something like the Switch Witch. I don’t know if your child has allergies, artificial dye sensitivity, sensitivity to chocolate, sensitivity to added sugars, a weak immune system, a cold, a disease, a condition impacted by processed sugars, whether your child is fighting cavities, etc. And yes, all these things are real and valid and may impact your decision to want to restrict or not restrict candy.

It would be silly for us to say that large amounts of candy don’t have a negative impact on our health. Large amounts of candy do negatively impact our health, and for some people more than others.

What is also real and valid is your child’s sense of deprivation and being restricted. When people feel deprived or restricted, they want the thing more. For many people, when they hear something is “bad” for them, they want it more. When they know something is limited, they want it more. When candy is restricted, they will binge eat it when given a chance, create a stash, or eat it in secret. These are completely natural reactions to deprivation.

Something that is also real and valid: The wonder and delight that comes from eating candy as children. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen an elderly person eat their favorite candy from when they were a child, but I don’t think anything else can bring such wonder and joy back. We can have enjoyable and wonderful times eating candy.

As parents, we get to balance these things.

They are not easy things. They are not clear cut.

This year I am considering putting a limit on the amount of candy our kids can eat on Halloween. On the surface, this may seem out of line with what I generally suggest, or have suggested in the past, or even seemed to suggest in this article. What people can’t see, is that I’m considering another physical factor unique to one of my children, and this strategy may be in their best interest.

It’s hard to parent in the Nuance Zone.

While I may do one thing this year, I may choose to do something else next year, based on my kids psychological and physical needs. I may do a great job at figuring out the right way. I may get it completely wrong and do something different next year.

How are you handling candy this year in your home?

Jennifer Anderson

Jennifer Anderson is a registered dietitian with a masters of science in public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is the founder and CEO of Kids Eat In Color - the world’s leading resource for helping get kids on the path to eating better without the mealtime battles.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Salila Sukumaran

    I wish I had this advice to read when my little one was candy obsessed, as went through my own adjustment to how much cheap chemically processed candy she had access to after Halloween. She has grown into a well adjusted ten yr old who likes candy and sweets but also tells me which veggies to cook for her. There is room for improvement, and I trust that she is eating based on her instincts. Thank you for the excellent post about your journey on this subject.

  2. Nikki

    I have a friend who has her children pick their favorite 30 pieces and they attach one to each day in November (calendar on poster board). They have a ‘kind action’ to complete each day and earn the candy. I like that it’s not totally restricted and tied to kindness/thankfulness. I can see the argument for it still feeling valued or restricted but 30 pieces of candy looks like a lot and one every day isn’t normal (for my kids) so I think they would still be happy to have one so often without it becoming an everyday habit (bc the calendar ends). We plan to try that this year. 🤷🏼‍♀️

  3. Kate

    This was great – calm and helpful! Thanks! My kids are older than most of your readers’ children I think (9, 11, 13). Like you’re experience, it was easier when they were little and would forget the candy. Or put it in a communal family pot. But now, no way! They each love to have their own stash. And the joys of trading! We’ve moved to a less restrictive approach. It’s hard, but I try to mostly grin and bear it and give them autonomy knowing it won’t last forever. I guess there’s still a limit even to that, though. Depending on the year and even the trick-or-treating weather, at these ages they can amass a LOT of candy. Like, buckets full. That’s when I have to figure out some kind of limit and suggest that we donate some. I think if I do it in a way where they don’t feel restricted it should maybe still work out okay? Where to draw the line is the tricky part I guess.

  4. Emma

    Hi Jennifer
    I had no idea you had all these articles here. I’m going to start reading a couple a day with my lunch. Thank you

  5. Whitney

    I’m not sure what we’re going to do this year. In the past, they’ve gone trick-or-treating, and then they swap out their candy haul for a homemade treat of some kind – still a sweet treat, but one that we know is made with whole food ingredients. As they get older (they’re now 12, 10, and 6) their awareness and ideas about all food, including sweets, is definitely evolving. I don’t want them to feel deprived, but as you said, they’re offered candy and sweets all of the time, so it seems some restriction is necessary. They definitely know that how we handle sweets in our house is different to other families, but they also know that it’s out of a desire to be healthy and fuel our bodies with nutrition rather than filling our tummies worth less helpful things. It’s exhausting and overwhelming to be honest, trying to find the right balance. I think I’m going to just sit down and ask them what they think is a good strategy for Halloween. Thanks for having these conversations. 💕

  6. Zan

    Thank you for this! We’ve had the exact same trajectory. The switch witch was working for us for awhile and until it wasn’t. We’ll be following your lead this year even though the pandemic means we won’t be trick or treating in the usual way. (Candy hunt in the yard with our Pod instead!)

  7. Sarah Durrant

    my rules for halloween if this helps anyone its a good system:

    -8,5,4 yr olds here (and 6mo old but hes too little)
    -they can trick-or-treat as much candy as they can carry in their own bag themselves
    -they can eat whatever they want while they’re trick-or-treating (The house is decor and the urge to get more is always a good distraction so they end up eating only 5-8 pieces in 2 hours)
    -The next day or so, we go over to their grandparents house. My Dad, sits on the floor and all the kids take turns dumping their bucket out and we oooh and awee over how many they got! my dad is the bank… He tells the kids what candies he wants to buy from them and they have so much fun negotiating the price… they love to sell their candy…! LOVE it.
    -Grandad gets all nickels dimes and quarters so it feels like alot to leave with (heavy)
    -The last few years my kids have made it on average about $24-36 each (LOTS of candy sold).
    -they pick their 10 or so favorite pieces to keep—usually whatever fits in sandwich size ziplock we keep per kid
    – *this is key* The very next day go to the Disney store or dollar store and let them buy whatever they want with their candy money! It’s important to do this right away so they feel like they actually got some thing from their candy.

    it is such a fun tradition and they truly look forward to every year… They play with their toy all year long… And $36 is enough to buy a good toy !

  8. Maria

    I appreciate the low key approach you present to give people starting places to consider, and presenting your thought process and changing perspective as your children age. The way we have managed Halloween candy in the past with young children is just not going to a ton of houses, or getting a ton of candy to start with – then there’s less to manage. In normal times, the parts I love about Halloween are the creativity of costumes and decorations and the camaraderie – going trick or treating with our neighbors, seeing the neighbors we know and meeting ones we don’t yet. We go to enough houses that the kids feel like they’ve participated, we have small baskets so they don’t fit a ton of candy and we stop after maybe 10 houses (my oldest is 6). That means they’ve got plenty of candy to have some for the next week or so (or longer, if they choose to only eat a piece a day), but there’s not enough to stress about. When they were even younger, we only went to a handful houses (depending on age), which seemed like the right amount to celebrate, get to bed on time, and enough candy for 2-4 yo to manage without needing to get rid of the candy. Last year, I followed your advice of adding a piece or two with a meal (usually snack or dinner, since candy is not allowed at school, and I can’t bear the thought of it for breakfast); if they asked for another, I’d let them pick one more. I’m sure it will change as they get older and want to go to more houses with their friends, and we’ll have to figure out the next phase.

  9. Kacie

    I wish the Switch Witch concept had been around when I was a child… I had a peanut allergy and an abusive single parent household, I was NEVER allowed to ask for candy on Halloween that was safe for me to eat and was made to give most of it to my mom who would taunt me about it. She was pretty susceptible to peer pressure though, and if any of my allergy friends’ parents had said they used the Switch Witch she probably would have too. It would have made Halloween a little less painful for me, all of my friends saying, “Wow, look what I got!” And my mom saying, “Ha ha, Snickers for me! Ooops, you can’t have those Reese’s either, I guess I’ll have to eat those too…”

  10. jen

    what do you think about letting kids learn, on their own, how eating too much candy makes them feel? my daughter ate too much of her 6th bday cake and didn’t feel great. she even said she would only have small slices from now on. is this putting kids at risk?

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