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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.
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.
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.
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.
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?