Clearly, I pressed on a raw, sugar-coated, nerve last week.
To briefly reiterate, it seems we've somehow allowed our society to get to the point where we've so normalized the constant provision of candy and junk to children that questioning this new normal is more often than not taken as an attack. Sometimes it's portrayed as a personal attack on the individual providing the candy. Sometimes it's portrayed as an attack on civil liberties. And sometimes it's portrayed as an attack on the joy and fun of childhood.
Regardless of how it's perceived, the bottom line is that suggesting that a particular event need not serve as an excuse to give children candy is rarely taken kindly, let alone function as a simple catalyst for change. Given that there's a very real chance that addressing the sweet stuff with the school, sports club, after-school group, or parent who's providing it to your child is going to upset someone, what's the best way to handle the situation? How can you best maximize your chances of affecting healthful change while minimizing the chance of them feeling like their backs are being forced up against a wall?
While each situation will undoubtedly be slightly different, there's a straightforward formula that you can apply to them all, and it starts with true kindness and sincerity. The fact is, however misguided you may consider the gesture, your child is being given candy with good intentions. Consequently, it should be easy for you to figure out something you can truthfully and sincerely compliment. Maybe it's the care and attention to teaching your child is receiving at school. Maybe it's the patience of a coach. Maybe it's the kindness of another parent. Leading with a compliment will certainly help impress upon the person or group you're addressing that you come in peace and, moreover, that you genuinely appreciate them and aren't questioning their commitment to your child.
Next, clearly and calmly review your concerns. It may be worth reviewing your concerns in the context of mixed messages between what's taught in your child's school about healthy eating and what's being provided at various school events. It may be worth reviewing them in the context of a coach who may be undermining the efforts of parents struggling to convince their children to eat healthfully, or in the context of contradicting the healthful message of the athletics itself. It may be worth reviewing them in the context of our current health climate, which is seeing diet-related diseases preying on younger and younger children.
Regardless of the tack, what you must do is more than simply complain. You need to provide your concern with an understandable and broader context than just your child. Once you've established your complaint as having a wider scope than your displeasure, the next thing you'll have to provide are solutions or suggestions for change.
[See Smart Snacking for Kids]
Pointing out problems without having solutions at the ready isn't likely to go very far. A thorough resource that provides a great many such suggestions was crafted by Kansas' non-profit KC Healthy Kids. It's freely available online, and I've no doubt that there will be something in it that speaks to your concerns. The other thing you might want to offer, if the concern pertains to a school, is to help to establish a School Health and Wellness Committee, which in turn could serve as a resource center to help push through healthful change. British chef and school food phenom Jamie Oliver provides a brief backgrounder on how to set one of these up.
And it almost goes without saying—you must be prepared to get your own hands dirty and freely offer up your time and energy to help make whatever change you're asking for to come about.
Next I'd head back to compliments. Point out again how great the institution, person, or program is you're criticizing, and how candy or junk food's provision is that much more surprising, given how inconsistent it is with how awesomely caring and thoughtful that program, person, or institution is.
Lastly, try to secure a timeline—if not for action, then at least for follow up. While you can't expect there to be an agreed-upon solution on the spot, it's fair to ask for a firm time or time frame for further dialogue, and if the agreed-upon time passes, be prepared to politely follow up.
As parents, this is our fight, and it's not going to happen all by itself. While you're unlikely to win every battle, there's no doubt, you'll never win any if you just sit idly by hoping for someone else to do what you already know to be right.
Our kids deserve better than to be taught that sugar cures, fixes, and commemorates the smallest of events and affairs, and it's our job to help empower those around us to find the time, energy, and creativity required to take the less easy, but far more rewarding, healthful road.
(For an example of a great letter to a school, visit Red, Round, or Green's fabulous post, "The Letter," and feel free to copy and share.)
Hungry for more? Write to email@example.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Yoni Freedhoff, MD, is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, where he's the founder and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute—dedicated to non-surgical weight management since 2004. Dr. Freedhoff sounds off daily on his award-winning blog, Weighty Matters, and you can follow him on Twitter @YoniFreedhoff. Dr. Freedhoff's latest book Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work will be published by Random House's Crown/Harmony in 2014.