Some Things You Just Have To Learn The Hard Way

Yesterday morning, Halloween, was a prime example of One Of Those Days. Don’t get me wrong – it had its moments that were perfect enough for a Hallmark card. Like when I giddily returned home a few minutes before 7 a.m., exhausted and sweat-soaked but on a temporary high after having dragged myself out of bed for a 5:45 spin class. Or when, suspicious of the silence in the living room, I investigated – and discovered the girls on the floor, in front of the doodle board, with four-year-old Kimmie trying to teach two-year-old Essie how to play tic-tac-toe.

But those sweet occasions were offset by the chaos of folding clothes in one pile while kiddos unfolded them in another; of trying to wrestle something away from Kimmie (I don’t even remember what) while Essie used the distraction to scribble on the walls; and of constantly finding that what I needed to get done was on a different floor of the house than at least one of them.

Learning Things the Hard Way

Around 9am, I finally gave up on trying to get Kimmie to eat her breakfast, and headed upstairs with Essie in tow, having left a banana and a bowl of dry cereal at Kimmie’s place at the table. When I checked on her a short while later, I found Kimmie staring at what was left of her cereal. Apparently she’d used my absence to see what happens if you dump several tablespoons of salt on your breakfast.
“So, you poured salt all over your cereal, huh?”
“Do you think that was a good idea?”
When I asked her how it tasted, as she picked another piece out of the salt pile, she said, “Yucky.” When I asked her if she thought she’d ever be tempted to pour that much salt on her breakfast (or anything else) again, she was quick to answer “Noooooo!”

You can tell someone over and over again that something isn’t a good idea, but sometimes they just have to figure it out for themselves. The hard way.

I’m one of those people who often has to learn things the hard way. At least two or three times – once usually isn’t enough for me. So far, though, none of us is suffering any ill effects from my latest effort to teach us all a lesson.

What too much Halloween candy has to do with learning things the hard way:

The day before Halloween, I found myself with two kids who had already amassed a fair bit of Halloween loot, between trunk-or-treating at church and a trick-or-treating event we stumbled across one weekend in mid-October at a museum. Having apparently forgotten that I only operate at human speed, after lunch each of my offspring asked about four times for a piece of candy from the stash. That is, four times in the course of about ten seconds, without pausing for breath between requests.

Since they had eaten a healthy, well-balanced lunch (the prerequisite in our house for having a piece of candy), and since they had also remembered the mandatory “please” in their requests, I owed them each a piece of candy according to the rules of our household. But the rapid-fire string of repeated requests, coming on the heels of so many earlier in the day before those conditions had been met, really irked me.

So I did something that totally clashed with everything I’ve ever been taught about what constitutes being a Good Mother: I dumped the contents of each of their bags in front of them, separated out the Halloween pencils and toy spiders and other non-candy items, and told them to have fun with the rest. In other words, they could eat as much as they wanted.

What happened next:

About two dozen pieces of candy (a dozen apiece) later, I told them that they did not have to eat every single piece then and there if they didn’t want to; they could save some for later. I might as well have been shouting upwind in a hurricane.

Since lollipops take so long to eat, I finally convinced the girls to stop when they were each down to nothing left but a few Dum-Dums, which are not as rare a commodity in my house as I might wish. (Since when does every bank teller and grocery-store pharmacist hand out lollipops? Maybe it’s just something specific to this part of the country, but I now try to avoid these errands when the girls are in the car, lest they start clamoring for lollipops). Hence they are not as closely associated with Halloween around here as pure chocolate, or pure sugar-in-non-lollipop-form.

The aftereffects of all that candy

The period of time immediately after The Candy Binge reminds me a little of when we used to feed catnip to my mom’s three cats on Christmas Day. “Go crazy!” is the response you’d expect, but actual results varied from one cat to the next. We only had one cat who got really silly and nutso; the second ran around like a maniac for a little while, burning off endless energy, while the third just got really mellow and sleepy.

Having been raised in a household where (far as I can recall) candy was carefully rationed, doled out only after balanced meals had been consumed, I was raised to believe that ODing on candy would lead to an extreme sugar rush, possibly culminating in spontaneous explosion, or at least a fearsome tummyache. None of these things happened. Instead, Kimmie resembled Cat #2 above, while Essie was more akin to Cat #3.

“OK, who wants to go run around outside and burn off some energy?” I enthusiastically offered. Kimmie was game, but Essie announced – of all things – that she was sleepy! So while Kimmie went outside and ran her balance bike furiously up and down the driveway for five minutes, I attempted to interest Essie in the puzzle she’d pulled out earlier in the day, while she listlessly mixed up the pieces again as I sorted and piled them.

Much to my amazement, the girls didn’t explode. Nor did they groan for the rest of the day about how much their bellies hurt. Nor were they too wired to go to bed some five hours after their sugar binge. In fact, the only physiological side effect I noticed was that their appetite for supper, approximately three hours post-binge, was almost zero.

Choices have consequences

Fast-forward to yesterday – a somewhat challenging day, as I’ve already mentioned. More than once, the girls asked for a piece of Halloween candy, which I chose to interpret as candy of the non-lollipop variety. Each time, I reminded them with a smile that they’d depleted their respective piles of candy the day before in one fell swoop.

This wasn’t the “lesson” I was most hoping to teach them from their overindulgence. To be honest, I think a tiny part of me hoped that they would feel some physical side effects, just like any adult would after too much alcohol, ice cream, all-night partying, or exercise (yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing). Nonetheless, I also like to think that hearing the same message several times over the course of the day might have started to resonate with them, in a Deeper Life Lessons sort of way.

Every day in life, we are faced with choices. No matter which choice we make, choices have consequences, both good and bad. Making the choice means accepting the consequences.

Or, as my best friend Raiah put it about a decade ago, when we were both single and childless, “Yes, you can eat popcorn and cheese for supper as a grown-up, but there are a lot of trade-offs.”

Decision time:

So. It’s the day after Halloween. How many of you have a house full of Halloween candy? What will ultimately happen to that candy?

While Kimmie always obsessively sorts her Halloween take into neat rows, Essie isn’t quite so particular when sifting through her stash.
  • Will you ration it to your children, one piece at a time, after making sure that they eat a nutritionally-balanced meal first?
  • Or will you freely help yourself to the stash whenever no one else is looking?
  • Will you let them eat it all at once?
  • Alternately, will you eat it all at once?
  • Will you spirit it off to work and leave it on the break-room table for your coworkers to fatten themselves upon?
  • Or wrill you (horrors!) throw it out?

I’m not advocating one path over the others, since I’ve now been on at least one side of each of these scenarios. But I’m glad that something useful may have come out of letting the girls eat a truly unhealthy amount all at once, and even more glad that no upchucking went into the learning of this lesson.

Lessons learned

I like to think I’m the kind of parent who lets her kids make their own mistakes and learn from them, in a structured environment where I’m there to give guidance – rather than a parent who protects them from every opportunity to make a tough decision or fail spectacularly when the stakes are low, only to have them mess up in a much bigger way when they’re on their own because they can’t think through the consequences of their choices.

And deep down, I’m especially glad that there are fewer candy leftovers around the house for me to be tempted to eat.

What about you and yours? Are you candy-bingers, or do you savor Halloween treats one at a time? (Or does your family switch out the candy for other treats?)

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46 thoughts on “Some Things You Just Have To Learn The Hard Way”

  1. Two is such a magical learning age! My youngest daughter gets into so many funny situations and honestly, I don’t mind because they are all learning opportunities. But food and candy is a totally different story. She would be so sick if I left her in charge of her own candy!

    1. Haha! Yeah, I find I don’t freak out about this so much now that they’re 5 and 7, vs. when they were 2 and 4. Yesterday the 5yo had at it, and didn’t have room left for our yummy homemade pizza dinner – and today when her sister still has candy and she doesn’t, she is going to be SO bummed…c’est la vie!

  2. Parenting is never easy but often the best lessons are the ones they learn the hard way…. we can tell them something till we’re blue in the face but a lesson learned the hard way will stick with them.

  3. I don’t think I have ever let my kids eat a lot at one time but I am sure they have snuck some. Learning lessons is what life is all about.

  4. It is so true that no matter what our age we sometimes have to learn things the hard way! My kids are pretty adamant about wanting to eat all theirs in one sitting too.

  5. I love the way you’ve put this and the way you explained everything to your kids. Sometimes it’s good to let them figure things out on their own.

  6. Salt on the cereal..I’m sure that child wouldn’t have repeated this after learning hard! It is really important that kids figure things out themselves by learning, it is the right approach.

    1. Absolutely! Esp. in this age of “helicopter parenting,” I think it’s SO crucial for kids to have the freedom to make their own mistakes (and learn from them). E.g., Essie, who chose not to eat breakfast at breakfast time this AM, so is no doubt hungry at school right now…my heart breaks for this, but she’s the one who steadfastly chose to do everything BUT eat this AM, despite reminders every 10 min that it would be a long and hungry morning if she didn’t get some food into her belly…

  7. We live in a small town and every business gives out lollipops to kids. It drives me a little crazy at times. We did our trick or treating last week as per local law, and I totally just let them have at their candy. They finished it in a day and I banned the word “candy” from the house. My boy was the only one with a terrible tummy ache. The girls were no worse for wear. I also grew up in a house where candy and other snacks were severely rationed. We would have candy left from the previous years Halloween that my mom would throw in the trash. I am trying to find a compromise…I don’t think there is one though!

    1. I REALLY like the idea of a “switch witch” who swaps out the candy for something bigger, better, and non-food-related…alas, I think we learned about that too late (just a few weeks ago!) for me to get my girls to buy into the idea now…And seriously, WHAT IS UP WITH THE LOLLIPOPS???

  8. We dont really do Halloween here in Australia (we saw only 1 set of kids dressed up knocking on our door for a treat and we live in central of the town of over 80,000 people!), but when it comes to Easter and Christmas we do try and control sweets intake !!!! Otherwise I know teh consequences for Mr 6 and its not pretty lol

    1. Lucky you, with one fewer candy holiday to worry about! As my eldest said when going through her stash that night, this is the start of the Candy Season for her (Halloween, then Christmas, then Valentine’s Day, then Easter – really about 9 mos out of the year when they have candy stashed away and available from start to finish…)

  9. My mom always went through our candy and picked out what she wanted, claiming we didn’t or would like it. We would always find her stash months later. Then she would let us eat as much as we wanted that night and pick a few things to save, like lollipops. Othwerwise, the rest went into the trash. We never really complained because candy wasn’t a big thing in our house.

    1. You’re lucky that you didn’t get into candy being a “big thing” for you – we have tried NOT to have it around a lot for the girls, but that seems to just have made them that much more obsessed with it…

  10. I’m all about giving choices too which allows my daughter to feel like she has power. But as for the candy, I say the switch witch comes! That way I don’t have to feel with the sugar meltdowns.

    1. I only heard of the Switch Witch a few weeks ago, and LOVE this idea! – alas, did not get onto the bandwagon in time to implement for this year, though…

  11. I didn’t know businesses still give dum dums to kids. I used to go out to breakfast with my dad when I was very little. He’d give me the check to go pay at the counter which was way taller than my head. I’d reach up and put my hand on the counter with the bill and the money. They’d take it from me and then stuff my hand full of dum dums. I always loved to savor as a kid (still do), so it would take me forever to eat them.

    1. Aiyiyi, this was SO not a thing when/where I grew up, but it’s everywhere around where I live now – either candy or stickers! Drives me nuts.

  12. As a mother I enjoyed every word of this! Parenting is NOT easy and it’s safe to say we all make mistakes along the way. I think it’s beautiful when other parents share their perspective, it can help other avoid similar (if not the same) situations. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome – thanks so much for the verbal hug! Sometimes you just want to throw up your hands – to this day, my own mother questions that decision on my part, but hey, we all survived, and the girls are definitely less inclined to down it all in one sitting now!

  13. As a parent, I love the power of logical consequences. It’s not always easy for me to let things play out, but kids learn so much from life experience that it really is a great tool to have in your parenting kit. I love the salt on the cereal too – did she think the salt was sugar? When I was child my parents wouldn’t buy us sugared cereals but we were allowed to sprinkle sugar on our cereal. Ha!

    1. No, unfortunately, I think she knew the salt was salt. My kids have this thing about “experiments” – usually not with their food, though. The younger one to this day STILL puts together weird combinations along the lines of salting her breakfast cereal, then insists that it’s delicious for a few days til she forgets about it.

  14. Salt on cereal is a new one for me. Glad she took a disliking to it. My parents were always of the mind set of you can eat as much or as little of your Halloween candy between 1pm and 3pm but once it’s gone that was it. You didn’t get more and you couldn’t take from a sibling. It worked at teaching us to savor it over a few days after a few years of eating it in one day

  15. that is so funny about the salt on the cereal. it’s true that we learn the hard way – it’s all part of the human experience 🙂

  16. I am 100% for natural consequences. You can tell them until your blue in the face but until they experience it themselves they won’t ever truely know why they shouldn’t do something.

    1. Yep! (I was surprised to find out, soon after this episode, that our dentist actually prefers they eat it all at once – that way, their teeth get sugary once, vs. for days on end!…)

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