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How To Wean Your Kids Off Halloween Candy: Cold, Hard Cash

Jake (left) and Will (right) dump out their loot after trick-or-treating.
Gisele Grayson NPR
Jake (left) and Will (right) dump out their loot after trick-or-treating.

The morning after Halloween, the first thing the kids did was start eating Halloween candy — and then they began to sort it in preparation for the candy buyback.
Gisele Grayson NPR
The morning after Halloween, the first thing the kids did was start eating Halloween candy — and then they began to sort it in preparation for the candy buyback.

Like many parents out there, I love Halloween as much as I dread it. The joy the kiddos get from the costumes and candy is balanced by what comes after: the fights and negotiations that go along with trying to limit their sugar intake.


Thus was born my candy buyback program.

I first heard about the concept last year. It totally worked. I bought the candy off of my sons — Jake, now 8, and Will, a self-described "six and three quarters" — for $16 each. But children are smart, practical creatures. They are always pushing boundaries, and most of them, from very early on, harbor the bargaining prowess of a skilled hostage negotiator.

When treats fly into the house — from generous friends, birthday parties, holidays, my sweet tooth, grandpa's visit — we have those conversations that make you both proud (my kids are so tenacious!) and exasperated (why can't they just LISTEN for once!).

Like this one after a recent party:

Me: "You can have two pieces of candy."


Will: "But Jake had one earlier, so I get three!"

Me: "But that was because yesterday you got TV, and he traded his TV time for a treat."

Will: "What about, can I have four small ones?"

Me: "It depends. Show me which ones ... OK, minis, not fun-size."

Will: "If I have one more small tomato [the actual vegetable], can I have six?"

Me: "Two more tomatoes and you can have five."

Will: "What about this, Mommy? Can I trade one of my fun-size Snickers for two cookies?"

Me: "You can trade it for one cookie."

Will: "Mommy, please, two."

Me: "No, sweetie."

Will: "But that's not fair, you gave Jake two cookies the other day."

Me: "That was last week, Will, plus, you asked for candy anyway! Please stop fighting me on everything!"

Will: "I don't fight you on everything, Mommy!"

Halloween is the promise of these negotiations for the dreaded foreseeable future. The thought alone saps my energy.

Why don't I set rules for how many pieces they can have each day? I've tried — they always find some reason to open negotiations. Two years ago, one of those negotiations devolved into an epic fight, the likes of which Louis CK captures perfectly (warning, language is terribly inappropriate) – the kind that makes you think, AARGH, I am the worst parent, please let me have not scarred them for life, they know I love them, right?

This year they're older. And they came prepared. For starters, I reminded them they got $16 each last year.

Will: "We're not talking about last year. End of discussion."

I feared for my bank account and my sanity.

They had sorted out their candy into 40 bags — Butterfingers, Rolos, Sweet Tarts, Whoppers, Milk Duds and so on. Over the next 30 minutes, we went back and forth.

Jake: "Two dollars a bag."

Will: "Five dollars a bag."

Jake: "Two!"

Will: "Five... seven!" To which both kids burst out laughing.

Me: "I think that's slightly extortionary. How about $30 for each of you?"

Will: "Deal!"

And then they tried for $32.99 (unsuccessfully) and after that, took 10 more minutes to negotiate keeping three additional pieces. ("Five!" "Two!" "Four!" "THREE, and that's final!")

And it was done. Fini. One negotiation, in which somehow I've given my 6- and 8-year-old more money than is at all reasonable. But, it's worth it to get all these sweets out of my house.

Negotiations are important. I want to teach them moderation, to think through what they want and what they'll give up for it, and I want them to fight for what they want ... most of the time. The older they get, the more they'll have to make their own decisions, and I want them to think strategically, thoughtfully and to know that they can trust me to treat them like reasonable human beings as we figure out life.

Or, I've turned them into money-grubbing little fiends who calculate what they want down to the penny and will work all their magic to get it. You can't win! But you can have a lot of fun ... and three pieces of candy.

Gisele Grayson edits health policy stories for NPR and runs a candy store from her desk. She will be selling her kids' candy but won't be breaking even.

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