Here we’ll share how we use three important tools of NAP Parenting: negotiation, the idea of strict property rights, and contracts, to make sure that trick-or-treating is not a one-way ticket to the dentist. There are other concerns around the holiday, like safety, but we’ll just talk about candy here.
If you’ve never done things like this in your home, our approach may sound complicated, and maybe a bit cold. Cold because we would all prefer being able to share things with fairness, unwritten understandings and easy conflict resolutions, like you would with a spouse. Complicated because simply taking candy from a baby is as easy as… well, you know. I could write a book about how unrealistic and unfair these two approaches are, but I’m guessing you might already have experience with each (and the screaming/crying, yours or the child’s, that ensues). In the first case, we’re passively begging or nagging the child, and when they go against our wishes we are hurt and angry. In the second example, we’re just exercising brute force to impose our way. We can do better.
We know what our desired outcome is: for the child to moderate their candy consumption in a sensible way. Now let’s consider the kid’s wishes: they likely want to maximize their candy intake, meaning to replace home-cooked meals with chocolate for the next 6 weeks.
And there you have it, the start to any simple negotiation is making sure both parties know each other’s goal. Do this first with the child.
Just bringing up these two conflicting ideas can make parents and children tense — they’re both expecting a fight. As a starting point, try imagining with your child that both outcomes can coexist. This is a good mental exercise to create a fun and relaxing atmosphere before the negotiation. It’s like stretching before working out. It allows you to play with the ideas of living in a world without boundaries.
So we might say “Ok, you want 10 giant bags of candy and to eat it whenever you want? Wow, what if we poured them all in the tub and you could take some chocolate baths too? Instead of raisins in your yogurt you could have candy in your ice cream for breakfast! And what if it was so nutritious you’d never have to brush your teeth or eat a vegetable ever again! I’d want Halloween to be everyday if it worked like that, no more cooking and cleaning the kitchen!”
It’s a fun activity, and it gives the child the chance to really think about taking these ideas to their logical conclusion. At a certain age, your child will be thinking, “…but that wouldn’t be good, in reality.” This is an example of allowing the child to come to his own conclusions, without having to simply follow the mandate from you, an important step to raising critical thinkers.
Next we’ll use the concept of private-property to think about the candy ownership. If the child owns the candy, can she eat all she wants whenever she wants? Yes. Having free usage rights is a simplified definition of ownership. I have a bag of chocolate that I own here, and I have that exact relationship with it. If someone said “you can’t have it all whenever you want”, that would be valid only if they had some ownership of the chocolate.
So we’ll need to find a way to have some other type of ownership over the candy. We’ll need for the ownership to be either joint/limited, or owned by the parent. We usually try to avoid joint ownership whenever possible. If there’s a dispute that’s outside of the agreement, there’s no authority for us to seek to resolve it. Jointly owned property, though possible, is the most complex arrangement.
If our needs for the child’s health won’t necessarily be met if the candy belongs to the child, and we don’t recommend joint ownership, then the parent needs to own the candy. It’s the only option left, and that has to be the place we’re negotiating from. We should be upfront about it, not trick them into it, nor just take something they rightfully assumed was theirs.
Now the simplest, and toughest, negotiation would be, “Ill take you trick-or-treating, only if you give me all the candy, period”. The child may agree, but it’s not a great deal for them. In this deal, they’re not guaranteed much except a dress-up walk around the block.
We need to find a way to guarantee the child will have access to all of his candy over time. We need to look for an up-side for them. This is where we would use a contract. Just like rental car agency says, “We own the car, but here are the terms under which you can use it.” Work together to draw-up a contract which includes your ownership of the candy, but their ability to eat it.
We could say, “I need to own the candy, but I want you to have it and enjoy it (in moderation). Let’s agree to the terms by which you can have it”. In the end we may agree to something like this, “I’ll keep the candy locked in the cupboard. In the first night, you can eat 6 pieces, if you promise double teeth brushing after. All following days, you can eat 2 pieces after finishing dinner, and can earn another during the day after 10 minutes of chores. You will also allow mom and dad to each have one piece of their choice, per week.”
This is just an example of a deal we’ve made in the past, that has worked for our family. Your contract might need to be longer or shorter. Perhaps your more mature child can keep the candy in their room, subject to an audit now and then. Maybe you need a clause enabling you to get rid of some of it in dire circumstances: “If there’s still candy after 3 months (meaning he is not fulfilling his end of the bargain), or if the child does any hitting (or whatever aggressive behavior you might be contending with)…”
This technique works great for all kinds of “gifts” the child may receive that you don’t necessarily want in your house. Now that phones and tablets are as cheap as a bag of candy, kids are bringing those home with some regularity too. And if the item shows up unexpected, it might be easiest to buy it from the child. The alternative, that the child owns the tablet, results in you having to either beg that he doesn’t use it all day, or punish his use of it (passive and aggressive responses, respectively). Even if that punishment is non-aggressive (ostracism), it’s much less pleasant than the proactive approach of acquiring ownership. We want to avoid having punishment and ostracism as our only leverage.
A complex negotiation like this might take 20-60 minutes the first time you try it, but considerably less as you both gain experience with it. And you will probably want to get it in writing. If you’re anticipating hearing “BUT IT’S MINE!” in the next few weeks, you will be able to prove otherwise. When negotiating becomes common in your home, you can put together deals like this is under 5 minutes, and spare yourself days of fighting and arguing. And remember, negotiating for ownership and usage rights is a very real-world exercise, and it’s one of the most important tools we can teach our children to use.
We hope this helps, and would love to hear comments, feedback, or what your deals look like this Halloween!