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We were buried under snow in January and even February -- you too? Nevertheless, here are two articles directed at family matters: children's behavior/reward systems, and food/diet. Plus a Helpful Hint about snow shoveling. Even if we have an honest early Springtime, it's all good reading -- be prepared for that inevitable April Snow!.

The Staff at

Sweets for the Sweet?

By the time I was a mom, I knew enough not to promise my child sweets as rewards for good behavior, e.g., an Oreo cookie to prevent crying in the aisles of the grocery store. As a Montessori preschool teacher I had seen classrooms erupt as soon as the children consumed the Kool-Aid and frosted cupcakes brought in to honor a child's birthday, and I knew that my son was vulnerable.

But these days high sugar content appears almost as often in staples as in desserts. Dan's blog at posts a comparison chart of sugar content in 24 breakfast cereals from Apple Jacks (43%) to Fiber One (none). Checking on Frosted Flakes (37%) at Kellogg's Website I found that they contain high fructose corn syrup as well no percentage given. (HFCS, as the industry refers to it, was brought in circa 1977 to replace sugar, the price of which had doubled due to tariffs.) That would make sweeteners more than the stated 37%. Other cereal labels list conventional corn syrup as well as HFCS, honey, and/or malt sugar/maltose, so that sweeteners can total 50% or more of product ingredients.

By the way, does your family add table sugar to the morning bowl of cereal? If so, add another several percentage points to the total sugars being consumed.

Is this important? What IS the problem with sugars?

There are several. Sugar is a carbohydrate, which means that it is a body fuel. It gives quick energy because the body absorbs it faster than other nutrients hence the "sugar high" and subsequent downer. Actual fatigue can follow that sugar high.

In addition, excess sugar in relation to other nutrients in the same meal causes those other nutrients to go to waste: the sugar is absorbed instead. (This tells me that the body can absorb only so much at any given meal eating more is "over-eating"!) This would be why ice cream and chocolate milk are not considered to have nutritional value.

Although I do not find a definitive statement on Wikipedia (my encyclopedia) about the connection between diabetes and sugar, the two are often associated: people with high sugar, high carbohydrate diets are prone to diabetes. The constant excess is thought to tax the body's ability to process carbs and sooner or later the system breaks down.

Then there are the dental issues. It turns out that teeth are in a constant state of demineralization (loss of calcium) and remineralization (calcium-building). Thus, when we eat carbs, our saliva produces lactic acid that breaks down not only the carbs but also the enamel of our teeth. On the upswing (but only when our mouths are carb-free, and thus acid-free, after brushing) the calcium naturally occurring in our saliva does repairs. If we are always consuming carbs in chips, soda, candy, gum, breath mints, there's not enough downtime for this to work. Nor is there enough calcium in the blood to resupply the saliva with the calcium it needs. Decay occurs in the presence of "fermentable carbohydrates," i.e., sugars. If the level of lactic acid produced by the saliva is too high, decay wins out. And if we don't brush between meals, acid accumulates anyway from the food stuck in and between our teeth. (That's why potato chips are a dental no-no: they CLING in the teeth!)

It's not entirely that sugar itself is a bad thing; it's refined sugar that seems to be the worst. Brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, honey each offers something more than energy. But they all still give that spike. They are all sugars.

Even salty foods have sugar: Ritz crackers have sugar. Bread has sugar. Pretzels have sugar. Why do we feel that all of our food has to be sweet? Do sweets somehow make us happy? Is this a need for instant gratification? Is eating sugar the ultimate addiction?

Finally, offering sweets as a reward for good behavior prompts children to associate candy with feeling good about themselves. Such a reward system encourages children, once adult, to seek comfort in food. Its true message is, when you're unhappy, make yourself happy by eating something sweet.

Team Spirit Points

In December I wrote about my neighbor's strategy for conflict resolution (What to Do When Kids Fight) with her two boys.

This month I'll tell you how she dealt with another problem: the older child who manipulates the younger without the parents' realizing it.

This kind of thing is common. It is subtle, not necessarily even consciously inflicted, but it goes on all the time. I remember being an occasional victim of it myself, as I was a second child. In fact, it is a problem that recurs throughout life, in that the person with more experience has the edge over someone younger, less experienced, or naive. This is not a matter of gender; it's that whoever is older actually does know more and may feel a vested interest in maintaining control. After all, he/she was there first and may even be bigger and stronger as well, and thus feel entitled. Although it may not be healthy, it is understandable.

In the eyes of many a firstborn, any second child is an interloper. Having at least started life as the only child, the elder loses priority when Mom becomes pregnant, when she needs sleep after the arrival of this new creature, or when Baby's cries interrupt his/her established time with Mom or Dad. Suddenly sharing is an issue: what was once personal property, starting with parents, now has to be shared.

Older children know their parents well. A bright child will figure out what is important to a parent and the kinds of things the parent tends not to notice. These are openings for him or her to utilize in re-establishing control.

So here's what friend told me about her two boys.

Eddie idolized his older brother, Jason, who, at the age of six, could run fast, catch a ball and read fluently. Eddie, only four and a different kind of child, idolized Jason partly because he himself could do none of this. Desperate to be like Jason, he found it impossible to catch up.

Of course Jason, so competent, received much praise. Eddie, less competent, got less praise, and felt the lack. Furthermore, Jason rubbed it in whenever he could get away with it. Thus at age eight, Eddie was taken to a psychologist because Mom and Dad couldn't understand why he was depressed.

The psychologist needed only one session with Eddie to figure it out. She prescribed a different game for the boys to play. She called it Team Spirit, and here is how it worked.

Every time one of the boys praised the other, he got a point. At the end of the week each could trade in his points for something he wanted -- a bike ride with Dad, an ice cream soda, a trip to the park. Of course they competed for points, so the numbers built up quickly.

So did the relationship: each child got practice in telling the other how he felt (the little negatives are easy to express when framed in praise), each got practice in figuring out how to please the other. And they learned to make a habit of both skills. Thus, as young adults, they already know how to read another person's needs and respond to them.

It was the Team Spirit Points that made the difference, but all anyone now thinks is, what clever parents these boys must have had!

Snow Job

In this hardy winter I wonder how many of our readers allow/encourage their children to help with shoveling snow. Do you?

One parent tells me that he does the walks himself, as an opportunity for outdoor exercise. I enjoy shoveling for similar reasons, and I also admire the way fresh snow slips onto my shovel all powdery and soft, and slightly older snow comes up granular, like a shovelful of salt. I have to admit that I have, in late years, come to find shoveling a path through deep snow, one layer at a time, interesting, and heaving it up onto an already tall pile a provocative challenge. So much for me.

Kids are apt to see snow shoveling as a chore, and a bore. Maybe there are ways to remedy that.

Consider a challenge: start at both ends of a path, with one person (Mom, Dad or sibling) starting at the other end. See who can get to the middle first. When you meet up, have a snowball fight.

Consider packing a snowball and rolling it along the path before shoveling, as a means of clearing a bit -- see what you accomplish, and then use the ball(s) to make a snowman, or better yet, some other creature: an ET? A Frankenstein monster? An elephant???

Better yet, with deep snow, construct a wall along the path, to be used as a barricade against incoming snowballs.

If it's really deep, try a tunnel. Got a dog? Hide a bone in the snow where you want your dog to dig -- let us know if that helps!
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These articles provide information of a general nature only, and should be used only to supplement your knowledge. We hope you find the articles interesting, but cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in these articles. Nothing in these articles is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your own physician if you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child.