This Easter will be especially challenging, with family isolation and many parents under financial strain, or other stressors.
So, many parents will be looking to restore some sense of “normality” by welcoming the Easter bunny into their home.
But when it comes to Easter eggs, is it better for parents to ration them or let kids eat as many as they like? Or is this year’s Easter so unusual it doesn’t really matter?
Coronavirus: tiny moments of pleasure really can help us through this stressful time
Chocolate Easter eggs are high in both fat and sugar. For these reasons children, like most of us, typically find them delicious and hard to resist.
But how many Easter eggs we eat is not just about whether we like them. When we eat them, we activate the reward centres in the brain whether or not we even notice how delicious the eggs are, making us want more, sometimes undermining our good intentions.
Some children eat until they are sick
Many parents notice children have different approaches to managing their Easter egg stash.
Some children save their eggs and eat them in an orderly fashion, treasuring one every so often. Others eat them in one go, until they feel sick. Others might try and save their eggs, but struggle to resist the temptation.
The difference is likely related to their temperament. Children with a more impulsive temperament find it more challenging to resist the inner urge, or impulse, to reach for the next Easter egg.
Fact or fiction – is sugar addictive?
In contrast, children with different temperaments can resist immediate temptation and delay their gratification. In other words, they can forgo something now for something better in the future.
These children would probably do well on the famous marshmallow task developed in the 1970s. This is where children are given a choice of eating one marshmallow immediately or receiving more later.
Children better at delaying gratification are also less likely to have obesity later in life.
Children’s responses may change over time
Children’s abilities to delay eating Easter eggs (and other sugary or highly processed foods) aren’t fixed. They can get better at managing their haul.
As children get older and their brains develop, they get better at self-control, including their ability to control their emotions and reactions to tasty food and treats.
And parents can help kids develop better self-control and to manage situations where there are lots of tasty foods around.
How can parents help?
If your child is eating all their eggs in one go, or trying to save up the eggs, but struggling to do so, parents can:
help children to think about the pleasure of eating them in the future,
encourage children to set a goal about making them last longer,
introduce some rules about when and how their children can eat Easter eggs (for instance, only during afternoon tea)
suggest children remove them from sight, or easy access, by putting them in a container with a lid.
These strategies either help young children find ways to resist the impulse to eat the eggs, or lessen the urge to eat them by removing constant temptation and reminders they are there.
How about parents rationing the eggs?
Parents concerned about their child eating too many Easter eggs may hide them in a cupboard, ration them, or only give out an egg as a reward if the child behaves well.
But restricting access to available foods can increase how much children want to eat those types of food, now and in the future.
And using food as a reward might teach children food is a good way of rewarding yourself when upset or when happy, something called emotional eating, which is linked to over-eating.
Should we use food as a reward for kids? We asked five experts
Haven’t parents got enough on their plates this Easter?
Parents shouldn’t worry too much about how they manage the Easter egg stash and its impact on their child’s long-term eating behaviour. Especially because these are difficult times and we’re all doing the best we can to get by.
But what’s more likely to have an impact on how children think about food and eating are the habitual strategies parents use.
Using food to help children calm down when they are upset, as a reward or punishment, or restricting access to a food that is in the home, can contribute to unhealthy relationships with food such as emotional eating or eating for other reasons not related to hunger.
Tips to reduce your waste this Easter (but don’t worry, you can still eat chocolate)
However, food is not only about nutrition. It’s also a social experience. Easter and Easter eggs provide an opportunity for a fun and positive time for parent-child relationships. Parents and children can enjoy the adventure of finding eggs and then the pleasure of eating them.
This year, that pleasure could be even greater. If at the same time children learn something about eating, that’s a bonus.