Young child stealing treats – how to respond?

>>I have been dealing with a situation for a long time now and am out of ideas as how to handle it. This morning I gave up and just started yelling at my kid, and I know that is NOT the solution. My 3 year old wakes up at 5 am and gets into the cabinets and eats all the candy. That upset me but it seems normal enough, so i threw out the candy.  hes been doing that for weeks with different treats, and I have been getting angrier and angrier that he isnt following my directions. But what really really gets me upset is when he lies to me and tells me that he didnt eat it.  I was fuming this morning because he lied to me on 3 different counts.

I am at loss as what to do.  I am trying to teach him to tell the truth but even as I do that he is lying!

What should i do?

It sounds so silly but I feel like every morning is ruined because i am stuck disciplining him first thing in the morning when i should be giving him love!<<

First of all, take a deep breath and a step back.   Sometimes we get so caught up with issues in front of us that they look much bigger than they are.  Kids take treats without permission and it’s really normal.  He wants sweet stuff and so he takes it.  As adults, we get to eat what we want, when we want, but kids don’t have that kind of independence.  Think how hard it would be if you really wanted a chocolate bar and your husband refused to let you have one – isn’t it possible you’d try to get it when he wasn’t around?  I remember when my oldest was five, seeing him cramming a handful of sugar into his mouth just as I came into the kitchen – I was appalled.  But most of my kids at a young age (and sometimes even not such a young age) have done something similar.  Just an hour before I got this question, ds5 notified me that he found a date pit behind the bathroom door, where ds3 apparently went to eat it without being seen after helping himself from the cabinet. :)

Often the reason we’re getting upset isn’t the circumstance itself, but our interpretation of the situation.  When you tell yourself he’s lying, that creates a lot of negative emotion for a parent.  I don’t see something like this from a three year old as lying; small children have a very flexible sense of reality.  By shifting the perspective on what he’s doing, we can remove a lot of the negative emotion that is behind our excessive anger.

It might be helpful to see if you can find a solution to the need that’s being expressed.  Would it be helpful to create a predictable routine around when he gets special foods?   Maybe you can work out something with him as to so he knows when he’ll get treats – like make a regular time each day that he gets something special (it can be something healthy if that’s a concern – a fruit, popcorn, dried fruit, nuts, homemade baked goods), and let him take it out when it’s time to eat.  Since he’s taking things so early in the morning, perhaps the night before the two of you can prepare something that you can leave on the table, covered, for him to eat when he wakes up.  Make a big deal of how special this is, how he’s such a big boy that you know he can serve himself this food even before you’re awake.  Be very careful to keep this positive; don’t bring up his past ‘sins’ or make him feel guilty or defensive.

If you see him taking something he shouldn’t, try saying something like this, “That looks really yummy, doesn’t it? I bet you wish you could eat a hundred pieces! Yum! That would be so tasty! But I think if I ate a hundred pieces my tummy would be sick. Do you think your tummy would feel good if you ate so much?” The point isn’t the words you use, but the message behind it – to show him that you understand him and aren’t blaming him, because he’s going to feel trapped and guilty if you catch him doing something that he already knows you disapprove of.  The question at the end isn’t to get an answer as much as to move away from the situation, to give him a way to save face and maneuver out of a potentially sticky situation.


17 thoughts on “Young child stealing treats – how to respond?

    1. She said they already got rid of the candy. It is impossible to get everything out of the house. Avivah’s kids are sneaking dates (that sounds funny, lol). I’m sure if the person made a treat for shabbos, or even if the kid ate a dozen oranges out of the fridge, it would be the same issue, the issue is her feeling her kid is lying.

      1. No sugar is a drug. Read the research. For little kids who have little self-discipline, it’s too strong a pull. It’s tough for adults too. It’s one reason for the obesity problem.

        What happens is the adults want the sugar for themselves even though it is hurting the kids. It’s like having a TV in the house and watching adult programs in front of the kids.

        What you can do is bring in a few cookies just for Shabbos.

  1. My 7 and 5 yr olds used to tag-team and do the same thing. This was going on for about a year and I was dealing with it exactly as the LW–getting upset instead of giving them love. Finally, I got tired of getting angry and we matter of factly told them that because people take things without permission, we simply can’t have certain things in the house anymore because eating sugar in the early morning is not healthy and “some people in this house” have a hard time with that. Now we only keep healthy snacks in the snack cabinet and anything that’s a real treat (chocolate, fruit leather, etc) is kept in a plastic latch box in our bedroom. Ice cream is in our basement freezer, and the big kids don’t even know it’s there (sometimes the adults forget, too–great for calorie counting). For Shabbos mornings we buy special “sugary” yogurts and leave them in the fridge so that the kids can help themselves in the morning.
    I don’t agree with Yisrael that sugar is a drug, there are plenty of things that are healthy in moderation, and treats are one of them. It’s important for children to learn about healthy and unhealthy foods, and what makes them so, in order for them to be better at making these decisions for themselves when they are older. And, in general making that much of an issue with food is probably unhealthy, as well. Yes, a lollipop is all empty sugary calories, but one on a Shabbos morning from the shul candyman never hurt anyone. It can be a great opportunity to educate about dental health and nutrition. That being said, a 3yo (just like my 5 and 7yo) will likely find summoning that much willpower too difficult and need to be helped along by removing the temptation.

    1. I forgot to add…also, at a very young age the line between what adults define as truth and wishful thinking is very blurred. What your son is telling you is what he wished would have happened because he knows that’s what you want to hear–he knows that the factual response will upset you and he doesn’t want to upset you. Especially when he sees you start getting angry as you open the garbage to find the wrappers. He’s not *trying* to be bad or deceitful.

  2. Spot on, Avivah. He’s not lying in the way that we adults think of it. Also, agreed that kids wake up hungry. The first thing at least two of my kids do in the morning is help themselves to raisins or an apple or dates or dried cranberries or bananas…they haven’t eaten since supper at 6:30 the night before. Of course they are hungry!

  3. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – is that how the saying goes? When my kids were 3 they never had nosh within their reach. It was either high up or in locked cabinets. They always had to ask and therefore it became their habit. By the time my kids are age 5, they take snack bags on their own only for school or for Shabbos party. Any other time they have to ask.

    My friend had her 3 year old kids going into the fridge by themselves, so she actually got a lock to keep the fridge locked until she was up and in the kitchen!

    1. My kids eat very healthy, but I do not believe in all this control over the food in the house. I spent part of my childhood in a home where I was asked why I was in the pantry or fridge and it is suffocating. I think it is much better to focus on exposing them to healthy food that they like then to always be concerned with what they can’t have. If my kids eat healthy I have no problem with a little junk.

      1. Oh I agree. Once it’s in the house, you can’t battle them not to touch it. That’s why I suggest, keep it out of the office. Kids go with what’s around them.

      2. In my mind I don’t think of it as control as opposed to training them regarding our values.

        For example in our family we have a special ‘sticky’ nosh like Fruit Rollups only on Shabbos – don’t want too many cavities! New water bottles are only for the car when traveling or for hot days on the school bus – otherwise too expensive!
        MSG nosh like Bisli is only once a week – since MSG is unhealthy!

        I think that this is an important skill to teach them. This way when they get older they can apply the rules themselves. For example my daughter will come home and ask me if onion rings has MSG and I’ll look it up with her.

        The reason my big kids still ask about snack bags is because they’re expensive and because we need to make sure we have enough for the entire week – not from a health perspective.

        1. Folks, you’ll spend the rest of your lives trying to explain to frum people the problems with sugar. We go to shabbos parties in the US where the whole party consists of handing out sugar. Nothing else happens. And the adults have no clue that sugar is unhealthy, not just for teeth. It winds the kids up. They are bouncing off of the walls. The sugar thing is just one piece of a broad range of problems in the frum world. I won’t even get into them because we are not allowed.

  4. The trick is to keep yummy things available at predictable times. My kids get davening treat every morning that they daven nicely and dessert after dinner if they eat the main and veggies. All the candy is easily accessible in the pantry. In fact, some of them used allowance money to buy their own candy, which they keep in the pantry, but they “forget” about it. I can leave cookies and cakes to cool off on the table and the kids will not touch them. They might ask about them and get them as a treat, but there is no sneaking.
    When there is no struggle, there is no coveting. Then there is no crime and no cover-up.
    Growing up I remember being conditioned as a Pavlovian dog to run whenever one of the grown-ups opened the breakfront: that’s where the candy was kept and you had to beg for it. It was not healthy psychologically, even if it was healthy physically.

  5. A few yr back when I had severe morning sickness with my third baby the other children would wake up early and want food–which would usually mean something like a cookie. So I started making food the night before and setting out a kid portion on the kitchen table in a baggie just for them. Usually some kind of baked good. If I was too sick I would make a baggie of cereal (not idea). this held them off until I could give them some protein a little later. As my oldest got old enough to use a microwave I started making things they could heat up easily in the morning like quiche or what have you. It helped curb the snacking a lot.

    Or you could set your alarm to get up earlier than he does for a week ad have a big breakfast ready for him. Sometimes a change of routine can break a bad habit without even mentioning it.

  6. Yisrael, what is being discussed here isn’t if sugar is good or not, but how to help our children set limits to things that they want and have been told they can’t have. This is an issue parents need to deal with, regardless of if they have sugar in the house or not, because people often want what they can’t have, regardless of age.

    1. The concept of limits applies to normal attractions. There’s no setting limits with cocaine. The gemara’s example is soaking one’s son in oils and sticking him in a house of prostitution. At that point, there’s no limits. That’s the way a house of sugar is for kids.

      1. I suppose we’ll have to agree to respectfully disagree about how parents should handle this. Sugar is definitely a powerful substance but education about how to handle temptations in life is an important lesson, and there are a number of valid ways to deal with this, including all of those that have been mentioned.

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