Child Brainwashing 101

I have completely brainwashed my children. It’s official. I just had no idea how effective it was until yesterday.

Because yesterday during his piano lesson, on his own and without me even in the room, my son refused some candy that his teacher offered to himI heard him exclaim something about “that’s full of sugar!” through the door, but had no idea what had happened until he told me about it later.

heartsIt was valentine conversation hearts. Their piano teacher likes to give her students treats on holidays, and I would have let him take them out of politeness had I known what was happening. But when she handed him the box, do you know the first thing he did? He flipped over the box so that he could read the ingredients. And since it was (of course) completely made of sugar and high fructose corn syrup… HE TURNED IT DOWN.

Turned it down! The kid is given a box of candy and I’m not there to stop him from scarfing it down, but instead it refuses it because it’s sugar!

Then, wanting to give him some sort of treat, she offered him some yogurt instead. Now, my son loves yogurt and eats it all the time, but he still flipped it over to check the ingredients anyway. It was the “kid” kind of yogurt that’s filled with junk, though. When he was telling me about it later he said, “Sugar was the FIRST ingredient! AND there was high fructose corn syrup and soy something-or-other!” So he turned that down too.

I didn’t even know that he knew about the whole problem with soy. Apparently he’s been paying attention. And apparently he’s actually remembered all my talks about how the order of ingredients in the list matters!

So, he didn’t end up having anything. And when my daughter went in for her lesson after his, the teacher didn’t even bother offering anything to her. I guess she figured it was a lost cause! (I can only imagine what she thinks about all of this….)

I was absolutely shocked by this! But I guess I shouldn’t be. When I think about it, both my kids have started making better choices about food. I just didn’t realize they had accepted it so whole-heartedly.

I am REALLY good at brainwashing. Apparently.

My kids are 11 and 9, and they’ve had just as much of a sugar addiction as anyone else. And they have the same kid craving for candy that all kids have. They love the stuff! So, really, this transformation is very remarkable! I’m not really completely sure how this happened, but I have a few in-hindsight guesses.

If you’ve been reading this blog for long at all, you’ll know that I love a good numbered list of hints. It’s so orderly! So convenient! So I figured I’d make a nice list of all my guesses for any of you other parents who might like them!


1. I didn’t pressure them about it, especially in the beginning. Ideally, changes like this should be self-motivated. If you force your children to comply drastically all of a sudden, they’ll resent it and maybe develop an unhealthy obsession with the forbidden foods. So, introduce the idea of healthier foods, and give them healthier options, but don’t come down hard on them all of a sudden. Let them get used to things and help them learn to go with you on the ride instead of dragging them along behind you.

2. While I was making changes, I talked to them about what I was doing and why. (I think this might be the most important thing of all!) I was learning tons of information, and I’d explain what I was doing along the way. Why do I keep reading the ingredients label? Here’s why! Why is sugar poison to the body? I’ll tell you! Why is fat actually good for us? Let me explain! I’d keep it casual, not like a lecture but like a “Hey, listen to this cool fact” sort of thing. I just kept explaining things to them as I did them, and after a while they started to internalize all the information. I’m not just unilaterally making decisions for them, but including them in on the process.

3. I make healthier treats for them at home. It’s much easier for them to agree to not have the sugary treat they want when there are other tasty options available to them! A lot of the things I keep on hand to curb my own cravings, they love too. A particular (often fought over) favorite is stewed apples. My daughter loves the homemade chocolate peanut butter and will take little containers of it to school for lunch and eat it with a spoon! She also really likes Choco-Almond BitesThey both love it when I roast a chicken and have leftover cold chicken on hand. They’ll just go in and grab a couple pieces. And they both beg almost on a daily basis for smoothiesmagic milkshakes, and popcorn! These things feel like treats to them, even though they’re perfectly healthy. Then there are the sweet treats made with healthier sweeteners, like maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar. In particular they’ve loved: chocolate peanut butter fudge cookies, chocolate pudding ice cream, and ginger-molasses muffin topsI also let them have things like yogurt (the less-sugary adult kind) even though they have sugar in them. 

4. I make good food! They love the food I make. I fill them up with healthy meals that they love, and that keeps them pretty content. And since their diets are mostly real, healthy food, they immediately know when they’re eating something “chemical-ish,” as they put it. They both prefer my food far and above the imitation processed stuff because once you’re used to good quality ingredients you never want to go back. I try to show my kids that eating this way doesn’t mean you eat boring icky stuff, but that it can be delicious and satisfying! Once they know that, it’s pretty easy to convince them to go along with things. 

5. I’m flexible. For example, today was Valentine’s Day, and at school they had an ice cream party. The ice cream was “light” so was made with nonfat milk, and besides sugar had high fructose corn syrup and tons of chemicals and preservatives in it. (It kills me that something can be considered “healthy” because it’s nonfat, but then have all those other ingredients. Drives me nuts!) And then, obviously, the toppings were pretty much all HFCS too, as well as artificial colors and chemicals. I didn’t say a thing, though. I stood there and scooped out the ice cream for the kids, including my son, and let him have his sundae with his classmates. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and let them enjoy the moment.

6. This is a biggie… I’ve instigated a Candy Redemption Program!  Have you ever noticed that people give kids candy ALL THE TIME! Like, constantly. Everywhere they go there’s someone giving them sugar! I hated them eating all of it, but I instinctively knew that taking it all from them and throwing it away would make them rebel against everything. Then I had an idea: They could trade in their candy for other things! They have choices of trading for healthier foods, or for a craft item, book, or other activity. What they get depends on how much candy they’re trading. A few pieces could get something small like a pack of pipe cleaners for crafts (my daughter’s recent choice), or a pack of gum sweetened only with xylitol (NOT aspartame!). If they save it up they can get something bigger like a book. They’ve been extremely enthusiastic about this. My daughter is especially into finding candy wherever she can so that she can add to her hoard. She gets waaaayyy excited when she sees candy and begs to have it now, but not to eat it! As my son says, they want to get things that they “can keep and have for a long time” rather than something they eat and is gone. This has really been a GREAT solution to the candy problem!


So – these are some of the things that have contributed to the brainwashing of my children, as I look back on things. If you’re wondering how to handle transitioning to a real food diet and aren’t sure how to do it with your kids, hopefully some of these ideas will help!

(This post is a part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday!)


2 thoughts on “Child Brainwashing 101

  1. Pam@behealthybehappywellness

    I love your idea for the redemption program! I realized the other day that I have successfully brainwashed my daughter (who is 8) against fast food. We were going to have lunch on our girls shopping day and her suggestion was sushi or anything except fast food! She said she won’t eat fast food because it’s so unhealthy. Score!

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