The Importance of Letting Your Kids Indulge in a Sweet Treat

A child psychologist explains why letting your children indulge in a sweet snack is better than depriving them of it altogether.

I just learned that for nearly thirty years now, the third Sunday of July has been designated as National Ice Cream Day, and the entire month of July as Ice Cream Month! Since everyone loves ice cream (well, except my daughter, Mollie), it is important to consider the best way to incorporate ice cream (chocolate and sour gummies for Mollie) into our children’s lives while still communicating the importance of making healthy choices.

Ice CreamAs parents, it can sometimes be difficult to know when to say “yes” to junk food and when to say “no.” This is because we want our kids to be healthy, but we don’t want them to feel so deprived that they sneak junk food to eat secretly. In addition, it can be especially challenging when we find that we are often the only parent saying “no” while so many others are saying “yes.”

So…how do you figure out the right balance?

Here are five simple ways to help you take the best approach to your child’s eating habits, so that as your child grows up, he is able to learn, for himself, how to create a balanced lifestyle and a healthy relationship with food.

Offer your child primarily healthy choices. Fast food and junk food should not make up the majority of your child’s meals and snacks. In addition, most food should be in its whole form, rather than packaged and processed.

1. Do not deprive your child of all junk food.
Junk food and fast food are part of your child’s world. If you forbid all “bad” food, she will find other ways to get it without telling you. This secretive behavior can damage your relationship with your child, and it can eventually lead to her being sneaky about other things. Secret eating and feelings of deprivation can also both be precursors to your child developing an eating disorder.

2. Allow one junk food snack a day.
One snack means one serving. So, if your child asks for ice cream after school, say yes to a scoop (check containers for serving sizes). However, if he has already had a bag of chips in his lunch box, offer a healthy snack instead (cheese, yogurt, peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread). Remember that birthday cake, movie theater popcorn, and a spontaneous visit to the ice cream truck each count as one junk food snack.

3. Let your child enjoy one fast food meal a week.
Really…one! If your life is hectic, turn to lean cold cuts, hard-boiled eggs, or even a slice of pizza instead of processed burgers and French fries. 

4. Fight the good fight.
As long as you don’t deprive your child completely, you have no reason to feel guilty when you say “no.” In fact, it is important for kids to learn that they can’t always have what they want when they want it! Health is truly a gift that you must choose to give your child, and it is much more meaningful than any junk food that your child thinks is a gift. So, please, let your child enjoy ice cream (and chocolate!)—but, not at the expense of a healthy body.

Dr. Susan Bartell is a Long Island-based, nationally recognized child psychologist, speaker, and award-winning author. Her latest book is “The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.” You can learn more about Dr. Bartell at