With Halloween six days away, parents should take time now to figure out how they will deal with the pile of candy kids will inevitably accumulate. Do you confiscate all but a...

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With Halloween six days away, parents should take time now to figure out how they will deal with the pile of candy kids will inevitably accumulate.

Do you confiscate all but a few select pieces and dump the remainder? Do you decide to seize control of the piles and then dole out one piece each day until it’s gone? Or do you just let them eat it at will?

The best method in any situation is to develop a plan and inform your children of it. That way there are no surprises. Laying out your expectations in advance makes for much easier and better-executed guidance.

You can proceed with any one of these approaches, as what’s important is that you pick one and stick with it. If at first you allow your children to eat their candy at will, and then give them only one piece a day and later take the bulk of it away, that’s erratic parenting. Changing your approach at your whim bewilders children; they’re left wondering what you’ll do next.

You’ll make the morning after Halloween easier if you lay out your plan to kids now. For example: “After trick-or-treating, you can pick out 10 pieces of candy for yourself, but the remainder we’ll take to Grandpa’s retirement community.” Or: “After trick-or-treating, I’ll keep your candy and allow you one piece per day until it’s all gone.” Or offer to trade candy for small toys you’ve purchased. Or let your kids manage their own candy and learn themselves from the consequences of their candy intake.

Even better, parents can open up a discussion regarding candy distribution. For example: “Every year you get an entire bag of candy. It’s not a good idea to eat it all at once. How are you going to manage it? What are you going to do with it all?”

One child might on his own decide to give some away. Another might decide to hoard it in his bedroom and dole it out to himself bit-by-bit. Another child might eat five pieces a day and feel OK without any negative digestive consequences. When parents engage children in decision-making, they’re more likely to comply.

In many parenting situations, you’ll proceed as with the Halloween candy. Sometimes you’ll take control; other times you’ll negotiate, compromise or offer choices; and in some situations, you’ll drop back and let your child make his own decisions.

While it’s important to be consistent in your approach in any particular situation, it’s best if you vary your stance on different occasions.

If you always hold the controls, you rob your children of learning how to manage themselves. If you go overboard presenting a domineering and dictatorial stance, your children might end up rebelling.

If you try to always be a democratic parent — negotiating and compromising — you’ll find yourself burdened with the time-consuming process. Besides, in parenting there are some issues you just don’t negotiate.

If you always pull back and permit your children to hold the reins, that’s too-permissive parenting. The laissez-faire approach can leave children feeling unloved; they long for a reasonable and loving parent to step in and guide them.

Once you pick an option, stick with it unless it simply isn’t working. Then tell your children with dignity that you’re reconsidering your decision. If you have a reason for changing your mind and communicate that, it isn’t confusing to children.

Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. You can e-mail her at janfaull@aol.com or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists