A new hot topic for conversation has come along recently – that of children’s birthday parties. All the kids in my little group of Mummy friends are turning 4 this year and suddenly there seems to be more pressure to throw a proper party! With the children all now being at nursery school we seem to have entered a new stage with these kind of things. As soon as that first invitation came home in a school bag the bar was set. Venues have been booked. Bouncy castles have been hired. Piles of fairy cakes have been baked!
When it came to Rhys’ birthday we felt quite strongly that he would just be overwhelmed by a big party. So instead we made a real fuss of him and made his birthday a special day for him and the family. Then we had a small group of friends that he’s known almost his whole life round for a play and some cake. I’m so happy that we made that decision.
We’ve been to a few of the other parties this year; they have been a lot of fun and Rhys has enjoyed himself. At one particular party recently he had a great time, bouncing like crazy on the bouncy castle and running around. Most of the other children there were the same, bouncing off the walls both literally and figuratively. It would be easy to make the assumption that they were all buzzing with a sugar high from party food. Except, I knew that Rhys hadn’t really had any party food. He has never been that fussed about that part of birthday parties – he’d always rather just carry on playing! So I was really interested to see this ‘sugar high’ issue being discussed in the news recently.
Professor David Benton (one of my professors from University!) spoke at the Cheltenham Science Festival recently about how sugary party foods don’t actually make our children hyperactive. He instead explains that, “Sugar doesn’t make children hyperactive, parents do. They overreact when told their children have just eaten sugar, anticipating a problem and putting them on a much shorter rein. They see what they are expecting to see.”
Ahh, I do love a good self fulfilling prophecy!
Now, I’m sure there are some children that are really affected by sugar. Most likely those who hardly ever have any in their regular diet. So when they do get a hit of it, their little bodies aren’t used to processing it and they do get a bit wired. But, personally, I’m right behind the good professor on this one. I think a lot of the time it is our expectations as parents that skews the way we interpret our children’s behaviour.
I think that it’s been drummed into us for so long that sugar is bad for us and it makes our children hyper that we now believe it without question. So when we take them to a party and they have a plate of fairy cakes and party rings, or when it’s Christmas time and they’ve been allowed a bit more chocolate than normal, we expect them to get a bit more hyper than normal. So if they do start to act a bit loopy we automatically blame the sugar, when really their behaviour is probably down to a mixture of other factors.
Rhys, for example, gets really loopy when he’s tired. He will run around like crazy, fighting the tiredness with everything he’s got! I remember one Christmas though, he’d had two, maybe three, chocolates from the bowl on the table, and was running around his grandparents house. Someone commented then that he probably shouldn’t have any more chocolate, implying that the reason behind his extra energy was what he’d eaten. I replied that he was actually just tired from all the excitement of the day, and that he often seems to get a real second-wind when that happens. I’m not sure they believed me though!
My thoughts on all this? It all comes down to knowing your own children, and being aware of your expectations of them. I know that if Rhys is getting a bit over-excited at a party it’s most likely to be because he’s getting tired and maybe a bit overwhelmed by all the activity. I know it won’t be because he’s eaten too much sugar!
What are your thoughts and experiences with this? Do you think that Professor Benton is right, or do you believe that, for your child at least, sugar creates a little bit of hyper behaviour?