Is it the candy or the costume that is causing him to ‘blast off?’

At family birthday dinner a few months ago, my then-toddler excitedly shoveled spoonful after spoonful of colored frosting directly off the birthday cake into his mouth.  As the rainbow of colors smeared across his face, my father-in-law whipped out his video camera and everyone else laughed and snapped pictures.  The only child at the dinner table, all eyes were on him.

Once Brady realized he had everyone’s undivided attention he jumped from the table and sang the “happy cake” song (his version of happy birthday) when his crowd erupted in applauds, he began to run, literally, in circles around my in-laws living room.

My mother-in-law laughed and said, “well, there goes that sugar kicking in!”

But I wondered, was it actually the sugar, or was he just hamming up the undivided attention he was getting?

A quick google search confirmed my suspicion.  Although generations of parents have blamed their child’s banshee-like behavior on too much sugar, scientific research says otherwise.  In no less than 20 clinical, double-blind research studies, sugar was found to have no affect on children’s behavior or their ability to concentrate.  In fact, the evidence is so conclusive; experts say the link is a “non-issue” in the science world.

So what does cause kids to climb the walls after a dose of the sweet stuff?

Chances are it’s actually the situation in which sugary snacks are served that causes the amped up behavior.  For kids, excitement breeds more excitement.  Most parents wisely limit the amount of sugar their kids eat, so when they are in a situation where they get that piece of candy…the thrill of the special circumstance leads to the excited behavior.  So it is most likely not the birthday cake that is sending your child into a frenzy, but the excitement of the birthday festivities and the 10 other 5 year-olds that is so stimulating.

Also, parents’ perceived expectations of behavior really come into play as well.  In one study, two groups of moms were told their child either received a sugar drink or a non-sugar drink, in reality all the children received the non-sugar drink.  Moms who thought their kids had the sugar, rated their child’s behavior as more hyperactive.

Now of course, there are plenty of reasons not to skip the peas all together in favor of jelly beans.  High sugar foods often replace more nutritious choices in the diet and high sugar intake is linked to obesity and tooth decay.  But, this Halloween when your little ghouls and goblins are bouncing out of their costumes, it probably has more to do with the costumes than the candy.