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Generation to Generation

When Others Uh-Oh the OO Approach

by Ellen F.

My friend Janet brought three-year-old Michelle over for a play date. As her daughter walked through the front door, she went immediately to the lollipop cabinet.

"I want one," she whined to her mother.

"Not now, Michelle! Don't start this behavior again. Every time you play at Allie's house all you do is ask for lollipops and candy."

Last week, my two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter were having lunch with some friends. As we ordered our pizza, Allie remembered some chocolate she had saved earlier. She took it out of her backpack, unwrapped it carefully and offered to share it with her lunch companions. My son wanted a little bite, then proceeded to occupy himself by spilling the salt and pepper shakers over the table. The other children wanted the candy. Their mothers said "NO" in no uncertain terms. The mothers turned to me and said, "Ellen, can't they have that for dessert? If the kids eat that now, they'll never eat any lunch. Maybe Allie should put it away—it's so bad for them anyway." Their children were told, "If you eat all of your lunch, you can have a treat for dessert." It is interesting to note that my friends' weight concerns and latest diets dominated much of the conversation once the pizza arrived.

Implementing the demand feeding approach in our own lives and raising our children with this philosophy has been a wonderful and enriching experience. But dealing with raised eyebrows at the least and angry reactions at the worst make for a sticky situation when young children are involved.

For instance, sometimes when Allie's friend, Michelle, is crying for a lollipop, my daughter will decide that she would like a lick or two as well. The first time Allie helped herself, I froze. Shortly after we met them, we invited Michelle and her parents over for a family dinner. Would it seem rude if Allie enjoyed her candy while Michelle continued to cry? Call me a "sucker" but I asked Allie to wait until after dinner. She was surprised, because demand feeding was a given in our home. I explained that Michelle's family has different rules about food, and that just for tonight we would change our rules as well. She was somewhat confused and frustrated, but quickly found a game to play. I, on the other hand, was very confused and frustrated.

After a family discussion the following day, we decided that in our house, we will abide by our demand feeding philosophy, offer an explanation to suspicious friends, and then allow our guests to deal with their children in a way which feels comfortable to them. Just as families differ in disciplining techniques, for example, the key is to respect each others' views while remaining true to one's own convictions.

Such differences lend themselves to positive questioning and discussions of various belief systems. The other day Allie had two young playmates over. Learning that in our house food is offered freely and without restrictions they enjoyed ice cream, chocolates and cookies. Their mothers listened as I explained the approach, responding, "If I let them do this in my house, that's all my kids would ever eat." Even after I explained the theory, they looked skeptical. But then something happened. The children asked Allie why she wasn't joining them in the feast. She explained that she wasn't hungry right now, but joined in the fun and laughter at the table. A few minutes later, she asked for some yogurt. My friends asked, "What was the name of that book?" Children truly are the best teachers!

One of my best friends said to me, "Even when I'm on a diet, the first thing I do when I come to your house is head for that candy drawer." "Try the Overcoming Overeating approach," I wanted to tell her again, "maybe then you'd take notice of my new coffee table instead!"

Ellen Frankel is the mother of Allison and Matt and works with the Massachusetts Eating Disorders Association (MEDA).

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