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Generation to Generation

by Jane R. Hirschmann

I received a call the other day from Marsha, a mother of a four year old. The conversation went like this: "Jane, I've tried to legalize cookies by bringing in bags and bags of Molly's favorites, but she still eats them in abundance and at times when she's clearly not physically hungry for them. Are you sure this really can work with a young child?"

I asked Marsha to tell me more about how she deals with Molly when Molly reaches for the cookies. She replied, "I ask her each time I see her go for cookies, 'Are you hungry?' If she says, 'yes,' which she always does, I tell her to check in with her tummy and find out what it wants. I remind her that we have yogurt, cold chicken, fruit, and cheese in the house." It sounded at first as if Marsha had been implementing the approach correctly. But in her response to my question, I could hear the problem she was having. I asked Marsha, "When Molly grabs an apple, do you ask her if she's hungry and the remind her that you have ice cream, candy, and pretzels in the house?" Marsha responded with a resounding "Of course not!" and then, "Oh, I get the point."

You see, in her mind, Marsha was still categorizing food as "good" and "bad." It's true that she would bring the "bad" foods into the house, but always with the hope that Molly would not eat them. By questioning Molly each time she went near the cookies, she gave Molly the idea that cookies were still special and somewhat off-limits. Molly was reacting. Unconsciously, she was testing Marsha to see how long she could get away with eating cookies. When, for Marsha, all foods are legal and no one food is more special than any other, Molly will be as interested in apples as she is in cookies.

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