EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 5, 2014

The time to change bad eating habits is now

Family Matters
Dr. Larry Larsen

---- — Dear Doctor,

We have probably started a problem. Our 5-year-old daughter, our first child, is eating all day. She snacks on one thing or another. We started with demand feeding. Now she is older and this does not match our times for eating family meals.

She will not sit at the table with us and wants to wander in the family room with chips, fruit or whatever she has put on her plastic snack plate. We don’t quite know how to change this.

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

Yes, you have created a problem. I am no fan of the “demand” school of eating.

For our species, the eating of food is both for nourishment and socializing. The family usually is together for most meals. That’s when we share news and communicate. You would like for your daughter to join you for this normative pattern.

Start by being in touch with your pediatrician. Some agree with you and I do not wish to run afoul of a different philosophy.

Then, begin by explaining to your daughter that she is older now and how terrific that is. Have her join you for the meals of the day. Do not get into huge control battles. Make it clear that what is available for the meal is all that is being served at the table. If she complains, allow her to have an alternative snack. That snack should not be at her choosing. It is a forced choice: “You can have an apple or an orange. Which would you like?”

Do not allow her to leave without spending some time with the family and at the table. Then, I am a believer in children asking to be excused. Just tell her to ask to be excused. If she asks to be excused shortly after sitting down, say, “Not yet.” Ask her to remain a bit longer, gradually extending the time.

Limit the in-between snacks and do so immediately. Make it clear it is your choice: “You may have a piece of pineapple.”

Most of this is common sense, but psychologists get paid for calling it learning theory!

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Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.