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Who Decides? Mothers' and Children's Beliefs about Food Choices


What do mothers and children believe about whether parents are in charge of what and how much a child should eat? The current study explored children's beliefs about the scope of parental authority over food decisions and whether these beliefs depend on features of the situation. Additionally, relations between children's and their mothers' beliefs were explored. Mothers and their 5- or 7-year-old children were interviewed separately regarding 4 different types of hypothetical food-related disagreements where a mother requested her child to: eat healthy foods, eat unhealthy foods, eat foods equally healthy to what the child wanted, and eat more or less than the amount the child desired. Mothers were also interviewed about actual family disagreements about food and strategies for dealing with them. Results showed that in healthy scenarios mothers and children viewed what children ate as the mothers' decision; however, in all other scenarios mothers viewed what to eat as the child's choice. Children were more likely to see what children ate as up to the parent, only reliably categorizing the unhealthy scenario as the child's choice. Exploring individual differences showed the proportion of mothers' rule-like strategies for real-life food conflicts were correlated with children's authority-based answers. Mothers' political position also predicted children's authority orientation toward food decisions, with children of conservative parents more likely to focus on authority.

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