There are a few children’s stories that bother me. For different reasons but the Gingerbread Man story always annoyed me for its repetition.

The old woman couldn’t catch him. The old man couldn’t catch him. The horses, the chickens, the young man couldn’t catch him. Yes, we get it. He’s fast. So maybe by the time the Gingerbread Man meets the fox, you’re relieved to have a reprieve, something new in the story. But at the end of the story after the fox eats the Gingerbread Man, you might find yourself perplexed and unsatisfied as it ends with the fox tricking the poor little cookie. And shouldn’t the little old woman who made him get to eat him?

I’ve read different versions of this old story to my children and tried to just plow through. I would have to turn off my natural inclination to want to dissect and analyze a story and all it might mean. I mean, I know it means something deeper, but it just hadn’t quite sunk in.

And then I was working with my son on his writing worksheets the other day and I realized…

I was chasing the Gingerbread Man.

By “working with my son,” I mean to say that I was yelling at him for the seventh time that morning to buckle down and get to work. He only has a few sheets to work through, but every day and every time is a challenge.

Somehow, as I sat there, I realized that in trying to make my son do his worksheets, I was making him run. Now, how could I be that clever little fox? How could I make him want to finish his worksheets?

So, I rerouted and fished around in my mental toolbox of tricks and tips. “What can I do to get Teddy excited about this task?” And that day, I decided to show him our big, thick stack of worksheets that he had already finished over the last few weeks. I also showed him how much he had improved in his writing since even only two weeks prior. Because I know that Teddy, in particular, is motivated by substantive outputs, this simple change in tactic had some immediate results. He sat down and finished his work in record time and was happy to add to his growing pile.

Now, I know I’ll have to change my strategy tomorrow, but I also know I’ll be able to cycle through different ways to do this. Eventually, I hope to work my way towards Teddy being able to do this even without my prodding and tricks, and knowing this will help guide me towards that happy day.

The Gingerbread Man story is one that we can read not only for our children but for ourselves. When are we being the fox? And when are we making the Gingerbread man: run, run, run?

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