Updated: Jun 9, 2021
I shared previously that fear is usually the primary behavioral motivator for the traumatized child. This can especially be true with the child’s fears over food. I have heard many stories from parents about their foster or adopted child’s fixation on food-- food hoarding, food hiding, overeating and general overall hypervigilance about having enough food. Food issues are not uncommon for foster and adopted children. I recall talking with a foster mom years ago about her first few days with her new five-year-old foster daughter. When the little girl first entered the foster mom’s house, she made a beeline for the kitchen and proceeded to open every cupboard door as well as the refrigerator. When the foster mom asked the child what she was doing, her response was “I just want to see what all you have.” The child’s internal message behind her response was actually, “I want to make sure I have enough.”
A common problem encountered by parents is when their child hoards food. Parents have found hidden food in all sorts of places—under pillows, in drawers, between the mattress and box springs of the bed, inside pockets, etc. For a child who has been deprived of food, hoarding makes total sense. To hide and hoard food means that “there will always be enough just in case.” Helping your child to break the food-hoarding habit is not something that will be resolved overnight. It was a habit that was at least months, and more likely, years in the making. It is an ingrained habit, and so parents will have to be patient and persistent in helping their child learn a new and more appropriate habit to replace it.
Here are some helpful hints and approaches: 1). Allow your child to have a small basket or container of healthy snacks (like an energy bar, or raisins) on his bedside table in case he wakes up hungry or anxious in the night. 2). Let your child to help you prepare a certain dish for dinner—it doesn’t have to be elaborate, just something simple. 3). When your child expresses anxiety about food, always gently reassure her that there will always be enough. 4). It is not uncommon for children who have been food-deprived to eat very rapidly, overstuffing their mouths with food during a meal. This habit may take some time to break. If you notice your child doing this, don’t scold her, but gently and firmly ask her to slow down and take smaller bites, reminding her that there is plenty of food available. You also may want to give her smaller portions to start out with, and assure her there is more available if she is still hungry after the first portion. 5). Do not punish or discipline your child if she hides or hoards food. This will only increase her anxiety and may lead to even more hoarding and hiding of food. Instead, along with approach #1 above, remind your child that hidden food in her room can mean insects in her bed and clothes and that the only place for food (other than #1) is in the kitchen or dining room.
What thoughts or input do you have on this subject? I’d love to hear your responses!