A common issue among children adopted or in foster care from traumatic places, is food hoarding or food issues. While it can be frustrating to deal with as a parent, there are some keys to handling it successfully.
A few years ago Oprah Winfrey interviewed Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier about his career and his life growing up. In a gripping moment, Oprah asked Mr. Poitier about being poor as a youngster. Often his family didn’t have food and he would go hungry. “How did you work to overcome this as you became an adult?” she asked.
He opened his suit coat and pulled out a Snickers candy bar. “Oprah,” he said, holding the candy before her. “This is a thousand dollar suit. I have 10 more just like it. I have enough money to never go hungry again. Yet I always have this in my pocket because deep inside of me I still worry I’ll be hungry.” The trauma of an experience, decades in the past, will always live with him, and haunt him. I began to think about my own children, and the places they’ve come from. As I wiped tears from my eyes, I realized the food issues that some of them dealt with back then, were not their fault.
It was trauma speaking. I was a deep-seeded belief they were going to starve. And that belief propelled them to grasp for an extra cracker, or a fist full of candy. It caused a desperate fight for survival.
To be frank with you, I was frustrated with their food issues. They frustrated me. Scratch that, they burned me up. I would lecture, argue, give ultimatums, or demand this nonsense end. Every time I walked into my son’s room and found a plate with crusted spaghetti sauce and moldy orange peels under his bed, I wanted to cuss. Sometimes I did. But then my heart was awakened to the reality of their situation. The desperation of their past life. Through personal refinement and realization, I’ve learned a few key responses that equal much healthier results…
- Compassion. Remember the place they’ve come from. Fact is, I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to be starving as an infant, toddler, or youngster. I grew up never needing a thing. My parents always provided food, clothing, shelter, vitamins, and a comfortable place to sleep. I didn’t miss a meal….ever. The biggest lesson I’ve had to learn on this journey, and parenting children with food issues, is compassion. I have to take a step back, before I react, and remember where they’ve come from, what their brain is whispering to them, and what they live with. For some of my children, they live with the constant fear that they’ll starve. When I consider this reality, my heart breaks.
- Reassurance. Let them know it’s going to be okay. We often say to our children, “Moms and dads never let their children go hungry. They always take care of them. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to get enough to eat.” Even though my son has lived with us his entire life, we reassure him of this. It’s reassurance that builds up walls of self-confidence and belief that they actually will be okay. It’s reassurance that plants seeds of trust deep within our children’s souls. While the trauma of not getting enough food to eat will always live with them, we can bring about a sense of peace in the middle of it, by the reassuring words we speak to their hearts.
- Allowance. Set aside portions. If you have a child like mine, they are up all hours of the night, often rooting through your cabinets and consuming anything from cocoa powder to frozen pizza, chips, or ice creme. We used to deal with this a lot and, as I mentioned earlier, would become frustrated. Until we received some valuable advice- “Give them a portion and let them know this is there specifically for them if they wake up and feel hungry.” We tried that, and it worked, most of the time. Each night, before bed, we placed a specially wrapped container food, with our child’s name on it, in the fridge. Then we would show our child the container. We walk them through the process: “This is for you, for if you get hungry. There is plenty of food in the container and it’s just for you. It didn’t work 100% of the time, but upwards of 80-85% on most occasions. This allowance added to reassurance.
This may take some time to implement. Remember, food issues and food hoarding come from a place you and I will never really understand. It’s a deep-seeded belief there won’t be enough, they’ll be left out, or have to go without getting food. That’s something no human being should ever have to go through. For our children, we can do much to help ease their worries, and find comfort.
Question: Are you parenting a child with food issues? What is your biggest struggle? Share with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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