Adoptive parenting is a wonderful journey of learning to love and care for a child. But sometimes adopted children experience difficult situations prior to their adoption. If your child had a history of food deprivation, they might hoard food out of fear they may not get another meal.
Food insecurity is a common issue for adopted children. If you’ve never been denied food or not had enough to eat, it can be hard to understand why some adopted children hoard food. But it’s important to remember you can help your adopted child adjust to their new home.
You can do several things to help ease your child’s fears that they won’t get enough food. Here are a few things you can try:
Start a Conversation
If your child is old enough, you can talk to them about what they’re feeling. Be sure your child doesn’t feel judged by you or that you are angry with them. Ask them constructive questions to try to understand what they’re feeling, such as:
- “I see that you keep food in your room. Are you doing this because you are hungry a lot, or do you like to keep food nearby?”
- “What if we set up a meal and snack schedule for the family? Do you think that would work?” (hand them a meal and snack schedule) “Here is a schedule I think will work. What do you think of it? Should I change anything?”
- “I need ideas for family meals. What foods do you like? Anything you’d like me to make more often? Could you help me cook the meals?”
Most of all, pray for them and reassure them you want to help.
Be Patient With Your Child
Don’t punish your child for hoarding food. Food insecurities don’t mean your child is disrespectful or rebellious. They are reacting to trauma from their past. Your child needs your compassion and love to help them get through something that they may not understand themselves.
Give Them Permission to Store Food
Allow your child to keep some snacks in a cabinet or storage box near their bed or dresser if it makes them feel more comfortable. Over time, they will begin to understand that you will provide them with regular meals.
Here are some other things you can do to help your child stop hoarding:
- Keep a meal and snack routine, so your child gets enough to eat.
- Never reward or punish with food or restricting food. This is confusing for your child.
- Don’t lock the cabinet doors.
- Don’t eat off your child’s plate.
- Keep a bowl of fruit out, so your child sees that food is always there for them.
- Stay calm if your child’s behaviors don’t change right away. It may take them a while to trust you.
Don’t Limit How Much They Eat
You can decide what your child eats, where they eat, and when they eat. However, make sure you allow them to determine how much to eat. It might be hard for you to avoid limiting how much they eat. But if you restrict them, it won’t work. They need to learn to trust you that food will always be there for them. Let your child overeat if necessary to know what it means to feel too full.
Have regular meal times and limit how long they sit at the table at meals, but make it pleasant. You might explain to your child that they can sit at the table for a certain amount of time. Encourage them when they get up after the meal. Give them something to look forward to after meals, like a card game or going to the playground.
Practice Dinner Rituals
You may need to give a direct command saying, “Okay, dinner is over.” Remove the dishes of food from the table so your child won’t keep eating. Create a fun way to finish the meal with a song or a silly handshake. Some families have candles lit during dinner, so you can let your child blow out the candles at the end of the meal.
What if my child doesn’t change?
Some kids have such traumatic experiences that it takes them a long time to stop hoarding food. If your child shows no sign of changing after several months, or if you are feeling overwhelmed by the situation, it may be time to get help from the professionals. A child psychologist can get to the bottom of your child’s difficulties and help you come up with a long-term plan.
Keep praying for your child and work on establishing a strong bond with them. They will grow and change eventually, so don’t give up.