Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hoarding Food Behavior Amongst Foster Kids: An Opportunity for Understanding and Building Trust

by John and Diane

Hoarding behaviors of all kinds are not uncommon amongst foster or adopted kids. Hoarding food is especially common and often times overly worrisome for new foster or adoptive parents.  Food issues can be scary.  Let’s face it, watching your new kids gobble up the food on the dinner table can be a bit distressing and although your first approach might be to simply try to teach them some table manners and basic etiquette, the behavior can be a symptom of something bigger.

Typical types of food behaviors foster parents will see are:
·      Eating too much- weight gain
·      Not eating enough – weight loss
·      Monitoring food supplies
·      Hoarding and hiding food

Most of these issues have some kind of relationship with control and comfort. These kids have just been removed from a place where they felt some measure of security, even if the home was neglectful or abusive, so controlling food by eating too much or too little or by hoarding it, is a way to get control over their environment.

Children that seem to monitor the amount of food in the house, or hoard food so that a sibling or others in the home have food, are dealing with a continuance of the caregiver role they most likely had previously.  Often children in neglectful homes took on parental responsibilities and continue to exhibit survivalist “hoarding” even when they first arrive in a safer environment.

Some children will gain weight or lose weight in response to a history of sexual abuse. They will attempt to alter their appearance to make themselves less attractive, even after the immediate threat or actor has been removed.

Other times children will simply turn to food as a form of comfort to help them deal with their new surroundings. 

No matter what the circumstances, your approach towards a new foster child’s food hoarding behavior is to… do nothing.   

Make sure the child is safe, allow the child to have access to food and monitor the situation.  Your focus at the beginning of your relationship with the child is not to monitor their weight gain (although extreme weight gain or weight loss should be brought to the attention of doctors or caseworkers) but to gain and build their trust. 

Work towards assuring the child that there is plenty of food for everyone and that they have ample access to it.  Do not allow caseworkers to make you the “bad cop” and to force you to deal with a pre-existing obesity problem. Your main concern will be to build trust and provide a sense of safety and security.  Once you have a well-established relationship with the child you can gently work on better eating and a more active lifestyle along with the child's doctor and caseworker.

Fighting over food hoarding with your new foster or adoptive child will only create distrust and prevent you from building an important bond with the child.  Fighting the hoarding behavior without having a trusting and solid relationship with the child will only make the behavior worse.

 Allow the behavior to happen and view it as an opportunity to learn about the child’s history and background… why they do what they do.  Ultimately, this knowledge will help you and the caseworkers work with the child and the hoarding behavior will eventually stop on its own.

Food hoarding is only a symptom of bigger issues, so do your best to allow it to happen safely (provide a fridge in the room if necessary) while you work on the more important goals of building trust, and making the child feel safe and secure.

See also:Help: My RAD Child Needs A Door Alarm....

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