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Parenting Outside of the Box Part II

Many children who have experienced neglect in their early lives hoard. Many children hoard food, taking snacks from the kitchen when no one is looking and storing it in their rooms. They may or may not eat the food they take but as long as it is available, the children feel safe that if their caretakers stop feeding them, at least they are not going to starve. Lily hoarded skittles and Hostess Ho Ho , believes that she would have food if her adopted mother quit feeding her. Other children hoard food by stuffing their mouths full of food, often to the point of choking as they attempt to swallow what they have taken. With children who hoard food or anything else, their fear is based on survival, not your ability to be a good parent so never take hoarding personally. Many foster and adoptive parents are confused by hoarding behaviors months, even years after the child as entered the family. Like “fight or flight” responses to threat are vital to a child’s survival skills, hunger is also a survival skill and feeding that hunger is a skill most children learn to meet.

Suggestion: Children who stuff food into their mouths or try to take more than they can eat, feed your child small amounts at a time, a few small spoonfuls of potatoes or rice, a few small bites of meat at a time. When they can eat that without stuffing or choking, give them a bit more. Many parents hand feed their hoarder so that the child learns that all good things come from you, the parent. If the child is older, 12-18, put small amounts on their plate at a time. The message is still that you, the parent, will provide though hand feeding may not be appropriate for the child.

Suggestion: Children who hoard food in their rooms, provide a box or a fanny pack that you keep stocked with food that is healthy but they like and is filling. Things that are good for boxes or fanny packs (the point is that they are portable) are snack bars, fruit leathers or fruit snacks, peanut butter crackers, small packages of cereal or cookies and that sort of thing. Keep an eye on the pack daily and keep it well stocked so that your child will understand that you are the provider, that they no longer need to worry about survival while in your home.

Some children hoard (or steal) other things in their misguided search to get meet a very primal need, survival. While some things may be food items, most will not be. Your child may be hoarding anything from paper to bottle caps, shoes and clothes to electronics. Keep in mind that this hoarding behavior is related to the child’s need to survive early childhood neglect.

Suggestion: If your child is hoarding items that can be categorized, such as bottle caps, give her a large box to keep treasures in. Make clear rules about not keeping food items in their rooms but allow some collections she can do alone or you can do together. When you restructure hoarding into collecting so that you can help, your child is reminded that you are in her corner and will supply her with her needs. Also keep your rules consistent. For example, if she has stolen items from you or other family members, she must return them and apologize. If items are stolen from stores, the child needs to be driven to the store, return the item without a lot of fanfare, and apologies given.

In time, your child will learn that they no longer need to fight for survival by hoarding food or things. Be patient and persistent, calm and consistent in your supply of support toward recovery.


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