Around here, we look for creative solutions.
It’s not so much that we’re trying to be on the innovative, leading-edge of child rearing.
Mostly, we’ve just run out of options.
Hoarding food is very typical in adoptive situations; kids who want to feel safe or control the situation may either make sure they have plenty of food available (hoarding, hiding, binge-eating, sneaking food at night) or refuse to eat.
We dealt with the food-refusal for about a year with our daughter; the situation got a little scary and our counselor referred us to a feeding disorder clinic. (It’s not considered an eating disorder until the late teens, apparently.)
On and off, we’ve caught our guy sneaking food. Actually, we usually catch him after the fact…he leaves wrappers in the trash or throws them behind things in the pantry (because I’m blind and will never notice?), or I discover that half of my cheesecake is missing. For instance.
We have tried every possible natural and logical consequence for the food thievery (commonplace or not, he didn’t buy the food, so it’s still wrong), even having him pay us back. Nothing worked. Finally, we put a lock on the pantry door. We considered putting one on the fridge, but he really only goes for desserts and snacks in the pantry. I hate it. Locking food away from them goes against everything I believe. On the other hand, if we don’t, he’ll eat himself to diabetes and back.
Just over a month ago, we noticed he’d put on several pounds. He’d also started picking up (and keeping) non-food odds and ends that don’t belong to him, so we felt it needed to be more strongly addressed.
Hubby and I sat him down, had a chat, explained that we feed him plenty of food to be sure he’s healthy. Gaining extra weight is not healthy, especially since he had heart surgery about 18 months ago. Asking for a snack is fine. Stealing food is not okay. We all agreed that he could eat something healthy if he woke up hungry (make a sandwich, have some fruit, etc).
Fast forward about three weeks.
The night of our anniversary, Hubby and I couldn’t go out, so I’d planned a dinner-and-movie date at home with finger foods and cheesecake. That afternoon, when I pulled the dessert box out of the freezer, it seemed lighter than before. A moment later, I knew.
I walked over to our son, teeth grinding. This wasn’t a snack—he’d eaten quite a bit. He saw the coming storm and paled. “Why am I mad right now?” I asked. He widened his eyes. “Because of the cheesecake.”
I crossed my arms. “That dessert was special. For Daddy. He’s put up with me for 14 years and he deserves something nice. Now what?”
He tapped his bottom lip, thinking. “You could get more?”
“No.” I fought the urge to growl. “I CAN’T get more because I have to take you to occupational therapy and then come straight home to get you guys through homework. That’s why I bought it YES-ter-day.” I was inches from losing my cool, so I walked away. Somewhere deep in my brain, I knew this would probably become a funny family story one day, but for the moment, I was steamed.
This weekend, during my read-your-blog-athon, (feel free to add to it; I’m up for more reading) the babysitter forgot to lock the pantry. I came home, took one look and knew at least one box of Hostess cupcakes was missing (mostly because we only had one, and, well, it was gone).
I asked him about it. “Yeah…I ate a bunch of cupcakes, and I found some Twinkies, and also some chocolate.” (Wait, we had TWINKIES?? Doggone it…) “Sorry, Mama.”
“So, we’ve talked with you about this before. You realize that you didn’t pay for the food, so you’re taking something that isn’t yours. You’re not just taking food from us—some of that food is for class parties or to take to people who need it. What’s going through your head when you’re doing this?”
He shrugged. “That it tastes good.”
“You don’t think about the fact that you shouldn’t be doing it, or that you might be ruining a surprise, like the cheesecake?”
He thought for a moment. “No, not until later.”
I sighed. I needed a way to communicate with him, to help him understand why he should stop.
*Ding* (That’s the sound my brain makes when it’s done.)
I sent him out to play, then rooted around in the pantry for the kids’ candy bags. His teacher gave him a full-size chocolate bar for reading; he’s been very proud of it and we’ve been waiting for a great day at school (behaviorally) to break it out. He also had a little box of chocolates we got him for Valentine’s Day.
I ate the bar and a couple of the chocolates, and threw the rest away. Chocoholic though I am, the idea was turning my stomach. I didn’t want to see his hurt little face, but clearly nothing else we’ve done is getting through. I stuffed the candy bar wrapper in the box, then re-wrapped the cellophane.
He actually had a great day at school today, so the chocolate would have been a perfect reward. I called him inside. “Hey. Since you had a great day at school, you can have some chocolate.” His grin almost broke my resolve. Luckily for me, the box was already empty. He unwrapped the box and opened it, then stared at the vacant plastic insert and candy bar wrapper.
“Looks like someone ate that chocolate already,” I said. He shook his head. “Not me. I promise, I didn’t eat this candy.”
“I know you didn’t,” I said. “I ate it.”
He was confused. “You? Why?”
“So, tell me how you’re feeling right now. You were going to eat chocolate and you were excited, but someone else ate it. Now what?”
He stared at me. “Why did you eat my chocolate?”
I stared right back. “How does it feel when someone eats something you were really looking forward to having?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Makes me mad.”
“So how do you think it felt when I went to get the cheesecake? Or the other times you’ve taken the desserts?”
He got it, jaw clenching. “You didn’t feel good. Probably mad and sad.”
I put an arm around his shoulders. “Yep, sad and mad, like you’re feeling right now. Look, I don’t like this, but you need to know how it feels. I hope that if you know how it feels to have someone else take your food—or anything else, for that matter—it will help you think before you do it again. You always have healthy food available for you, but stealing is not okay.”
He walked into his bedroom and shut the door. A few minutes later, I knocked, then went to sit on the edge of his bed. He’d been crying. “So, now you know how it feels.” I tried to hug him. He shrugged away from me. “You’re kinda mad, right?”
He shook his head. “No. Not mad. I’m ANGRY.”
Hiding a smile, I raised a hand. “High five for using specific emotion words.” He poked my hand with one finger.
“Look, buddy, I didn’t like this consequence at all. In fact, it made me want to cry, because I knew it was going to hurt your feelings and disappoint you. But nothing else is working, and I think you need to know how it makes other people feel when you take things that belong to them, so maybe you won’t do it anymore.”
He nodded. “I’m still angry.” He poked my hand again, still not willing to acquiesce a full high five.
I hugged him again; this time, he didn’t move away. After a minute, he hugged me back.
An hour later, he came trotting up to me and tugged on my arm until I bent down. He planted a wet, smooshy kiss on my cheek and said, with his cute little melt-your-heart grin, “I love you.”
I don’t know if my tactics will solve the problem, but here’s hoping. Anyone else dealing with the same? I’ll take any suggestions.
And next time, I’m going to find those Twinkies FIRST.