Why some kids hoard food and gorge themselves

Gregory Keck, PhD Attachment Therapist & Adoption Expert, explains why some foster kids hoard food and gorge themselves, and what parents can do to stop this behavior
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Why some kids hoard food and gorge themselves

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Many kids with early food deprivation issues carry those issues into later childhood and even adolescent years, so they often hide food and take food in large amounts, put them in their pillow cases, or in their closets, or in their dresser drawers and parents often wake up in the morning to find that two boxes of cereal are gone or two cans of frosting are missing, and they find them under the kid's bed half eaten or just hidden away. The typical response to that is, “Okay, let's put a lock on the cupboard or lock the refrigerator, or let's deprive the child of X numbers of boxes of cereal.” However, when you do deprive the child who's really food driven of food it causes their desire for that food to go higher. A simple intervention the parents can do without any additional expense really is to provide the child with a box of food for their room. We suggest getting a plastic box and put the snacks in there that they like, the snacks that they like to take from the kitchen cupboards. And have it in their room so that the child wakes up in the middle of the night and has this fear that they're not going to have food to eat, that he or she will be able to look at this box and see the food. Early on, maybe in the first week, the child will probably eat more than the parent would like them to eat, however, after they're feeling more secure that the food is going to be there and it's not going to be missing, they probably will not eat very much at all, but it will stop or at least diminish the amount of food that the child is sneaking around the house taking from other family members or emptying the refrigerator at night. Parents resist this very frequently because we've all been told this thing about if you eat in your bedroom you're going to get rats, and mice, and bugs. And I always ask parents why they think that because if they're not in the kitchen where the food is why would they come to the bedroom where the food's going to be? And they kind of think that's funny, and they go along with it and say, “It's really amazing. She only ate a few things out of there last night.” I say, “Well, replace them so that she always knows she has the same amount and then she can feel secure.” Food is primary, it's just primary for all of us. It's what drives us and it's what kept us alive, so kids feel if they have not been fed early on sufficiently that they've had to take that into their own hands in their birth families so when they get into the adoptive family they have no real reason to believe that the food's always going to be available in this family. And we see this food issue, and primarily hoarding or gorging, in probably 70% to 80% of the kids who come to our office for treatment for attachment problems.

Gregory Keck, PhD Attachment Therapist & Adoption Expert, explains why some foster kids hoard food and gorge themselves, and what parents can do to stop this behavior

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Gregory Keck, PhD

Founder & Director, Attachment & Bonding Center of Ohio

Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Attachment & Bonding Center of Ohio. He is an internationally known psychologist and trainer who addresses the issues of trauma, adoption, and post-adoption challenges. He and his staff provide attachment therapy for adoptive families whose children have experienced serious early childhood maltreatment prior to adoption. In 2012, he received the National Association of Social Workers State of Ohio Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the parent of two sons who were adopted in adolescence.

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