Fathers* are often defined by their role as the provider, the source of things like food, shelter, and clothing. Consider reframing this concept to include things beyond basic necessities. While these needs are fundamental, there are other, more subtle requirements that our children need in order to feel secure. Adopted kids, especially those with traumatic histories have a strong need to feel security—emotionally, physically and spiritually. Building this reassurance requires many components.
Workers who assist in finding adoptive homes for kids in foster care know that food issues often trigger conflict. For example, the mere presence of a full pantry and meals on the table may not be enough to provide a food-insecure child adequate confidence that when she needs food, it will be accessible and within her own control and reach.
Some children may hoard food, (or other items whose value is perceptible only to them.) By providing them the acceptance of this pattern, parents demonstrate respect for the child’s need. This attitude establishes trust, strengthens the relationship, and lays the groundwork for leading them in the future. Align with their choice even if it is a stretch from your style. For example, enjoy a snack with your child in his room. This brings eating in his room into your shared experience. Instead of being something you fight over, it becomes something you share. (Consider that mealtimes may trigger painful memories of conflict, violence, or neglect. Be mindful of this when setting expectations and rules. Work toward rewriting negative scripts, one word, one interaction at a time.)
Hoarding can also be seen as a variation on collecting things as a hobby. Encourage your child to gather a collection. Ask him for ideas. While stamps and coins may come to the adult mind, a child may prefer comic books, dinosaurs, rocks, buttons, shells, bug, etc. Use your imagination and have fun together. While building your collection you will be building your relationship. More importantly, you will be reinterpreting the habit of hoarding. This will reinforce his feelings of security.
In many families, food issues can become a real trigger point for conflict. Carefully dissect your values and beliefs around food. Identify what is important to your long-term relationship with your child and—to use a familiar phrase—choose your battles carefully. Ironically, it is often through tolerance and gentle redirection that children can learn a different approach and become their best self.
* (Mothers are also important providers, but this month we continue to focus on dads.)