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Food fights…
By Marci Lewellen on July 5th, 2011

Food challenges can be wearing on parents!

When faced with a food issue, it is important to remember that many children hoard, steal, hide, or vomit food due to primal needs for safety and control over their environment.

After all, even if too young to articulate it, they know instinctively that food means life or death.

But food is more than just a basic physical need.  Food helps us meet basic emotional needs.  Babies cry because they feel the discomfort of hunger.  Mothers meet this need, and in so doing, speak powerfully, “Baby, I love you, you are safe, and I will take care of you.”  For the baby, the need is met, and they learn to trust.

This process transfers to being able to trust authority in general.  Children learn that big people are good and helpful.  If the process is broken, children learn the opposite, big people are bad or unreliable.

Secondly, food is a relational gateway.  It opens us to experience relationship in a unique way, which is why we love to go on dinner dates, or eat chocolate with our friends.

So food is a big deal.  Even if the child was adopted at a very early age, just a few weeks old in some cases, food issues can be seen in toddler years and beyond.

Parents and professionals who have helped children to overcome these issues agree that creating a battle over food only results in loss.

The children are reinforced in their prior conclusions by parents who lock things away or make unnecessary restrictions.

Every situation is different, but there are some general strategies that can be helpful in a healing environment.

1.  Share food control.

Ask questions like the following.  Notice they give the children a chance to share control by making decisions.

  • “Do you want to have a snack now, or later?
  • “Do you want turkey or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch today?”
  • “You can always save your leftovers in this container.  Let’s put it here in the fridge so you can always find it.  Let me know when you want to finish.”
  • At dinner ask, “Do you want to serve the mashed potatoes?”

2.  Make healthy food available.

If you know your child is going to try to take food, then beat them to it!  Parents can incorporate food, trust and bonding by pre-making small snack packages and putting a note (or a small hand drawn picture if the child cannot read) inside the bag. 

Arrange a time or times to give the child the snack pack (Almonds, raisins etc).  You might give them one in the morning right after breakfast to keep with them throughout the day or to keep in their room.

If they want more, let your child know to ask you for one whenever they need.  This gesture will remind the child that you are in charge (which is good for them) and can be trusted to take care of them.

Remember, you’ve got the equivalent of a crying baby on your hands.  They need to learn that you take care of them.

Other fun food hints:   You can use sugar!   A cookie, an ice-cream, or a candy is the perfect time to hold the child, look in their eyes with love, and to speak affirmations.  Sugar opens the soul to sweet words.  Use it well!

Please let us know what works for your family and if you would like to send us more detailed history, ages, etc. We can point you towards more tools! Thank you for believing in the power of Love and the courage it takes to lay down your life to see others restored!  You are a hero!

– Marci Lewellen  OJC Sr.  Director of Restore

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