EATING ISSUES WITH YOUR NEWLY ADOPTED CHILD
Moving to a new home means learning to eat new foods. Some kids are adventurous eaters and are eager to expand their culinary repertoire. For other kids, the change in diet can have physical, emotional and behavioral challenges.
- Digestive issues – Stomach cramps, gas, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting; these are all typical reactions to a change in diet. Your pediatrician may recommend an over-the-counter medication to help alleviate these symptoms. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water or Gatorade to replace fluids lost from sickness.
- Intestinal parasites – the above symptoms can also indicate an intestinal parasite, common when the water supply is unsanitary. Ask your doctor to run tests and prescribe medication as needed. The good news is that, while messy and uncomfortable, intestinal parasites are usually easily treated and do not have long-term health effects.
- Sensory issues – The food in some orphanages tends to be soft and bland while the American diet comparatively is much more flavorful and varied. Some children react negatively to the differences in taste, temperature and texture of the new foods. Imagine the difference between tepid oatmeal and a cold, crunchy carrot – these foods feel very different in the mouth. If a child is used to the equivalent of oatmeal, and is presented with a carrot, she is likely to spit out the foreign substance. Your child is not trying to be picky or obstinate. In the weeks after placement, try to serve foods similar in taste, temperature and texture to what she ate in the orphanage. Then introduce new foods slowly. If your child rejects a food, wait a few days or weeks, and try again.
- Chew, swallow, breathe – the process of eating is a complex dance; food has to be chewed, then swallowed, then a breath is taken, and the process begins again. Pay attention next time you eat, as it’s likely you take this motion for granted. But for a child who has eaten mostly soft, mushy food, this motion may have to be learned. Some children choke, gag, or spit food out. Again, your child is not trying to be picky. Be patient as your child learns this new skill.
- Gorging and hoarding – A child who gorges will stuff his mouth with food, often choking or even vomiting in the process. A child who hoards will hide food in other parts of the house, in her room, even on her body. It’s important to understand that gorging and hoarding are behaviors borne of fear, not hunger. When a child’s history includes a food supply that is unstable or irregular, the child develops an intense focus on food. When food is presented, he will eat it as fast as he can, before someone else gets it. She will hide it for later, worried that there won’t be any more. This fear is primal and can be intense, and can often be difficult to overcome.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for a child who gorges:
- Don’t lecture. If the child eats too fast and throws up, resist the urge to say “I told you so.” Don’t talk to her about getting fat or unhealthy eating habits, and don’t use guilt to try to get her to stop this behavior.
- Do not serve the food family or buffet style, but do place a smaller portion on a plate for your child. You could even use a dessert-sized plate, rather than a dinner plate, to make the portion seem bigger.
- Your child will likely ask for more food, so plan an activity after a meal to distract your child. Take out a coloring book, or go outside for a walk. Tell your child if he is still hungry after the activity, you will serve another portion.
- Encourage your child to put down her fork or spoon between bites and make a game of chewing each bite ten times before swallowing. Offer lots of praise for eating slower.
- Ask your child to describe how he feels after eating the portion of food. Help him to identify the sensation in his stomach as “being full.” If your child’s food supply was inadequate, the child may never have learned what this feels like. Let him know that this feeling means he can stop eating.
- Set a timer so he knows the next time he will eat. Be sure to honor the timer and offer your child something to eat when the timer goes off.
For a child who hoards:
- Do not punish the child! Punishment will only instill more fear in your child and teach your child to find better hiding places. Treat this behavior with compassion and gentleness.
- Make a solemn promise to your child that you will always have food available for her. Make this promise often. She won’t believe you the first 10, 50 or 100 times you say it, but over time, she will come to trust that this is the truth.
- Give your child her own basket of healthy snacks that she can access anytime. Good choices are bananas, raisins, granola bars, small baggie of Goldfish, or almonds.
- Take your child grocery shopping with you and let your child plan meals for the week. This will help her feel empowered and in control.
- When you find half-eaten granola bars and banana peels under the bed, don’t talk about mold or bugs. Quietly and calmly get the trash can and help your child clean up the mess. Then hug your child and tell her how much you cherish her.
Food is essential to life, and eating is a nutritional, interactive and (hopefully) pleasurable experience. We want our children to have a healthy attitude toward food and be secure enough in our homes to know that their need for food will always be met. If you feel your adopted child is struggling with food issues, let us know – we can point you to professionals who can help you in the area.
This article was written by Diane Hood, Clinical Supervisor with America World Adoption, and the Director of Social Services in our Georgia office. Diane has more than 20 years experience in the adoption field and she is a parent by birth and by adoption.
ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching. Explore ACT services on our website here, and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.