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Hoarding Food

image of a lock is used to represent desire parents have to lock up food when they have a hoarder
I am currently taking a class on teaching foster parents how to care for children who have experienced trauma.  During the course we talked about children that hoard food.  The standard response to hoarding is to lock the cabinets to remove access to the food.  I have always struggled with that intervention and I refused to do it when I managed a house full of foster children.  This class provided a perspective on hoarding that helps me to explain why locking the fridge/cabinet is a bad idea.

The thought process starts by understanding that food is a basic need.  It is essentially the need for life at the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Maslow's theory essentially stated that a pe
rson cannot focus on higher needs, like fitting in or personal development until the basics are covered.  In our example, this means that a child who is worried about eating cannot worry about pleasing you or following your rules, until they first know that they have permanent access to food.  Notice the "permanent", physical needs like this are funny in the sense that they don't stop once they are fulfilled, but the person must know where future meals are coming from as well.  Maslow called this "security" and it is actually the second step of the Hierarchy.

The second premise that we discussed was what they called the need cycle.  The needs cycle explains that people have needs, they act in some way to meet that need, the need is met, they relax.  Since children are unable to provide for their own needs their "action" is usually an action intended to elicit us to provide for that need.  When we meet the need and they relax it builds trust and respect.  When the need is not met we are viewed as untrustworthy.

Taking these two ideas together you may notice that a child who hides food in their room is struggling with feelings of safety.  This fear is the root of the behavior, and when we lock the fridge or the cabinet we are reinforcing the fear that they may not have access to food the next time they go to the pantry.

This would be like jumping out from under your child's bed in scary costume after they told you they thought a monster lived under their bed.  It is a BAD idea.

My instructors provided a neat alternative.  When they have a child that hoards or hides food in their room they provide that child with a lock box.  Once a week the child is called to the pantry where they empty the bad food out and fill their box with fresh food.  The parent never touches the box and does not have a key.  I know that may sound a little scary, but spend some time thinking about it.  I think it is brilliant!

Matthew 7:9-11 -
If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a snake on his plate?  As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing.  You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?

Remember, their behavior is them asking for you to meet their need.  Don't give them sawdust when they ask for bread, just like you wouldn't give them a snake when he is scared of the monster under his bed.


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