Q: We just adopted a toddler from Peru. Though she seems to have adjusted really well, she still hides food all over the house. How can we get her to stop?
A: First, congratulations! Adopting is a wonderful way to spread love and save children who might have had poor futures. Still, it comes with a set of special health, development, and behavior challenges. Hoarding and hiding food can be a long-lasting behavior in children adopted from a place of poverty or neglect. It may have helped your daughter survive in her homeland when her next meal was uncertain, or food could symbolize nurturing to her and she may be trying to make up for a deficit of that in her past. Some children who were deprived of either food or love may even gorge until they vomit.Explaining that she'll always have plenty of food will help. Tell her, "You're always going to live with us. You're never going away. You can always have all the food you want." Giving her a special place to keep food, like a Tupperware container of her own or a personal shelf in the refrigerator can also be very comforting. Heaping her with love and a stable routine, including chores and discipline when it's needed, will reassure her the most. You may also want to consult a children's behavior specialist because these issues can be difficult to address.
Originally published in Child magazine, October 2006. Updated 2009