We adopted a 2 year old from China last year. When we got her she was 18 pounds and had been an a strictly liquid diet in the orphange. She has an alveolar cleft and a repaired cleft lip. She has been progressing well this past year but the biggest problem we are facing is her preoccupation with food. Now that she is ambulatory and fairly tall, she is into the pantry and countertops for anything that is food. We have barricaded the pantry as best we can but it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep her out. She is currently 30 pounds and eats 3 solids meals a day and 2 snacks. I am raising 3 older children and have tried scolding her for getting in the food, but that made no difference. Now we are currently trying to replace her desire for food with other desirable situations like tickling or affection to let her know she can get fulfillment elsewhere besides just food, but that doesn't seem to be doing much good either. When I am engaged with her she does not seek food but the minute I get up and walk away she is in the kitchen. What can I do? I know institutionalized kids have issues with food but how long should I expect this behavior to continue and what can I do to minimize it?
I am guessing that you might have already addressed some of these first points, but just in case not:
First, I would recommend that you take her to the pediatrician and describe the problem – it is important to rule out any medical issues. Also, you should try to establish some clear boundaries for the entire family on when and where food is allowed. Is it possible that others are eating in front of her outside of meal and snack times? This would probably increase her food seeking. Also, I know that it may be hard to do, but I would also recommend limiting the amount of starchy and sweet snacks on hand – if she gets into the pantry and all she finds is canned goods, raw potatoes, and a loaf of bread, then breaking into the pantry will probably hold less appeal. (if you must have them, keep the crackers and sweets hidden in the top of the cupboard, and don’t let people get into them in front of her).
More importantly, I think you are on the right track with trying to give her substitutes for food – tickling, attention, etc. You might want to continue to expand along those lines. Does she like and properly engage with toys? It may be that she lacks good play skills and that food is one of the only clear (and easy to access) reinforcers for her. I would work on trying to keep her engaged, possibly even explicitly teaching her some new independent and cooperative play skills. Make sure that toys are constantly and freely available, and try to recruit the other kids to play with her, too.
Hopefully teaching her some leisure skills while keeping food boundaries very clear for the entire family will help. Good luck!
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