It's one of those things that you just can't put your finger on. It's one of those things that is just a bit off. It's one of those things where you convince yourself of one thing and then spend time second guessing the convictions you have.
The "it" in question could be anything. It's some small, semi subtle behavior that your adopted child exhibits that just resonate in a weird way. It happens to often to be completely innocent. But it's not so dramatic that it interferes with every aspect of normal life. If you are parenting a kiddo who does not see to have a major or somewhat major issue (be it attachment, cognitive delays, etc.), there's a chance you know exactly what I'm talking about.
For us, one of those behaviors centers around one of our kiddos and his/her food habits. For kids who are struggling with attachment issues, hoarding food or stealing food can be major issues. We are not dealing with that. Instead, we have a child who wakes up every morning asking for food, demanding to be fed. This same child is what I call a food scavenger. This child snoops for food. As in looking in the garbage can for food during the first few months home. As in opening cabinets looking for food. As in keeping a keen eye on the kitchen counters for food. And if there is food in one of those place, this child must touch it. He/she doesn't always eat it, but, especially in the first few months home, touching it was almost always a given. Sometimes this child sneaks the food off of the counter. If food is present, it's as if the child has turned into a bloodhound on a scent trail. They search out the food. They look at whomever has the food with a look that says, "please feed me." It does not matter if they have just eaten. They will ask for the food. They will, at times, beg for the food.
Yes, some of it is a child's attempt at finding boundaries. Some of it seems like something other 3 or 4 year olds might try. But there is something about it that is not the same.
It seems a bit too intense to be normal. It's as if this child gets fixed on food in a slightly unusual way.
I honestly believe that most of this is related to the way food is distributed in orphanages. At an orphanage, food is dispersed on a strict schedule. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner all occur at specific times each day. Food is only available at these times. (It should be noted this child has never known extreme hunger like some children have who come to live in orphanages. And the orphanage this child lived in did provide 3 meals and a snack every day.) Contrast orphanage living to what it is like to live in a family.
Yes, families often serve food at routine times. But food is an ever present thing in a family setting. By that, I don't mean that the food is always out and presented to the child. Instead, I think that living in a home with cabinets and refrigerators and freezers full of food must be a completely mind boggling thing for a child who grew up in an institution. Food is everywhere!
In an orphanage setting, there are no dinner rolls cooling on the counter that you must wait until suppertime to eat. In an orphange, there is no left over Christmas candy sitting in a bag, easily accessible to little hands. In an orphanage, if you ate a few hours ago and it's not snack time yet, you have no way to get food so it makes waiting to eat until snack time a relatively easy thing. And in an orphanage, food is not wasted so food thrown into a garbage can in a family home must be something that a little mind is not sure how to process. In general, in a home, it is very easy to know where the food is and how to access it. The temptation to get into the food is everywhere.
In an orphanage, if a visitor or worker does bring special treats, it is often first come, first serve so it is a good idea to eat quickly and see if you can get seconds. Specials treats are not able to be kept for a later time. In a home, if the amount of special treats are limited, usually the treats are stored to eat later.
It's actually the way one of my kiddos reacted in a situation with special treats that made me decide to write this post. A few weeks back, at story time, the town librarian handed out treats to all the kids and then announced that there weren't enough for seconds but there were enough for the adults to have treats too. My kiddo didn't hear or didn't understand what was said but saw that the treats were being passed out again. He/she started shoveling the rest of the treat into his/her mouth, hoping to finish quickly and go back and get another, beating out the other kids who were still eating.
For us, we've chosen to go a couple of different routes in addressing this. When the child first came home, we let it slide and instead encouraged the child to use his/her words to ask for food. We tried to teach the child that if he/she wanted food, he/she needed to ask. And we rarely told the child no if he/she asked in an appropriate way. After we felt sure that the child understood we would provide the food, we then went back and changed our strategy a bit. We chose to address it by looking at the child's heart. What is impacting the child's choices? In our case, we have focused on the words from 1 Corinthians 13, "Love always trusts." This means love trusts that I will have food when I need it, not just when I want it. This means that love trusts that Mama and Papa know what's best for me in terms of when and what I eat. This means that love trusts that if Mama or Papa say we can eat a certain food later, it means we really will eat it later and I do not need to take it right now.
And there have also been some logical consequence dished out. Caught drinking out of Mama's pop can without asking? (Which one of mine does often.) You get water for the day. Continually touching food on the counter? (Which happens all the time and is often not just limited to food items but often includes the child touching all sorts of stuff that he/she is not supposed to.) The child has now been given the task of giving themselves a spanking on the hand for every infraction. (Suprisingly, I think it's worked well. Spanking yor own hand gets old when you have done it 20 times over the course of the day.) I've also made the offender tell the hand why it's getting spanked. (Which can be kind of funny to hear.)
Little by little, bit by bit, I think we're seeing progress. Believing hearts can heal even if it's from something that seems like a minor owie...