The mystery of the really fucking weird food behaviors.
December 20, 2012

The first time it happened, I thought my child was a genius.

Charlotte had seen a food item she wanted - a bag of mixed nuts - and she had somehow retrieved it.

But the more I thought about it, the less sense it made.  The nuts had been placed on a shelf six feet off the ground.  It was placed toward the back of the shelf and wedged between two glass jars.  It was there precisely because I did not want her to reach them.  I had to reach up and move jars to place them there.  No matter how much I puzzled over the matter, I could not think of any plausible way that she could have reached those nuts.

After awhile, I was rather inclined to believe that the Internet was right: perhaps I had given her the bag of nuts and I’d simply forgotten.  A sort of pregnancy-induced memory hemorrhage, if you will.  And the longer we went without a repeat of the incident, the more I believed this to be the case.

And then, four months later, it happened again.

This time it involved a box of crackers.  Again, I could not figure out how she had reached them.

A week passed and then one day when I walked into the kitchen, the pantry door was closed.  We always keep the pantry door open, so I opened it up.  And there she was, my beautiful little girl, sitting on a footstool in the pantry shoving applesauce into her mouth with a cupped hand.

Slices of bread.  A bag of dehydrated vegetables.  Grated cheddar cheese.  A bowl of cooked rice.  A jar of homemade fruit leather.  Granola bars.  If it is accessible to her in our fridge or our pantry, at some point in the last three months I have probably caught her with it.  I have caught her balanced precariously on just two toes on pantry shelves three feet off the ground, reaching as far as she possibly can to grab at something she wants.  I have caught her with a fistful of string beans, gulping them down greedily in the corner of the bedroom.  I have caught her hoarding a dozen apples in a dark corner of the pantry.

And it isn’t just at home.  In locations where people have given her a grilled cheese sandwich or a box of chocolate milk as a treat (this is something that doesn’t happen with Donald or me, but we let it slide with friends and relatives who take her out), Charlotte appeals to other people.  If I’m preoccupied encouraging her sister to latch or getting directions or whatever else, she’ll approach someone sitting down to a snack with their kids and complain about how ravenous she is and ask if she can have some of their food.  Even if she just ate a full meal two minutes ago.  Even if my bag is laden with foodstuffs for her to munch on.  Even if she isn’t hungry.  Invariably, the parent will hand her a juice box or a snack pack of crackers or half their child’s hamburger.  I’m left scrambling behind, thanking them for their generosity, reassuring them that no, really, she’s not being starved, I promise.

Sometimes she eats the food they give her.  Sometimes she stores it away, hoping I won’t notice.  But I do.  And what I see worries me.  It’s a set of circumstances I don’t know how, exactly, to respond to.

This morning while I was washing dishes, Charlotte scaled the pantry shelves and found some cookies.  When I noticed that the kitchen had fallen silent, I turned off the water and turned around to find the pantry door shut.  When I opened it, my daughter was kneeling on the floor shoving the cookies in her mouth as fast as she could, angled away from the door so that I couldn’t see her.

“Sweetheart,“ I said.  “Are you hungry?“

She nodded.

“I see that you found some cookies,“ I observed, careful not to seem upset so that she wouldn’t be encouraged to repeat this behavior for fear of my reaction.  “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable eating those cookies at the dining room table?“

She nodded.

I set her up at the dining room table.  “Why don’t you pick out one or two more cookies and then I’ll put these away for us to share later, okay?“ I said.  She picked out a cookie.  I asked her if she would like something else to eat or anything to drink and she nodded.  So I came back to the table with a bowl of snap peas, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and a cup of water.

She sat on my lap and ate the peas and ate the sandwich and ate the cookies and drank the water.  And we talked about food.  “Thank you,“ she said when she was finished.  “I’m not hungry anymore.“

I smiled at her.

And as she scampered off, eager to fetch the stamps and ink pads and paper she would need to spend an hour making a beautiful artsy mess on the table, I wondered: what am I doing wrong here?  Donald and I have never withheld food from our daughter.  We have never hoarded food or hidden away to eat it.  We have never told her she isn’t allowed to have food or reacted with anger to finding her with food we didn’t give her.  We have always allowed her to have the same foods we eat, even if those foods are a sweet like cookies.  We have always encouraged her to communicate her hunger with us (although in recent months we’ve had to periodically encourage her to think about whether or not she is genuinely hungry because she sometimes seems to confuse fatigue with hunger) and provided plenty of healthy options for her.

But something isn’t right here and I don’t know how to fix it.  Why would such a young child behave this way?  What am I doing wrong?

** Charlotte is three years and five months old.  Evie is six weeks old.

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  1. By Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas on December 20, 2012

    I’m at a loss! My 3-year-old is always begging for other kids snacks at the park and I have to say: I don’t starve him, I promise! He ate 2 eggs, 4 pieces of bacon, a banana, half a grapefruit, and a glass of milk 20 minutes ago!

    So, kids are just weird about food and I highly doubt it’s something you are doing “wrong.“ Is she doing it more often since your new little one was born? I’m just wondering if the big transition of being a big sister is causing her some anxiety and she’s comforting herself with food on the sly. Even though my son didn’t show too much anxiety over his little sister being born, he did revert to having accidents after being completely potty trained so I know something was going on in his little mind even though he seemed relaxed and happy about the new addition to our family.

  2. By Jill on December 20, 2012

    Okay, feel free to ignore me.  I am commenting because I can empathize with your frustration (not at Charlotte, but at the helplessness) more than because I have an answer.

    First, I think you are doing exactly what you should be doing, not shaming her or restricting her.  Good for you, momma.  Second, this seems to me like something you could run by the pediatrician.  I don’t think they always have a good answer, but sometimes they do, and it’s a great resource to try.

    I hope someone else has more practical advice for you, but in the meantime, you are doing a wonderful job navigating an unusual situation, and thank goodness you are not a parent who would shame a small child for her behavior.

  3. By Liz on December 20, 2012

    I have no idea.

    But what I do know, is that this childhood behavior is a warning for a possible future eating disorder. I’m not saying that’s definitely going to happen, but everyone I’ve ever met in ED treatment had some sort of strange eating behavior in childhood.

    (I ate nothing but breast milk straight from the tap until my mom weaned me at 18 months in hopes of getting me to eat other foods, and when she did, I refused to eat. It wasn’t her fault, it was just my strange behavior. I grew up to struggle with anorexia and bulimia.)

    Just a warning.

  4. By Amber on December 20, 2012

    I was going to ask the same thing Haley asked—is it happening more often since Evelyn arrived? Or since you were pregnant?

  5. By on December 20, 2012

    I don’t have an answer but I do have six children who do the same thing.  My four-year olds sneak food and hide to eat it.  My other kids mostly just eat all day long and then still beg for food like they are starving.

  6. By Sarah Christensen on December 20, 2012

    Liz - That’s why it worries me.  It just doesn’t seem like a healthy set of behaviors at all, but I don’t know why she does it or how to resolve it?!

    Haley - It seemed to pick up right before Evie was born, sometime after she started preschool and before her sister came along.

  7. By Sarah Christensen on December 20, 2012

    Heather - Does there seem to be any rhyme or reason to them doing it?

    My parents say that my youngest sister used to claim she was hungry to solicit food from other people even though she wasn’t and had, in fact, had plenty of food.  And I remember sneaking food when I was older - but I was like 10-16 years old and I snuck things like soda I knew my parents didn’t want me to have, so I was just trying to get away with something really.  It seems different when it’s a 3 year old?!

  8. By on December 20, 2012

    It seems like food hoarding can be linked to a loss of a sense of control. Maybe with the change in routine by going to preschool and the huge change of welcoming a baby sister she’s feeling anxiety and is comforting herself with food, something so does feel like she has control over.

  9. By on December 20, 2012

    Growth spurt? Heading to food because she’s bored? Or THINKS she’s bored so has trouble redirecting herself towards something to do and instead heads to food? She may have stumbled upon those nuts months ago and realized that it was a great accomplishment for herself and it made her feel good so repeating the behavior is bringing that sense of accomplishment to the surface again? It may just be something she has control over and so she does it. My kids have to ask me before the have something to eat, because my fridge would be bare every single day if I let all three of them have at it. They get 3 meals a day, plus 2 snacks. If they are going through growth spurt then maybe peanut butter with the apple at snacktime or an extra something in their lunchbox. I actually had to put a childlock on the pantry handle to keep my youngest out of there. It taught them to have to ask me first. Good luck!

  10. By Sarah Christensen on December 20, 2012

    Hmmm.  I think the control thing makes alot of sense.  I wonder if there’s a way to help her have more autonomy in her life and food supply without the hiding, though?  I don’t want her to choke on a bunch of nuts when I’m running laundry, you know?!

  11. By Court on December 20, 2012

    I would mention it to the pediatrician, but I’m going to guess it probably is related to control in some way.  Just because it may seem like you give her a lot of flexibility in how her days are spent, what she eats, etc. doesn’t mean that she isn’t trying to exert control over something in a way that’s meaningful to her. 

    My son definitely uses food as a way to demonstrate control over his world.  He’s a little over two, and we’re still struggling with him throwing food on the floor, refusing usual favorites, etc.  I can’t necessarily associate these instances with overall problem times (like he got in trouble in the morning over, say, throwing toys, and so won’t eat at lunch.) 

    Seems to fall in the same category as falling asleep on his floor instead of his bed, just because he felt like it.  Also, he gets free access to food and drink, but still has a tendency to hoard snacks and drink cups in weird places. 

    I’d imagine the pediatrician would be most concerned if she’s hoarding non-food items, like dirt.  Follow your gut though, if it feels like something isn’t right.  I imagine nailing down a general timeline of when this started will help you figure it out.

  12. By Court on December 20, 2012

    Oh!  On the greater autonomy thing…  Feminist Breeder posted awhile back about a snack center thing she set up for her kids.  It’s a set of plastic drawers with a bowl on top.  The bowl has fruit (which is a free item, all the time) and the other drawers have snack items that can only be eaten once or twice a day (whatever her exact system is, I don’t remember.) 

    I also had a friend who setup a drawer in her fridge for her 4-year old.  It had juice boxes, small bottles of water, fruit cups, etc.

  13. By on December 20, 2012

    Maybe let her help with grocery shopping? Tell her you need a green veggie and let her pick it out. So it would be a choice between brocchli, asparagus, kale, etc. Or choose between things for dinner, i.e., ask her if we should we have spaghetti or lemon chicken for dinner tonight?

  14. By Sarah Christensen on December 20, 2012

    Oh my goodness, Court, is this the link:

    Because if it is, that is genius.  I can totally see how that might help if she just wants a say in what she’s eating and when.

  15. By on December 20, 2012

    I don’t think I have any answers for you, but I think I agree with the control thing that the other ladies have already mentioned.

    My 14 year old stepdaughter (who I have helped raise since she was seven) STILL does this. I have to be careful about what I keep in the house, lest I find the remnants of it stashed in her bedroom. She’ll get up in the middle of the night and eat an entire container of cake frosting (no spoon!), any and all candy/chocolate/sweets she can scrounge up, and anything else that she knows she shouldn’t have 427 of in the middle of the night. The latest things I found were over a dozen empty bottles of her dad’s mountain dew.

    We do talk continuously about how even though it’s best to try to sleep through the night, if she wakes up and absolutely cannot sleep without having a snack, to sit at the kitchen table and eat a snack, brush her teeth again if she remembers, and then go back to bed. She agrees, but the behavior continues; so it makes me think it’s a control issue or a sugar addiction. I’m not totally sure.

    It is still frustrating, especially when I realize that I have to transfer jelly into an old pickled beets jar in the fridge or she’ll eat it all in one night———but as long as I keep any sweets hidden in the master bedroom, I figure that if she does get up and eat all night, at least it will relatively healthy things (hoarding food is obviously an issue of something, but at least it will just be crackers and stuff like that, right?)

    Sorry for the long comment! I hear your frustration!


  16. By on December 20, 2012

    I feel like my kids are always hungry, but I figure they are growing at rapid speed, so why wouldn’t they be.

    I keep fruit in their reach all the time, and small cheeses in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

    I agree, I think it’s an independence thing. And just embrace it! Kind of like letting them dress themselves. I would just make a snack space just for her. Maybe you put a few things in a drawer of your fridge every night before bed that she can access throughout the next day. Then maybe she will learn to not be sneaky about it. I think I am going to be more diligent about preportioning for them too.

  17. By on December 20, 2012

    I don’t have any answers, but recognize/relate to this behavior…I started doing the same thing at about 3, and it was usually foods that I knew my parents enjoyed (and did share with me!), like macadamia nuts, and, believe it or not, braunschweiger. My favorite spot to eat my filched goodies was hiding in the corner behind an armchair. A new baby brother did show up at about the same time, and we moved, and my dad was deployed a lot…could that have factored in? Maybe. I was never scolded; if anything, my mom through it was funny/impressive, and just made sure I had lots of good healthy foods to eat.

    Eventually, my food behaviors swung the opposite direction—not eating in times of stress. I was a worrywart and always had a nervous stomach before school. And the summer my dad was deployed for 6 months and my baby sister arrived (while he was gone), I stopped eating all together. My parents were at a loss. I remember being coached, cajoled, threatened, hugged…nothing could compel me to eat more than a few bites.

    But that, too, passed. I had one more yearlong episode of not eating/calorie counting/overexercising around the age of 16, when I was in a dance company. Eventually, I wised up. But even today, my reaction to stress is to not eat, or to seek certain comfort foods (chocolate). I have always been a healthy weight, since infancy, if a little on the slender side. I’ve had one healthy pregnancy (gained 45 lbs but lost it all quickly) and am expecting again. My mom had a little bit of a weight issue but it wasn’t something I was very aware of as a child. And I have sisters who went through stages of hiding/sneaking food and not eating when stressed.

    All that to say: This doesn’t have to mean Charlotte is cursed to have a serious eating disorder, but she may choose to react to stress/feelings of not having control through her relationship with food. At 3, it’s a big part of her life—food/nutrition predominates our existence from the time we’re in utero, on. The most important thing is to be aware and to be lovingly understanding. Which you’re an expert at!

  18. By Court on December 20, 2012

    Yes - that’s the post!

  19. By Clare on December 20, 2012

    My niece would hoard food when she was little. We found out when her little brother found it and started eating it but being less sneaky about it.  I think it was anxiety.  It got worse when it was pointed out.  But, acting normal, giving her access to food, reassuring her of her safeness, she grew out of it.  Not all stories end in ED.  I don’t doubt that some do, but some of it will pass.

  20. By on December 20, 2012

    I just wanted to share my unprofessional opinion here. I have a 3 year old son (and a 2 year old son ha!) and they BOTH LOVE to sneak things. Collin got some candy I put way way up in the top shelf of our cabinets that I can barely reach before, Halloween was the worst he stole all of his candy out of the pantry before I could give it to him. I think it is a sense of accomplishment for them to get it themselves, and a little fun being bad to be honest. hoarding food is like hiding it where you can get it later right? Sounds to me like she was just being sneaky. Also my kid asks people for their snacks too, he will straight up try to join another fmaily at the zoo giving their kids the SAME snacks he JUST ate.I think you handled it beautifully and I wouldn’t put too much weight on it.

  21. By on December 20, 2012

    As a clinical social worker/therapist (who happens to have overcome restrictive eating patterns in the past), I’d say the commenter who suggested that the behavior is linked to “control” was headed in the right direction. 

    Long story short, behavior is communication.  If C were my patient, I wouldn’t find the timing of her behavior coincidental.  From a quick reading (which clearly is not a thorough psychosocial assessment), this type of behavior communicates two things most clearly:  1) “I need more comfort,“ (food!  food!  food!  not to get to Freudian and all…) and 2) “Come find me!“  (hiding is actually attention-seeking in a backwards sort of way).

    What’s clear is that it doesn’t seem (again, from a quick reading) as though you’re doing anything “wrong.“  At all.  C’s world has changed really dramatically.  She used to be the center’s center of yours, and suddenly, she has to share that role.  Yep, she loves the new addition, but—good gosh—think about how hard it is for adults to adjust to major change within intimate relationships!  The arrival of a first sibling is literally existence changing.

    So C’s behavior doesn’t seem pathological to me.  AT ALL.  It’s incredibly adaptive.  She has found a way to both communicate her needs and—because you’re so attuned—have them met.  It’s really brilliant!  Pre-schoolers—however precocious—aren’t articulate enough to process and express their emotional experiences verbally (which is why kids get play therapy instead of traditional talk therapy).  Behavior tells the story.  And parents—however conscientious—can’t keep their kids from having normative (and frankly healthy) emotional responses to their lives changing in a big way.

    Please please please refrain from feeling—in any way whatsoever—as though you’ve done ANYTHING wrong.  C’s feelings?  Normative.  C’s behavior?  Adaptive.  You’re reaction?  Responsive.  Just keep at it and take it a day at a time.

  22. By on December 20, 2012

    In a similar vein to what Clare said, I read the blog of Dina Rose who is a PhD sociologist who writes about kids’ nutrition issues. She writes this:

    Give your child permission to eat for any reason.

    It’s counterintuitive to let your child eat if she’s not hungry.  However, kids have to say they’re hungry or we don’t let them eat. That’s how they learn to lie.  People (and yes, that includes kids) eat for all sorts of reasons – physical or emotional hunger, something looks particularly tasty – and encouraging the hunger delusion can only mean trouble.

    Instead, help your child identify what she craves and why.  The only way to do this is to reassure your child that her food is safe.  So you have to let her eat.

  23. By Lynda M O on December 20, 2012

    Perhaps taking the door off the pantry. That’s all I have for you right now, Sarah, and it seems so meager compared to the wonderfully informative comments above mine. Anyway know that I am holding Char up to the Universal Healing Power.

  24. By on December 20, 2012

    I was also going to suggest setting up a snack station for her so she can help herself and have more control. I’ve seen some which also include a water dispenser and cups etc.

    Also, do you ever find yourself saying seemingly innocuous things like “That’s enough, we don’t need any more” when you are eating less healthy foods or only have a very small amount yourself? She might be mimicking you, but may still be hungry or want more? It’s a hard line because of course we want to encourage healthy eating but at the same time, don’t want them to feel like they are deprived or missing out on something!

    I had an ED for years so it is one area I am particularly conscious of. I would hate to see my perfect little girl end up with the same self-loathing and food obsession I had :(

  25. By on December 20, 2012

    You got a great professional opinion a couple comments above!  You are on top of this!  It may not be easy to change the behavior, but you can do it : )  You are doing a great job!

  26. By Sarah Christensen on December 20, 2012

    Wow, thank you for the link, Millie.  What an excellent blog!

    And thank you for the encouragement, Sarah.  It’s nice to hear that it doesn’t sound like seriously problematic behavior.

    Elizabeth - That sounds so phenomenally frustrating, I can’t even imagine.  I’m sending your family good luck vibes as you navigate those waters!

    Emily - We only have one area where statements like that come up.  Every Sunday morning we have a big extended family breakfast and usually it’s waffles with syrup.  Anyway, a few times I’ve cut off the syrup because she’ll eat just syrup if it’s left to her, but the last few weeks we’ve found a different balance: we drizzle a little syrup over her waffle instead of putting the syrup on the side for her to dip her waffle into.  She eats less syrup this way, so we don’t need to intervene.

  27. By on December 20, 2012

    This parenting gig is hard isn’t it?!  Great that you have figured out how to manage the syrup situation. My current issue is that Evie wants to eat cherries non-stop. Even though they are fruit I have to stop her after a while or she will get an upset tummy from eating too many!!! At <2 though she doesn’t really get the whole ‘cause and effect’ thing yet, if the effect is more than 10 seconds after what caused it, so I am struggling to explain to her (while she is chucking a tantrum) WHY she can’t have any more!

  28. By on December 20, 2012

    My guess is that she’s sneaking food and chowing down on it in the pantry because SHE CAN! It is something that she has control over, she doesn’t have to wait for you to feed her, she can just go and get it herself. It may also be a way to show independence and that she’s a “big girl” now that Evelyn is here. I wouldn’t necessarily be worried that it’s going to lead to anything else, just maybe reiterate that she doesn’t need to SNEAK food, she can certainly have it if she asks for it. My daughter is the total opposite, she has these grand ideas of what she wants for snacks/dinner and then she gets food in front of her and says she’s not hungry. She hardly eats most meals. We’ve figured out that we need to take out snacks and decline her of crackers and filler foods so that she’ll eat her meal, but I think it’s just a phase. It’s her being in control, even if she is just 2 1/2, it’s her way of telling me she is in control, when really, I know that’s simply not true :-)

  29. By on December 20, 2012

    I don’t know if I can help with how to stop it, but I did the same thing at about the same age when my parents divorced. I think it was needing to control something and dealing with a sense of loss and powerlessness. I still have food issues… so I’m not sure how to address it. People do generally seem to recover from having little sisters so it may just be a phase :)

  30. By on December 20, 2012

    My mom tells me I did similar things and have always craved food and snacked almost hourly….even if I wasnt hungry. This equated to a lifetime weight problem. Just a year ago I did a vegan challenge and my cravings went away. I was 36 and didnt graze for the first time in my life. Finally was determined that I had a dairy intolerance that caused my body to basically stop producing serotonin. I snacked because my body was craving serotonin…which can be produced via carbs. I had no ‘normal’ dairy intolerance symptoms. I rarely eat dairy and no longer graze for snacks. It was life changing. Just my story if it may help someone else out there.

  31. By tracy @mamacreates on December 20, 2012

    I skimmed the comments looking for the key phrase that I was going to suggest, and indeed, I did see the one word that immediately popped into my head after reading your post: CONTROL.

    The older our kids get (mine is 4 1/2, going on 16), I think the more control they feel they are losing. The more independent they become, the more we as parents have to guide them in the direction we think is best for their development…nutritionally, socially, all the things we want for our kids, which in my case, is all the things I dislike about myself. And of course I encourage the stuff I do like about myself, as well ;)

    And that brings about a shift in power….power that they don’t want to give up (or never realized they had?), and the power (for lack of a better word; not meant to have a negative connotation) we must maintain over our children to prevent utter chaos in our households, as well as when they venture out into the world.

    We want our children to be kind, and generous, and have good souls, and to be smart, and to be ready to take on the world with a sense of confidence & self awareness, while still giving them enough freedom to pursue their own interests without being hampered by OUR vision of what we want our children to be.

    When E was a baby and was starting to get more mobile, and discovering her immediate surroundings, I was very conscious of not saying “No!“ to her all the time, unless she was going to wind up with stitches. etc. I figured we had YEARS ahead of us where I would be forced to tell her no, and I wanted to give her as much freedom to explore, while being aware of safety constraints, as I could.

    Around 18 months (Might have been closer to 2 years old. The past 4 years are a bit of a blur…..) she started to dress herself. I would pick out two outfits for her to wear, lay them out on her bed, and let her choose which one she wanted. Not long after that, she started picking out her own clothes. After I got over my OCD, “but it doesn’t match!“ nonsense, as long as she was wearing weather appropriate clothes (we live in Alaska, so definitely a factor), I was totally fine with it.

    Sometimes she would come out with a strappy summer dress, and since I’ve never been one to talk down to her (which is prob why she’s 4 1/2 going on 16), I’d look at her choice of clothing, say “uh-uh, try again”, followed by grunts of disapproval from her, at which point she’d stomp off to try again. Then that evolved into maybe picking out appropriate bottoms, and a sleeveless shirt in the middle of winter, or capris in the middle of winter and a long sleeve shirt. (yes, I wised up, and started putting away her summer clothes even though they still fit because it simply was not worth the argument) And now? She rocks at picking out her clothes. I rarely have to send her back to try again. Plus, she does her own hair….braids, twisty up-do’s, “pinky tails” (piggy tails), you name it. My kid is pretty much amazing.

    And my point to all of this kid-bragging, is that giving her choices was - from the very beginning - something that I made the consious effort to do. I wanted her to know that she had choices; that I wasn’t going to dictate every little thing she wore, played with, ate; you name it. And the older she got, and the more constraints I had to place on her in certain areas, it became more important for me to give her choices. My hope in doing so, was not only to give her a sense of independence & the ability to make good decisions that were appropriate to the situation, but also to try & temper any potential battles for control if she felt she wasn’t being told what to do about every little thing.

    Now, if I’ve asked her what she picked out to wear to preschool, she will often answer with, “don’t worry, mama; I picked out appropriate clothes”. And the flip side to that is, if I’ve given her two choices & she’s feeling particularly ornery, she chooses her own “secret option #3”. The first few times she chose her own option, I thought it wildly funny & so very clever of her. But if that orneriness has crossed over to the point of overly-tired-satan-child? I’m staring into the face of absolute defiance, where if reasoning doesn’t work with her, and reiterating what her two available options WERE doesn’t work with her, then we have to have a time out. And i’m happy to say, I’ve had to resort to time outs on very rare occasions…maybe 10 at most?

  32. By tracy @mamacreates on December 20, 2012

    (holy crap…..I went over your character limit! Who knew I had so much to say on the subject of parenting?!)

    And I should disclose that giving your child choices & an appropriate amount of freedom does NOT guarantee the elimination of sneaky behavior. I think challenging their parents to see just how much they can get away with is, to some degree, a function of their age & overall development. For example, E knows she’s not supposed to drink my diet coke, and I foolishly trusted her that I could leave a can unattended, and that she would leave it alone. Because, duh, she knows she’s not supposed to drink it! But then I’ll hear her from the next room, ever so quietly, putting my diet coke can back on the table. Or, the other day I was upstairs & she was downstairs, and I could hear her put the glass lid back on the candy dish. Without leaving the room I was in, I’ll call out her name, and it kind of scares the crap out of her, which I’ll admit, fun for me. Totally bewildered as to how I caught her, I usually like to answer with something along the lines of “moms know everything, and if you’re misbehaving or lying, I WILL find out”. I find that being vague and leaving an air of mystery for her to ponder over to be a highly effective method as opposed to saying, “Dude? Do you think I can’t hear what you’re doing in there?“ Kind of the like the “eyes in the back of your head” phenomenon that I’ve told her one only gets once they become parents. I’m generally very honest with her, and will only fib if it’s to spare her feelings (her dad & I are getting divorced, which comes with its ownset of special complications, and sometimes telling her the truth as to why daddy cancelled a visitation, etc, isn’t the best route to take, imo), but in the case of sneaking candy or my diet coke, if it’s going to make her think twice about doing it again? (and you know she will)  Hell yes, I like to keep the “mama knows everything” mystery alive & well.

    And one last afterthought before I end this comment that should have just been a blog post of my own, assuming I still updated my blog (aside from in my head), Charlotte may be trying to test the boundaries more now that Ev is in the picture?

    And one last, last afterthought….I have a business degree (accounting emphasis), but since I had my daughter, I became fascinated by early childhood development, and what the hell is going on in that brain of hers. I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself, if I only knew what she was thinking. And 4 years later, when we’re having discussions that start with, “mom, speaking of….“, or “mom, you probably don’t want to hear this, but…..“, or “mom, can I ask you about something?“, or any other time I hear her use a mature word or phrase for the first time - and always in the correct context - I still wonder, what the hell is going on in her head that she’s NOT telling me about, because she is an old soul, and I know she’s got some deep thinking going on up there… can just see it in her face.

    ANYWAY….I daresay Charlotte is 100% normal in her behavior, and to just continue talking with her about it in such a way that she’s not going to feel as though she’s in trouble, or that she’s doing something wrong, or will feel the need to keep hiding in the pantry with her nuts & cookies. It’s no secret that a child’s….undesirable behavior (whether it’s minor as in the case of a rare tempor tantrum, or something that requires more decisive action)...usually has a reason behind it, and that it is often not related to the behavior itself. All of this, I’m sure you’re well aware of, or it was already addressed in the comments above, but there’s my 18 cents ;)

  33. By Jennifer on December 20, 2012

    I hoarded food in my room for a while around 6-8 years old.  I didn’t eat much of it since I usually forgot it was there.  And when my parents found it and took it away they asked why, and I said I was trying to establish my own treehouse with snacks available in my room environment.

    In the end, I didn’t end up having an eating disorder or control issue with food.  Sometimes, kids are just odd and do silly things that make sense in their own heads. 

    I am glad you got some expert advice above and wanted to let you know not to worry too much.  The fact that you’ve already noticed the behavior is bonus points in your favor in avoiding worse issues down the road with food.

  34. By on December 20, 2012

    I feel like others touched on anything I’d have to say that is useful. I know at one point we had food in the pantry we didnt want Jude to eat and he would never sneak it, but it led to fits about wanting what he wasn’t allowed to have. Our solution was to only stock the pantry with things he was allowed to eat (which also improved our diet… But from what I read here, it doesn’t sound like you keep much around that she’s not allowed to have). Since then, we’ve gotten a little more lax and he’s old enough to understand what’s a ‘treat’ and what’s a meal and a snack, etc, so its not as challenging to have it around…

    As for the arrival of a sibling. Jude loved Liam when he came home, shed tons of attention on him, etc, but had some crazy angry moments. He’d start hitting for seemingly no reason and it really got to me. The only thing that helped was when I asked him if he wanted me to put his brother down for a moment and hold him (holding the baby still was taking from him). Every time he would say yes and be fine 5 minutes later. Especially if she’s doing it in the time it takes you to nurse or change a diaper, I’d link it to attention. Jude was the sole center of my world for 2 years, sharing that spot (though he was excited about a brother) was a big adjustment. Showing him that his feelings were as important as Liam’s needs was exactly what he needed. Maybe its what C is doing, but with food? Idk. Closing the door is a sign to me that she knows what she’s doing is ‘bad’ on some level, which would be the concerning part, not the eating.

  35. By on December 20, 2012

    I don’t have time to read all the comments, so sorry if this was already brought up. Could she have learned this at pre-school from another child? Might be worth asking her teachers?

  36. By on December 20, 2012

    The blog you linked in comment 14 is very similar to what I do with my 4 kids. I have a snack cabinet with bins full of snacks for the kids. There is always fresh fruit on the counter or in the fridge that the kids can have at anytime. Snack times are at 10am and 3pm. We generally eat breakfast around 7am - lunch at 12 - dinner at 6pm. The kids understand that they need to make thoughtful choices - they need to think about how hungry they are before they choose a smaller snack such as fruit nuggets - as they can only have one snack from the bins at snacktime. This processhas been most beneficial to our 3rd child - he is very connected to food - he hates to miss a snack - it used to ruin his whole day.Now he makes smart choices and I don’t feel like a meany who is always telling him no. I fill the bins every few days (4 kids x 2snacks per day x 7 days a week - 50 plus snacks each week)

  37. By on December 20, 2012

    I would bet it’s just her wanting to feel independent. Charlotte is clearly very smart and capable, and if there are no rules in the house telling her she shouldn’t be doing this (i.e. you may not go into the pantry without a grown-up, it is rude to ask other people for food, etc.) or if she has never gotten in trouble for it she probably doesn’t even realize you don’t like her doing it In her world so far, she asks for food and adults give it to her. She wants something (food, or like you said stamps and paper) and she goes and gets it herself. If Charlotte was a few years older, it would not be unusual at all for her to think “I’m really hungry for nuts right now, Mom’s busy with the baby, so I’ll just get them myself.“ I think this is really just evidence of how intelligent and resourceful she is!

  38. By on December 20, 2012

    I’m not much of a TV gal, but a friend of mine was recently on an episode of Dr Oz, so I watched it.this is kind of a tangent, but a lot of people mention two snacks a day, etc. The whole episode was About eating habits or something and how a common eating habit people have that causes them to over eat is a scheduled eater (in addition to emotional eaters and sensory eaters - the ‘oh, that looks good!‘ Type). We don’t fly by much of an eating schedule around here (aside from dinner being shortly after my husband gets home from work and breakfast being some point within the hour or so after we wake up), but I know its common for a lot of people to eat at certain times every day. Do you have soecific ‘meal times’? Maybe fitting in with the idea of trying to take control, if this is an area where you have a lot of ‘control’ over her (you have a pretty controlled diet it seems, have mentioned bringing your own food to parties, etc), so maybe she’s trying to gain control, try those foods that seem on the ‘no’ list (other people’s hamburgers, lol) and deciding on her own when she wants to eat - which you can think of in a more positive light that maybe she feels like she can decide on her own when her body wants food. As others have said, giving her that freedom to decide when and what she wants to eat (by choosing from a pre-selected assortment) could help tackle the issue.

    I like how you handled it though… The cookie thing. Giving her two and making a sandwich, not taking them away. Kudos.

  39. By Sarah Christensen on December 20, 2012

    MC - I have no idea.  As a whole, alot of strange new behaviors came into our home in that window of time after preschool started and before the baby was born.  Some of them we can absolutely pin on preschool - heck, sometimes she’ll even tell us herself that she tried something because someone at school gets away wtih it.  But others I’m less sure about the source, including this one!

  40. By on December 20, 2012

    It can be as simple as she does it because she can. Kids are hard to figure out. Or perhaps she is having a mega growth spurt?

  41. By on December 21, 2012

    I think it could be school related. I went into school wanting to be an astronaut and came out wanting to be a waitress, my favorite color went from red to pink, and I suddenly became interested in what was pretty (I had been a tomboy). I would guess she sees/hears about different foods that she isn’t used to eating and is therefore becoming more interested in food and why there aren’t things in your house that seem normal to other kids and it’s affecting how she views food. Just my two cents. I could never articulate to my mom why I wanted to be a waitress but I remember she wasn’t happy about it; I know a lot of changes had to do with wanting to fit in better.

  42. By on December 21, 2012

    As a kid, I was a food hoarded starting from pretty young on. My mom didn’t allow any refined sugar before I was 2 and then was pretty restrictive so it was mostly sugary things that I hoarded. As a teen and adult I had to teach myself how to eat those things in moderation.

    With my kids I have taken a different approach of offering dessert / sweets in small amounts frequently so they don’t feel that scarcity. Outside of halloween/christmas I make sure the cookies/cakes, etc. are home-made to cut down on the amount of artificial things in them but neither of my kids is a sweets/food hoarder.  Although it sometimes kills me to tell my 5 year old “sure you can have a sip of soda if you want” while we are out at a restaurant, I have to keep reminding myself that if we don’t stock it in the house it will be ok.

    When they see something they like in other kids lunches (i.e., Capri sun) I just tell them we drink that like a treat, not for lunch and if he wants me to get him 1 at the store for dessert that’s fine.

    We don’t have free access to food in our house though. Starting at 3 I did set meal times (7, 10, noon, 3 and 5) and outside of those times the kids could have milk or water but that was it. Starting last year (at ages 5 and 7) I loosened up on this one a bit.

    One thing I have learned as a parent though is that nobody understands your child better than you. If you watch and observe and ask her about things you’ll figure it out.

  43. By on December 21, 2012

    Just throwing in my two cents….I hoarded food as a kid and had some very disturbing eating patterns, and it was just anxiety which I grew out of. I have never had an ED or anything and I’m just fine 28 years later :) Just to throw in some further reassurance that things don’t always end up the worst-case scenario!

  44. By on December 21, 2012

    Afriend of my mother’s did the following with her son re: treats: he was allowed to choose 3 treats each morning, to do with as he chose.  He could eat them all right then.  He could save them for the night.  He could ration them out.  Whatever, they were his to do with as he chose.

  45. By on December 22, 2012

    As a probationary psychologist, I would suggest that Charlotte’s behaviour has 2 possible sources: emotional and biological. I believe this eating mechanism is Charlotte’s attempt to self soothe. It is clear that the behaviour must provide comfort, as she is continuing to activate it. Thus it is likely, from the information provided above, to be an emotional response to stress/anxiety.

    The behaviour appears to be triggered/underpinned by the stress experienced by Charlotte, of the birth of Evelyn. This doesn’t mean that Charlotte doesn’t love Evelyn, just that she is perhaps experiencing trouble in adapting to her new role as a sister, and the experience of no longer being an only child.

    I would suggest you start to keep a log of what has happened in the minutes preceding when you find her eating in the ways described above.
    Log the date, time, and anything you can think of that may be pertinent to that specific situation.
    As it continues you can track/graph the data and look for the trigger behaviours. When you understand what triggers this comfort mechanism, which is also her ‘code’ for not feeling internally balanced, you may be able to find the source of the problem. When you have a source, you can start to address the root cause. Behaviourist attempts to stop the behaviour will not address the emotional root, which, in my opinion, is likely to be a feeling of insecurity due to the recent changes in your household. It’s not that you are doing something wrong necessarily, more that you haven’t learnt to read this need of Charlottes. Learn her ‘codes’ and you will progress quite quickly into giving her alternative soothing solutions.
    I would buy a feelings chart and help Charlotte start to label how she is feeling every morning and night. Then expand that to talk about how she is feeling when she is displaying her eating behaviours. Consider as a source of information and strategies for parents dealing with/understanding kids stress. She’s really talented and a fully qualified child psychotherapist in CA. The ‘blowing up balloons’ excercise as a relaxant from her website is excellent and may provide charlotte with a way to learn to relax and cope.

    Let me know if you would like to talk further, I am planning to specialise in children and have a particular passion for decoding children’s behaviours and feelings and translating them for adults.

    Remember, you are not alone and there is a way to support Charlotte through this,

  46. By Camille on December 24, 2012

    Maybe there could be an underlying medical cause?  Or it could be her way of acting out because of the new baby. My 3 year old hasn’t been sleeping and we think it’s a reaction to having a new baby sister.

    I think you’re dealing with it in the best possible way. Don’t blame yourself, it’s not your fault!! Good luck.

  47. By on December 26, 2012

    I’ve been thinking about this some more… A suggestion that may not be the right way to go, but still something worth thinking about: Maybe, in a gentle way, you should tell her it is inappropriate to eat in the pantry like that? Maybe she just doesn’t realize it’s not right. Maybe to her, she’s hungry and doesn’t want to bother to sit at the table. And maybe she doesn’t realize we don’t ask other people for food, especially when we have our own. I don’t think that would scare her off or make her fear your reaction. Could just be social etiquette she has not encountered yet…

    What I’m trying to say is, maybe this isn’t anything psychological or behavioural. Maybe it’s simply a girl eating food when she feels like it. At the very least, maybe ask why she’s eating in the pantry? Maybe her answer will provide insight….

  48. By tara pollard pakosta on December 28, 2012

    Did she do this toward the end of your pregnancy right before baby was born? or has she always done this?
    it could be just a thing she’s doing since the baby came? since all eyes are not on her and she’s seeing what she can get away with or wanting attention?
    you are doing NOTHING wrong at ALL!!!!!!!
    my firstborn daughter toward the very end of my pregnancy with her sister (they are 19 months apart) started to be very independent with wanting to pick out all her own clothes and she would put on 3 pair of socks at the same time and all the logos on them would have to face the same way so you could see them in a layered look and she also started to be really more difficult in general at the very end of my pregnancy and it continued on….
    just a thought. I think you are doing great by not making her feel bad about it and just inviting her to sit at the table and offering mostly healthy foods! just keep doing what you are doing!

  49. By Sarah Christensen on December 28, 2012

    As an update, we went grocery shopping with Charlotte shortly after this was written and helped her select foods we are comfortable with her having free range to munch on.  We gave her a selection of foods in one area of the fridge and another selection of foods in one area of the pantry and we reiterated that she does not need to hoard or sneak food, she can come to us and ask for food if she’s hungry, etc.

    She does seem to appreciate the new system, but we also seem to have figured out some of our answers based on the discussions we’ve had since.  Soooooo:

    1.  The reason that she likes to ask other people for snacks is because she is curious about what they have.  She also casually mentioned that the kids at preschool have “fun” snacks (presumably she does not think her snacks are fun?) (I’m not sure yet what the criteria is for a “fun” snack).  We discussed that it’s important not to lie to other people about her interest in and curiosity about their food because they need those snacks for their children, otherwise they’ll be hungry.  She seemed to understand, but we’ll see how much it sticks.

    2.  Apparently she likes hiding food because it’s fun to do.  She told me that I should know this because squirrels like to have fun and they hide their nuts for the winter and Hank likes to have fun and he digs holes to hide his rawhide bones in.  This is true: both of our dogs are really big fans of hiding their bones from us.  I explained that this is something that we can leave to squirrels and dogs, not something we need to do in our home.  We haven’t had a single hiding/hoarding issue since.

    3.  She really doesn’t seem to understand what “sneaking” means, even though she understands that when she “sneaks” up on Grandma and surprises her, she is being “sneaky.“  I’m not sure how to explain this to her, it just isn’t sinking in.

    4.  She likes to hide in the pantry to eat because the bottom shelf area where she holes away in the corner is right at her level.  She says it’s like a little table.  As soon as we taught her how to set up the kitchen stools as a table and chair that are three-year-old size, she was fine eating out in the open near our table.

    We’ll see how this continues to unfold over the next few weeks and I’ll try to remember to update here or in a blog post accordingly!

  50. By pc games on October 08, 2013

    Haley - It seemed to pick up right before Evie was born, sometime after she started preschool and before her sister came along.





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