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Foster son stealing food - please help!(20 Posts)
My foster son (10) was caught stealing food - mainly sweets, chocolate, cake etc over the summer. I found wrappers everywhere, hidden in the sitting room, playroom, down the back of the toilet. He said he wasn't hungry, he just wanted sweets. I am fairly laid back when it comes to sweets so it's not as if they are really restricted and he can't have them.
We had a long chat, he promised to ask if he wanted anything, I said if I said no I would always explain the reason (just about to have dinner etc) I told him at Christmas that I was really proud of him and to show how much I trusted him we would leave the sweet bowls out over the holidays all they needed to do was check if they wanted anything.
Today I have found piles of wrappers etc. How do I deal with this. I'm more upset that after showing him that he had earned the trust and explaining how proud we were of him that he broke it than I am about the actual stealing.
Food is always available he knows he can help himself to fruit, toast, yoghurt etc if he is hungry and 9 times out of 10 if he wants sweets I say yes. What can I do to help him to stop taking food?
What do social services say? Had this boy been starved before he came to you? Does he have psychological support for any needs?
Maybe completely off the mark here but how about only having fruit in for snacks and only buy in cake/sweets when you will be eating them that day. We don't really have treats in the house mainly because I have no will power so we go to the shop and buy chocolate/sweets etc on a Saturday afternoon just the amount to have that day.
Personally, I'd be inclined to leave him a stash he can access without asking. Was food carefully controlled in his original family situation? If it was, he may have developed this habit and have an emotional attachment to it which isn't responding to logic. He may also not have developed trust in people not withholding things from him.
I have a sweet tooth and when I was younger I used to help myself to little chocolate bars and hide the wrappers. I think I would have been embarrassed to have kept asking my mum for them because of how many I ate, if that makes sense? Could it be as innocent as that?
Myself & siblings were fostered & my younger brother was always doing this.
It was because when we were with our birth parents we didn't know when we were going to eat next so if the cupboard was full he would eat as much as he could.
The longer we were in foster placement the more secure he felt & he did outgrow it
Try to be patient & less harsh with the 'trust' or disappointment.
It's food it can be replaced & you have to take into account his history.
This is such a tricky one because the more you attempt to deal with it the worse it will get. Mine stole from school, the staff room, birthday cake on the side to share out later... No impulse control at all.
I would have some food available he can have whenever he wants, but he must eat it in the kitchen- fruit, cereal. I wouldn't buy the stuff he steals, if you can help it. Only small amounts, maybe keep the stores in your bedroom, and only put a small amount in the cupboard at a time.
Try getting him his own sweet box for his room then he can have his own sweet allowance for the week.
And dont buy any more so when they are gone then they are gone and just have plenty of fruit around to snack on.
Don't let him feel bad about it, he just needs to work it out without pressure.
My Mum fostered many children over the years and she cared for a girl who used to do this. She did it because her and her younger sister hadn't been fed and mostly fended for themselves when they were with their parents.
Mum used to find sweet wrappers and pieces of fruit/slices of bread hidden down the side of her bed.
She got better slowly and began to realise that she didn't need to do it but it took lots of patience and time.
Keep going, it will get better I'm sure.
I think you're giving him mixed messages. He doesn't need to take the food without asking because he can have it when he asks, well except the times he can't. You trust him not to take food at Christmas so put the sweets bowls out but are then shocked that he's taken some. Isn't the point of putting sweets out in a bowl that people get to eat them?
I hope that doesn't come across as harsh, I don't mean it to be. It's just that as an autistic adult I'm confused by your expectations so I can well imagine that a child would be too.
He will grow out of this. It's clearly a response to trauma he has suffered. With a stable environment he will grow out of it
It sounds like he's finding it really hard to change. Knowing that somebody doesn't like your behaviour doesn't necessarily mean you'll just stop doing that thing straight away. Maybe he is feeling compelled to do it, out of some deep inner unresolved issue. I agree with the others who say give it lots of patience and time and don't put pressure on it. He maybe feels ashamed about it but can't stop and needs to feel you accept him regardless and that it's not the end of the world.
'Stealing' food, hoarding food and compulsive eating are quite common symptoms in people who have suffered trauma, aren't they? I worry that you're approaching this as you would with a birth child. Does the sw have advice?
Personally, I'd start by working out how much of a problem this really is to you. If you can let it go, do so. If you really can't, then try other tactics: give him his own stash; don't have in the house what you can't afford to lose etc. But essentially, he is showing that he needs control of his access to food and specifically to sweet treats that probably soothe him and cheer him up. I'm not sure that you wresting that control away from him is going to help.
I would totally agree with what others have said. I came from a very poor background and then the food at the children's home was strictly monitored so it took a lot of getting used to when my foster family's cupboards were replenished weekly. If you grow up with food restricted for whatever reason it will obviously have far reaching consequences. It is a huge culture shock to come into a functional family if all you've known is chaos. Foster children are tough because they have to be and even if they appear well adjusted and calm there can still be left over coping strategies like taking food because it's there.
You sound like such a loving and kind foster mum and I think if you don't worry about this sweet thing and reassure him he can have fruit or whatever when he wants it, the situation will resolve itself.
I used to sneak chocolate and crisps out of the cupboards and hide the wrappers as a child (actually still do )
I think sweet things and snacks are a real temptation to some children if they're in reach but I wouldn't personally think of it as "stealing".
Could you either keep those things on a high shelf, or else as a previous poster suggested only buy them on the day they're to be eaten?
Where exactly were the sweet bowls put out? If in plain sight I'm not surprised he finds them hard to resist.
Why on earth would you put bowls of sweets out if you know you have a child who finds them irresistible? I'm in my 40s and still can't help grazing if food is left out (and I have no background of neglect to explain my complete lack of control). I'm sure you are not meaning to but you are really setting him up to fail.
Out of sight, out of mind is a saying for a reason.
I think earlier posters' idea of giving him his own sweet allowance for the week that he can keep in his room is a good one, and get rid of the sweet bowls. If there are bowls of sweets and snacks hanging around people will graze because that is the point of putting them out.
One of DD's teachers adopted a little girl who used to steal food. She had been starved when living with her parents and her way of coping was to have a stash of food in her room.
Even if he wasn't starved, giving him the sweets and letting him learn how to 'budget' them will teach him a lot about postponing self-gratification and self-control which will help him with money and other things as he gets older.
My foster daughter has been with me for 10 years. She never had enough food to eat with her birth family, and the consequences are still with her. She doesn't hoard now as she has a box of snacks in her room, and when it's empty I refill it. I have always had a 'no food upstairs rule' but it was not working this time due to deep seated issues with food.
Food hoarding can last a lifetime. It's a psychological problem that sometimes cannot be cured. The survival instinct is so great when these kids are hungry and living with neglect that it just doesn't leave them. Ever sometimes. The hoarding is a just in case mechanism, she worries she may wake in the night and be hungry, to the point that worrying about the possibility keeps her awake. Knowing food is there is comforting.
My fd still has food issues, like what we're having for tea can make her really stressed if she just doesn't fancy it that night, and she always, always wants more on her plate than she can eat, so we've still a way to go, and we may never get there completely.
Please allow your lad access to food so he doesn't have to ask you every time. Sorry but you are setting him up to fail with your restrictions.
Wise words, nicenewone. I knew a couple who had survived a Nazi concentration camp and the Warsaw ghetto - they were compulsive food hoarders and overeaters until they died. These can be very deep seated traumas, and the idea that a few firm household rules will put them right can be very wishful thinking.
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