What should I do if think a child is hoarding food?

A child who has experienced hunger may hoard food out of fear. This fear can be ingrained, says Karyn Purvis, Phd, founder and director of the TCU Institute of Child Development. In this video, she offers her tips.
Here are some steps you can take if you think a child you know is hoarding food:
  • Don't Shame Them: It is likely they already feel shame about this. By confronting them coldly or cruelly, you are only likely to push the behavior deeper into the shadows.
  • Provide a Means of Control: For a child, there may be fear of not getting food that could be fueling this pattern. Providing the child with a sense of control -- snacks in a backpack, money for a snack at school, a snack kept with the teacher -- could assuage fears of not being able to access food and the subsequent feelings of dyscontrol that could accompany this fear.
  • Collaborate with Teachers, Caregivers and Physicians (or anyone who has contact with the child): Odds are this behavior is happening at home and at school; anyone who is with your child needs to be on the same page. Shame often pushes the hoarder into the shadows -- do not repeat that by feeling ashamed of bringing the other members of your child’s life into the conversation about helping him or her. Food hoarding is sometimes part of the picture of a binge-eating disorder or bulimia nervosa, and a more focused workup of such issues may be needed, perhaps by a physician or psychologist with specialization in such clinical issues.
  • Be Patient: The hoarding behavior may be part of a more complex psychological picture. Only by working with a team of professionals and bringing the family together will you be able to start down the slow road toward changing this behavior.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.