As I write this, my husband and I are making plans to travel to a place that we call The Land of Extreme Parenting. We never get to actually GO there. But we do spend hours wishing we could! The Land of Extreme Parenting is the place where you can do whatever you want to solve a behavioral problem, or say whatever you want to say to your children. (Now, there are parents who do get to go there. Those are the parents we secretly criticize, but at the same time wish we could be like.)
The first time we discovered this vacation land was after my stepson moved in with us. The behavior that was baffling us at the time was food hoarding. He would hoard juice boxes, cheese sticks, mini marshmallows, pop tarts and COOKIES. Cookies seemed to be his food of choice, but he would take anything. He wasn’t even hungry. We knew that because he rarely ate the amounts he took and some of the things he’d take were not what you would grab to stave off hunger, like a block of baking chocolate.
We did our research and discovered the various reasons behind food hoarding. Had he gone hungry in the past? Was he using these items to fill an emotional void? Was it impulse? Was it the rush from the take? Was he trying to get our attention? We researched this on the Internet. One “solution” that came up over and over was giving him a box of his own food to have whenever he’d like. We did that. We gave him a basket for the pantry (baggies filled with goldfish, pretzels, cheese crackers, teddy grahams, chex mix, etc..) and a container for the fridge (carrots with ranch dressing, grapes, cheese sticks, apple slices).
Not only was he taking everything from the bins, but he was also helping himself to whatever else he wanted. His therapist suggested we try an experiment. She said every behavior serves a purpose and we all wanted desperately to figure out what that was. She suggested we completely ignore this for at least two weeks. That was THE LONGEST two weeks. Our silence sent him into crazy hoarding mode. His anxiety level increased. He took food from the bins and threw the baggies behind his bed (each night I’d refill the baggies and he would again take them. Did he think the chex mix fairy came in the night and refilled them?), emptied the cookie jar under his pillow, packed cookies in his lunch and then told his dad someone stole them in the night (!!) and he had to pack more cookies. We’d later find the original bag of cookies in his room.
This was when we needed to take a trip to The Land of Extreme Parenting! We would feed him nothing but cookies! Cookies for breakfast! Cookies in his lunchbox! Dinner time? How about a bag of Oreos? Bedtime snack? Yumm- COOKIES!!!
Oh, how we dreamed of doing this, going to this place! But we didn’t. We knew that this was not about wanting cookies or being hungry. This was a deep psychological issue that we needed to address with the help of professionals. I can say that we do not know why, but the hoarding stopped after about a year. Maybe he feels safer now in our home, finally. Maybe he realized he would never go hungry. We have no clue what it was. He still has his bins of food and he takes from them periodically, but he will eat one snack, not all of them, and go days without touching them at all.
Next came the lying and pretending to forget he did things. When stolen items were found in his room, he would look perplexed, furrow his brow and pretend he could not recall taking it. He would swear that even if he did do it, he had no memory. We actually walked on the border of The Land of Extreme Parenting on this one. We told him it was odd how he could have such a good memory to get into the GT math program but could not recall going into his brother’s room. Maybe he needed to see a doctor. Maybe he needed exploratory brain surgery!! (Ok, so we went as far as mentioning the doctor but we kept the exploratory surgery to ourselves.) This is something he is still working on in therapy.
The newest behavior sending us on our way is gas. This child has more gas than any child I have ever known. At first we did the typical things. We’d send him away from the dinner table or out of the room. Then it became a game for him. He’d leave the table 22 times during a meal to go do whatever he needed to do in another room and then return. Just over winter break he was banned from his brothers’ room and sent upstairs on New Year’s Eve, away from the festivities by my older son’s girlfriend. But still he insists he has no control.
This is not a problem at school so we do not believe he has a true physical problem, but in the Land of Extreme Parenting we can treat it as such! We can give him a mixture of sugar water and tell him it is a special medicine. Then send him to lie down for 30 minutes because it takes time to make it through your body! This must be repeated after every incident until it kicks in. No telling how long it will take!
Obviously this child will do anything to get attention, even if it’s negative and this is his latest ploy. Currently we are ignoring the behavior as much as we can, no longer sending him away or even acknowledging it, but his brothers and visitors cannot. Help!