Writer’s Bio: I am a foster carer and ex teacher. I hope that my endless curiosity about our kids and the wider aspects of fostering and the trauma children experience might help others. I am not an expert, except in being me, and maybe that is the way to get through the process of being a foster carer; being aware of yourself and how this can help our precious, damaged charges.
Previous Entries:The First Tantrum
Ah food! I love it just a little bit too much, and so does all of my family. My birth children are old enough for us to go out for leisurely meals and chat for hours. We cook together, eat together and experiment with new ideas. My work leaving present was a cookery book and we play ‘Come Dine with me’ with our friends. My son went to university and immediately became chief cook for his housemates and my daughter works in a restaurant that serves excellent curry. So the reality of food and foster kids was a bit of a shock.
The food itself was a bit of a surprise. I stupidly thought that since my kids were malnourished they would eat anything; that makes sense right? Wrong. Weaning as a toddler sets you up to be able to experiment with flavours and textures. My kids were bewildered by freshly cooked food and requested pot noodles, toast and tinned meatballs. The only chicken they would eat was breaded and vegetables were universally regarded with suspicion. On the other hand, fruit was seen as a huge treat and wow did it disappear quickly!!
Kid1 felt threatened by being given food; he was terrified that he wouldn’t like it and would say that he wasn’t really hungry to avoid having to eat food that might literally make him gag (cauliflower, peas, mushrooms). And yet he would cheerfully chow down on a spicy curry and rice. After much consternation on my part I aimed to give him a meal with something he liked and something we liked. He loves getting a say in a weekly menu and delights in delivering food to the table. We have baked cakes together and he even helped me make cakes for family birthday parties.
Kid2 did not know when he was full. I will never forget going to a Toby carvery and him struggling to walk to the car because he was so full!! He could not leave anything on his plate, or Kid1’s plate, or in the middle of the table or in the pan on the hob. What do you say to such a child? Neither of them were overweight but they called themselves fat. If Kid1 said he liked something Kid2 would give it to him and vice versa; they looked out for each other and it was clear they had needed to do this to survive. My heart ached; how could I refuse Kid2 food, but also, how would I cope when he literally ate himself sick. (This had apparently happened before and I do not deal well with lumpy vomit). Six months later he left some mashed potato on the side of his plate and I knew that we were getting somewhere!
Knives and forks remain a mystery to Kid2. Fine motor skills are tricky at the best of times, never mind when you are aiming to wolf your food down as quickly as possible because you might get some more, or in case what you have is taken away from you. We try to alleviate the problem by having legitimate finger food; pizza, burritos, burgers and softer food that is easier to cut at least twice a week.
And that is our policy in a nutshell; we decided on what we thought was most important, and found a way around the rest. We all waited to start together, and we framed my long suffering birth daughter to start eating early and get ‘reminded’ of the rules. We all sat down together nearly every night and stayed sat down until everyone was finished. My kids love to challenge this by fetching the salt, a tissue, needing a wee, having to fart (no farting at the table….) but generally we have managed it. No phones or devices allowed; again, my poor daughter was set up as an example. Use knives and forks where appropriate. Eat what you feel like but try to eat some fruit and veg. Ask yourself am I full, if your answer is no you can always have more (this was a gamble that paid off quite quickly thank goodness). No singing at the table. No dance moves at the table. Some of these rules are just easy to follow and lead to quick success.
You might notice that not many of our ‘non-negotiables’ were about food. We hoped to build relationships and make positive associations with food to override the old, negative ones. We prioritised chatting and aimed to do as little correction as possible. We used tricks like an app that had a word of the day, would you rather questions, a favourite part of the day, learning a joke, a quick fact from school, and made sure we listened to each person properly and kindly.
I would be a liar if I said it was easy! There were quite a few deep breaths, some swift kicks aimed at my better half, for whom table manners are crucial and who has a quite unnerving ‘teacher stare’ if he is not concentrating on being nice, and on one occasion, uncontrollable giggles from both birth children after an unexpected innuendo from Kid2 based around the word of the day ‘ejection’. 7 months in we were able to introduce more tricky topics; ‘how do you feel about contact?’ or ‘why do you think x at school was mean today? We use the opportunity to talk about our own feelings a lot to set a good example and to talk about what we are worried about to show negative feelings are ok.
Yesterday, after two trips to fart, one toilet trip, a journey to collect salt, then another to collect pepper, one to fetch more water and one to get a jumper, in frustration I said ‘I wonder why you find it so difficult to stay at the table’ and Kid1 said, ‘well we never had to do it before’. And that sums it all up doesn’t it!!
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