January 6th, 2008
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Categories: Daily life

Julia wrote a very good blog on the Christian Adoption blog. It is something that we have dealt with many times in our own home.

Julia is being crucified for being upset with her daughter, and I’m joining the ranks with her because I happen to agree with her.

She said that her daughter “stole” some food from the house and everyone is up in arms over the term stealing. If she had said that her daughter was hoarding food, would everyone be equally upset?

I posted a blog about some of the discoveries we have had with Sammy stealing or hoarding food.


Kids who hoard food usually have come from backgrounds of neglect. When they hoard it is mostly about having it because they are not sure where or when their next meal is coming. They also eat themselves silly at the table. Many times kids who hoard food don’t eat what they hoard. Simply having it is their security measure.

However, when it comes to “stealing” food, that’s a totally different issue as far as I’m concerned. The rule in our house is that if you want “junk food” you have to ask. If you are truly hungry, you may help yourself to the fruit bowl, some cheese, make a sandwich, or have other normal, healthy food.

So what do I consider stealing where food is concerned? One of the people on Julia’s blog felt that a child taking food from their own home should not be considered stealing. I beg to differ. The food is not the issue, it’s the act and the intent of the child in procuring the food. If my child takes my money without asking, it’s considered stealing.

So, what do I consider stealing?

• Does the child wait until mom or dad isn’t looking?
• Does the child take more than is healthy?
• Is there a family rule that the child is violating?
• Is what the child is doing healthy to his/her emotional and physical development?
• Are the wrappers or remains of the food being hidden from the parents?

Here are a couple of examples of how things have progressed in my house.

Sammy waited until I was in the shower, went into the pantry, got a one pound block of baking chocolate, ate it while I was in the shower and then stuffed the wrapper in the beams of the closet in the upstairs bathroom.

There is not part of that scenario that is healthy for my child. The food eaten, the amount of it eaten, the sneaking and the hiding of the “evidence” are all things that are not good. If he truly thought what he was doing was OK, why did he wait until I got in the shower, why did he eat it in his bedroom and why did he hide the wrapper? He knew what he was doing was wrong, that’s why.

Another example is when Sammy had to sell candy bars as a fundraiser. He stole, yes stole they weren’t his, and ate FIFTY king size candy bars. We did not find the wrappers until our septic system was pumped. He had flushed them down the toilet.

When Sammy was asked why he didn’t ask for a candy bar if he wanted one, his answer was very simple “Because you might say no.” This says that his wants supersede anything his dad or I might say. He doesn’t like the word No, so he just avoids it.

It got so bad that we had to remove all junk food from our home. We went through lessons on morals, lessons on how this gorging on junk food was affecting his health, and many more lessons. None of them had any effect. He took what he wanted regardless of any circumstances or consequences.

I am not a mean mother. I let my kids have junk food and I freely give it to them. But I don’t allow my kids to eat any and all the junk they want. That teaches them nothing. I’ll get ready for the critical comments, but I know there are many other parents out there with me who deal with this exact issue on a daily basis.

Photo credit – ONE pile of wrappers Sammy had hidden

69 Responses to “Food hoarding vs. stealing”

  1. thankfulimnotalone says:

    Oops! I put this under the wrong comment—it was suppose to go at the end under my last comment. Check out the older comments area.

  2. dcontois says:

    I have a 12 year old daughter whom we adopted at age 2 and she too “steals” food and has resorted to stealing other things within the house as well. We have her in therapy and this is being treated as kleptomania. I found after reading up on kleptomania that my daughter certainly fit into those characteristics. Fortunatley, at this point she has not resorted to stealing outside the home. At least not to our knowlege. Kleptomaniacs steal mostly things that are of no real value and do it to gratify themselves. Often feel guilt after doing it and can’t really explain why they did it. Also stress can exacerbate the symptoms. Kleptomania is often tied to other mental health issues. We have just started working with the kleptomania. I am hoping we can work through this for her.

  3. regi says:

    I only read this article so far and so must admit its possible that I may not fully understand what you are trying to say here. Based on what I just read I am saddened as an adopted adult who saw my adopted brother go through these same things and was never healed of it. A little background: from the time of birth my brother was abused by monstrous men who made him eat his poop as a form of potty training, hot peppers were shoved down his throat and he was demeaned and humiliated daily.. he was little more than a rodent in the background. He learned to survive but never learned love even when taken permanently into a christian home. He could not explain why he hoarded the food..why he broke into the christmas room and stole the candy. My parents tried everything they could think of to correct this behavior to no avail. Food boxes did not help..forcing him to eat a mountain of food did not help..asking him why produced yet more lies. Our adoptive parents resorted to shaming and humiliating him..calling him a thief, a liar..saying he was selfish and did not care about others. He is an adult today who is not healthy and it seems the army says he is a sociopath or something of the sort. I do not know the answers on how to best help a child like this but it seems to me that my brother was a very broken child who did not know love and was seeking something he could not explain in his “stealing” habits. It seems to me that the more my brother was accused and screamed at the more he withdrew and the more he despised our new parents. You see, he could not see the difference between them and the monsters of his past. I hope that this helps parents realize that there is more going on than selfishness and stealing. Hoarding is a serious problem that caregivers need help and assistance with so that they do not continue to unwittingly abuse the child.

  4. tkferguson says:

    OMGosh…this article has me in tears…. I AM NOT ALONE! My 9 (10 on sunday)yr old son does this type of thing EVERYDAY. I am not kidding, it happens whenever we are not looking, he is even started taking power thera-flu drink mixes, and tums. He hides the evidence, lies about what he has taken and then says things like ” I dont know why I did it” or “I did not want to ask”. Thank You for this

  5. okparker says:

    You could repleace this entire blog entry with my sons name. Just tonight I found 3 uneaten lunchables, 10 candy bar wrappers, 5 cheese wrapers, and at least 5 empty chip bags under his bed and on the top bunk. I agree that this is sneaky behavior that has elements of both lying and stealing. He has been in a safe home environment for 4.5 years and is not lacking for anything. I don’t understand the behavior, and I don’t know what to do about it.

  6. varidge says:

    I have fostered a large number of children. All of them to one degree or another stole food from the pantry. Some stashed it in their dressers, in the vanity in the bathroom, others gorged it and hid the wrappings. Some of these kids also stole things from stores, as well. We have a very open policy regarding food, provided it is eaten with permission and eaten in the kitchen or dining room. Very little junk food is offered and when it is, it is “healthy” junk food. I agree, stealing is stealing. Now, the child I adopted has started taking food from the freezer or pantry when I am out and making huge meals for himself. He knows he is not to do this when I am not home, and is forbidden to use the stove without supervision. None the less, he goes ahead and does it, and then tries to conceal the evidence. Not stealing? A few months ago, I caught him stealing a candy bar in a store! He couldn’t believe I made him take it back and apologize. Lessons begin at home!

  7. daurelio22 says:

    I was adopted as a child of 6. I doubt that people seriously know the backgrounds of the children who they are adopting if they are dealing with hoarding behaviors or with “stealing” behaviors.

    My parents were not informed by the state about what had occurred before I was placed into foster care by the state. They had no idea that as a child I lived off of raw potatoes and was beaten along with my four older siblings for applying salt to them…

    so we learned from a young age to hide our food and most of all any goodies we were able to obtain. My older siblings who were able to go to school were on a meal program for breakfast and lunch, and they would take turns skipping a meal to sneak me and my handicapped brother something… anything to eat.

    As an adult I was able to find my siblings, even though they had been separated from my handicapped brother and I since I was 4 years old. They all repeated the same story of these horrors to me, I hadn’t the ability or linguistic capacity to explain what happened to my adoptive parents who adopted me just before my 7th birthday were not informed of the abuse.

    In fact they were told that we were abandoned on a beach, not that our mother had attempted to kill us by driving into the pacific ocean. Which as a small child caused me to have extreme fears of water (my parents thinking that they were helping and having no idea threw me off the back of a boat, scaring me for life). They were never told that I was left in a chainlink kennel, with a hybrid wolf for protection by my siblings everyday before they went to school, and they were never told that I had not learned to speak until I was in foster care for almost a year, almost 4 years of age.

    All in all, children who hoard or hide food or eat it and hide the remains may have been brutalized and even though it may be only a faint bad dream for them now, the first few years of their lives were probably a lot like mine, and unless you knew the child before they were saved as a parent you will never know for sure. It is instinctive to take food and hide the remains. Children of neglect learn to survive through basic instinct, and there is no way to stop it besides NOT KEEPING ANY KIND OF FOOD FROM AN ADOPTED CHILD!!!

    As adoptive parents or foster parents people should be aware that if a child displays hoarding it’s because they have been starved in one way or another. My family broke me of hoarding by simply giving me crackers and snacks (healthy buy tasty treats) to take with me where ever and reminded me that I was loved and would not starve or feel the pains of hunger again.

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  10. marlenesoyk says:

    I have a lot of the same issues with my 10 yr. old grandson who lives with me. I, however, believe that the reason he steals food is as a replacement for his mommy. She lives just 20 blocks from me,but is never “available” for her kids.He craves her attention & doesn’t get, so he gets up in the middle of the night and/or when I’m not in the immediate area & steals food (especially sweet foods)& eats it. I also have locks on my fridge & cabinets so he can’t get into them.My grandson has been diagnosed with ADHD,PTSD (he witnessed his father beat his mother) & O.D.D.(Oppositional Defiant Disorder).When he gets caught “stealing”, he immediately gets extremely defensive & tries to physically fight me. I pray every day that God will remove all of the negative behaviors from him so that he doesn’t end up in jail or even worse when he gets older.He has also stolen candy and/or Pokemon/Bakugan cards from stores.It’s a relief knowing that I’m not alone in this battle though.

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  12. thekid98 says:

    I’m a non-adopted kid who grew up hungry, who made it through college (after 12 years) who would like to remind you all of this: Your kid hoards food out of a deep seated fear of going hungry. Probably because they often did. You can’t relate to this unless you’ve lived it yourself. It’s not about ethics or personal responsibility. It’s only about whether or not you know when your next meal is coming. Today I work in finance and make very good money; yet my desk drawers are full of canned food and bread. I constantly worry about food; even at 34, with very good income, I still check dumpsters behind convenience stores for discarded frozen pizzas and loaves of bread. I think now that I may never “grow out of it”. I know and accept that I’m damaged goods. Just remember, if you hadn’t eaten in 3 days you’d steal too. Jesus said take care of the poor. Just my two cents.

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  14. MarriedMomOfTwo says:

    My now 16 yr old son (who was not adopted, I gave birth to him) went through this problem too. The conclusion we came to is that 1st, if we didn’t have it in the house he could not steal it. He found other things to steal. 2nd, it was because when he was little until he was 6 there were 5 of us living on a limited food budget so he may have felt he was being jipped or something. 3rd, we decided it must be connected with ADHD that he was diagnosed with by his doctor. This was partially, well more than partially true. He just simply was not thinking about what he was doing until he had already done it. Then when caught he would lie that he didn’t know how that empty can of chili ended up hidden in stuff at the head of his bed, it must have been his then 1 yr old sister… uh huh… 4th, we decided to let him pick things he liked and that could easily be divided up for the amount of time between then and when we went shopping next. So he would have food he could eat without asking. We put these food items in a drawer in the kitchen so he knew he could just eat what was in there, but once it was gone that was it for that amount of time, a week or two.
    Back when he was younger (8-ish) we had to resort to buying locks for the fridge and one cupboard in the kitchen. My husband and I both worked, but if my son kept stealing all this food we would not have enough to pay bills and eat too. I felt awful having to do this, but it worked…until he started taking things that we were trying to sell online… not good when we would go to get the things that had sold and they were no where to be found…until we moved…
    So, the conclusion, what worked for us. I would ask him several times over about 24 hrs if he was ready to tell me the truth about the wrappers or cans or whatever that we found. Within that time frame he usually would confess. I didn’t ask in an accusing or angry tone. I simply would say in a calm voice and tone. “Are you ready to tell me the truth about the… and why you took it?” By doing this and not getting angry with him and explaining why it was such a big deal he eventually understood and stopped. That in conjunction with letting him pick things out he wanted to eat throughout the wk or two until we went shopping again that are just his, did the job. I also let him get something for around $1 every time I go to the store and he comes with me. He has to ask though, which makes him stop and think about it instead of just taking and assuming.
    Part of this was caused by, in my opinion, was that his father spent most of his paycheck on buying pot and beer so we didn’t have money for much, including much for food for 2 adults and 3 kids after the bills were paid. Then after he left us, my son and me, I went into a pretty deep depression and admittedly neglected my son’s needs for a while. He had to fend for himself a lot. Thank God this wasn’t for a long period of time because someone helped me realize how depressed I was and I got help.
    So, now my son at 16 yrs old, almost 17 still slips up once in a while and takes food without asking that he has been told has been planned for a meal etc, but doesn’t typically hide the wrapper anymore. I think he sincerely just forgets that I told him it was planned for something. Before we decided that the side effects were not worth it for my son’s health the medication he was on for ADHD made him not steal food from us, but it was not worth it. He wasn’t sociable and out-going when on the medication. If anyone has any more questions or would like me to elaborate more feel free to ask. I just don’t want to over do it with info here.
    I also cared for my former step son for 5 yrs as his only parents that was around. He went as far as stealing from his school and a store once…but now as an adult he is a great person and works for the money to buy things for himself and his wife and son by serving our country. He is proof that a child can be “cured” of this with love and caring and patience. My 16 yr old is proof it can be “cured” as well.

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