This post, from February 10, 2009, launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back deep into my archives to share some of the best posts with you (with updates) over the next weeks. I hope you find them helpful.
Kalkidan is a lean girl – thin, muscular, and very strong. We thought that once she was home she would begin to gain weight, but in 21 months she has only gained 3.5 kg while growing significantly taller. She has the beautiful Ethiopian look of a long distance runner, but she doesn’t have much in the way of fat reserves.
When it comes to food, I am easygoing with my children. Food just isn’t a battle I’ve chosen to fight. We don’t struggle over finishing everything on our plates, or save dinner for breakfast if it isn’t eaten. That isn’t to say that I let them eat dessert when they haven’t had dinner, but I try to be relaxed about food.
One day in the midst of a very hard moment with Kalkidan, she cried out, “I’m hungry!” I had already offered her several healthy snack options, none of which were to her liking. She chose not to eat rather than accept one of the choices. What she didn’t perceive is that she needed to eat.
Here are my humble thoughts. Like many other children in Ethiopia, Dimples experienced times of severe hunger. We will never know how long she may have gone without food, but we can presume that she was severely deprived.
When she experiences hunger now, she may not initially perceive that she is hungry because she had to suppress those feelings in order to endure the pain of it when she was younger. Her body, however, is spiraling down into a state of deprivation which makes it difficult for her to control her emotions and behavior. The anxiety created by hunger begins to grow and feelings of panic set in – all without her even realizing that she is hungry.
My task is to catch hunger before it becomes panic. I am working on finding foods that appeal to her and can be readily available in small quantities. Now that Kalkidan is in school, it is even harder to make sure she is eating enough. I put a little bag of almonds or beef jerky in her pocket for her to eat during recess. I also try to pack more than I think she will eat for lunch in the hope that she will choose some of it to eat.
The other key is having a healthy and appealing snack when she walks in the door after school. I make a second lunch of sorts, quesadillas and apples, or popcorn with cheese and oranges, etc. If she likes what I’ve made, which is a bit of a toss up, it makes for a happier afternoon.
My hope is that by catching hunger early, we can avoid the physical response that she may not even perceive, which results in an emotional response that she cannot prevent .
This is just one of many puzzles I am pondering. If you’ve dealt with this with your children, or have any thoughts to share, please send them my way. We can learn together.
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