The Hunger Monster

I have a son who has a monster inside of him. It’s a monster that tends to show itself whenever he is hungry. The monster makes him angry, it makes him argumentative, combative and sometimes even violent.

Many people suffer with “hangriness” – getting angry and short-tempered when hungry – I know I do but The Hunger Monster is another level entirely and is something which adoptive parents are often very familiar with. Our children sometimes come from homes where for one reason or another food was withheld or made unavailable to them. So, it is understandable that our children often struggle with their emotions when they feel hungry. It leads to feelings of being unsafe, it reminds them of how it felt when they were living in an environment which may have been dangerous to them. The slightest hunger pang can cause an adrenaline kick and trigger their fight or flight response.

That is true for one of my children, when they arrived he definitely had a Hunger Monster, for him it caused feelings of anxiety. He constantly questioned when his next meal would be. 10 minutes after breakfast he was asking for lunch, just after lunch he was asking for dinner. Fortunately with structure and routine his Hunger Monster has gone quiet, he might occasionally ask if he’s feeling anxious for another reason but he trusts our answer will be true because we have never lied to him about when he will get food.

My other son is different. He didn’t come from an environment where food was unavailable; when he was taken into care he had clearly been extremely over fed. I wonder about this, he was only a baby at the time, but it seems to have had a profound effect on the way he reacts to being hungry. I wonder if he was given food to keep him quiet, even if hunger wasn’t his issue.

After breakfast he asks for lunch, usually around 9.30am, even if he is given a snack he asks again, and again, and again. If we give him lunch early he then asks for snacks almost immediately afterwards. It seems to be so burnt into his brain that if he feels even slightly unsure about his surroundings or routine that he needs food to feel better, that he comes to that conclusion all on his own. It’s not healthy.

Time moves too slowly for him when he’s told when his lunch is, we show him the clock, he knows when it will be. He gets angry, he shouts, he throw things. It’s easier to give him food, thus fueling his body’s need for satiation. The more you give in the more he does it.

Reassurance and routine do not work for him, it isn’t the same issue as his brother has, so we have to figure out a new approach. We need to figure it out soon because he starts school in September, and they have strict schedules around when lunch is. Maybe they will listen to me and allow him an extra snack when he’s feeling insecure, if they don’t I’m fearful he will get angry and react to his teachers the way he reacts at home and that will not be good for anyone.

Title Photo: unsplash-logoCasey Allen

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