Just remember, this series is meant to convey our experiences with these topics and parenting a newly adopted 3 year old from Ethiopia. This series is not meant to be taken as expert advice! With that, I'm going to jump right into part 2.
Part 2: Food and Nutrition
Food, like sleep, is a hot topic in pre-adoption training. Food is often a battleground for young children, adopted or not. But, there are many issues adopted children can face that are a result of their experiences with food prior to being adopted.
I'll highlight a few. Children who have known true hunger can hoard food (like you find it stuffed way back under their bed) or consume such large quantities that they make themselves sick. Children who were only fed pureed food well beyond baby years may have a hyper-sensitive gag reflex with solid food. Children who were force fed can bring tons of trauma feelings with them to the table, they expect eating to be a negative experience. And children who are desperate to exert some control in their out of control world, can refuse to eat at all, or only eat certain, specific foods.
As far as food issues go, we've been very, very thankful to not have a lot of problems there. Little girl has eaten pretty well since day 1. She really likes meat, and isn't too crazy about bread, which is different from my biological kids who are the opposite! However, there are some things we've done to try to help our new daughter with bonding and attachment that relate to food and nutrition.
The book The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family highlights research that suggests omega-3 supplements can reduce symptoms of anxiety, impulsivity, inattention, cognitive problems, and learning problems in children. And that kids on the supplements in the studies were less emotionally volatile.
I haven't heard any risks of taking omega-3. I had a doctor recommend I start taking them several months ago and said she also gives her kids the children's version because she thinks it helps them ward off colds and common sicknesses. I started taking the adult fish oil capsules and giving my kids children's omega-3 vitamins a few months ago (in addition to the multivitamin they were already getting), and we have all had a lot fewer colds this winter season!
I started our new little girl out on the multivitamin and omega-3 vitamin right after we got home with her.
Here's a picture of the kind I found that my kids will happily eat. It's made by L'il Critters. I'm not crazy about the sugar-coating, but it does mean my kid will chew them up and at least there are no artificial colorings or flavors.
My thought on the omega-3 is why not cover our bases? In parenting a child with extra challenges, if there's a chance an over-the-counter supplement can help regulate behavior, I want to go ahead and throw that advantage in our court!
Also in the book The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family, they discuss regular snacks. Karyn Purvis (one of the authors) is a big proponent of food every 2 hours and focusing on high-protein snacks to help regulate the body chemistry of your children.
This is another food strategy I've implemented, making sure Little Girl has regular snacks and trying to work in as much protein as possible -- hummus, beef jerky, lunch meat, turkey pepperoni, edamame, roasted chickpeas, yogurt, nuts (I do have an older child with a peanut allergy but thankfully she can be around people eating them without issue, just can't eat them herself).
Something else I've done as far as food and bonding is to use food to our advantage whenever possible. Little Girl didn't really like my husband the first few days (she hadn't had any male caregivers at the orphanage), so to facilitate her opening up to him, each time we were going to give her one of the chocolates we took to Ethiopia as a dessert or treat, I'd have my husband be the one to give it to her. That way she had a positive, happy thing coming from him!
Also, once home, she figured out she really liked Ritz crackers. Instead of giving her a bowlful of 6 or so crackers, I'd give them to her 1 at a time. This way, it allowed for more positive interactions between she and I. She'd come to me to ask for a "Boos-Coos" (her word for cracker back then, now she says "cracker"), I'd smile and say "Sure!", hand her the cracker while looking her in the eyes. Then I'd say, "Can you say, 'thank you'?" Thank you was actually one of the first English things she started saying, so she'd say "Tank ou." And it really is the cutest thing! I'd say, "It's so nice to say thank you!" all while smiling right at her little face, sometimes even working in a little pat on her shoulder or arm for being so sweet.
You see? Warm, positive, happy interaction. That in the early phases of parenting your adopted child is golden, my friends! No way was I going to miss out on repeating that little interchange 8 or 9 times during the 1 snack by giving her several crackers at once!
Regressing children back to bottles and spoon feeding is recommended by many experts to help bond with an adopted child. I didn't do the bottle thing, but she has been open to spoon-feeding some and I do it occasionally, often at breakfast because it's easy with oatmeal or cereal and she's sleepy at those times and more likely to let me help her.