Why Foster Teens?

 

The attitudes. The cell phones. The hormones. Are these things that come to mind when you think of teens in foster care? It’s true — all teens, whether in foster care or not, can be challenging. Being a foster care parent to teens is hard, but it is also incredibly rewarding.

Plus, teens also come with great perks:

  • Teens are independent.
  • You can sleep in on weekends.
  • Date nights can happen without a babysitter.
  • Teens can babysit.
  • You get to teach valuable adult life skills.
  • They love structure.
  • They get to see a healthy, loving family.
  • You can help stop a cycle.
  • They’ll remember what you did for them forever.
  • You can help them rebuild trust in adults.
  • You get to help them envision a positive future.
  • Did I mention the extra sleep?

If you’re considering fostering teens, you’ve probably got a lot of questions, uncertainties, and fears. You may feel unprepared. That’s normal and it’s OK. What a teen in foster care needs most is love, acceptance, and grace — they just need someone to show up for them and a place to feel safe.

Here are a few tips for fostering teens:

  • Make boundaries, expectations, and rules clear from the start.
  • Meet them where they are, not where you think they should be.
  • Offer gentle nudges in the “right” direction.
  • Give them their own space to unpack, process, and feel things.
  • Always be honest and keep open communication.
  • Allow them to open up to you in their own time.
  • Don’t take things personally.

The need is great for foster families who are willing to say “Yes” to a teen. More teens need a loving and stable home than any other age range. These teens need and want a place to call home, a consistent place to celebrate holidays and milestones, and a place to feel safe and wanted. Many teens have to stay in a DSS office while a home is found for them, often missing school or other important events while they wait in limbo. Will you see the value in these amazing young adults? Will you step out on faith and say “Yes” to making a world of difference in the life of a teen?

If you aren’t quite ready to welcome a teen into your home long-term, there are many other ways to help, such as:

  • Offer emergency and short-term placement in your home.
  • Become a mentor to a teen in foster care.
  • Support a teen by becoming a Guardian ad Litem (GAL).
  • Initiate a fundraiser for local foster care organizations.
  • Volunteer in a group home for teens.
  • Provide meals for foster families.

The possibilities of ways you can help teens in foster care are endless. 

Every teen is unique and has individual needs, strengths, hopes, and fears. But each teen is worthy of love and worthy of the chance to bless your family. If you’re ready to find out more about how you can support teens by fostering or through other ways, your foster care community is here to support you every step of the way.

Compassion Fatigue in Fostering

 

It’s ok to say no…

 

People make the decision to be foster parents for many different reasons.  Many of those reasons come back to one core reason, the desire to help a child.  If you’ve made the decision to foster or are considering fostering, chances are good that you are compassionate.  That compassion is what drives you to step in a fill the gap in a child’s life.  It drives you to provide a loving, nurturing, and stable environment for the children in your care.

 

Despite the complexities of caring for children from tough backgrounds and the frustrations of dealing with the red tape of the foster care system, it is likely that you love what you do as a foster parent.  I’ve heard it said that foster parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love and in my own experience that is 100% true.  It is a tough job (one of the toughest), but that compassion keeps driving you forward.  But, without learning to set boundaries and say no, that compassion can drive you right to compassion fatigue.

 

Compassion fatigue refers to an identifiable set of negative psychological symptoms that caregivers experience as a result of providing care while being exposed to either primary trauma (experiencing the trauma firsthand) or secondary trauma (rendering care to those experiencing trauma).  -Charles Figley

 

When we experience compassion fatigue we can’t care well for ourselves or the children in our care.  As a foster parent, you can’t go home and leave the worries of your job at work. Your home is your place of work, caring for these children is your job.  A study conducted by the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies found that with appropriate support and regular “time-outs” foster parents are less likely to experience compassion fatigue.

 

Simply stated, it’s ok to say no!  Say no to the placement that you don’t think your family is equipped to care for.  Say no to the placement when your family needs to grieve the loss of the child that recently left you.  Say no to taking a placement when you feel you need a few days to regroup from your last placement.  Say no when your kids need a few days with you all to themselves.  It’s ok!  Your Nightlight Foster Care Advocate understands.  You need to be healthy and refreshed.  Your cup has to be filled or you will have nothing to pour out to your foster kids.  Just say no and give your family and your future foster kids the best you!

The Best Therapies for Your Adopted Child (And You)

Adoptive families know that therapy will benefit their child, but it can be difficult to know where to turn. Maybe you thought it was called “counseling” but then you started to see words like “trauma-focused” or “eye movement desensitization” or question the effectiveness of art/animal/music/sand in therapy. We’ve created this guide below to find the right fit for your child or yourself.

 

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

PCIT is a combination of play therapy and behavioral therapy for young children that will involve you as the parents. Parents learn techniques for relating to their child struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, language issues, developmental disabilities, or mental health disorders.

Who this best serves: Children ages 2-7 and their parents with experiences of trauma or have diagnosis on the autism spectrum.

 

Play Therapy

Children are able to examine and express their thoughts and emotions in an age and developmentally appropriate way through play. The goal is to help children learn to express themselves in a healthy way, learn respect and empathy, and discover positive problem solving techniques. This will work for children still learning English as well. General play therapists will be appropriate or you can consider Theraplay®, which is a specific type of play therapy, and you can look for a practitioner in your area.

Who this best serves: Children ages 3-12 who may have social or emotional deficits, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief, anger, ADD, autism, learning disabilities, and/or language delays.

 

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Often used to enhance other therapy the participant is engaged in, this therapy gives a sense of calm, comfort, or safety and diverts attention from stressful situations. They may keep an animal at home or by their side during the day or engage equine therapy at a ranch or equestrian school. Bonding with an animal can increase self-worth and trust, stabilize emotions, and improve communication, self-regulation, and socialization skills. Equine therapies have been very successful with adopted children.

Who this best serves: Children with behavioral issues, trauma histories, depression, autism, medical conditions, schizophrenia, or addiction.

 

Art/Music Therapy

Artistic therapies are typically nonverbal and allow the participant to process difficult feelings and express them when they cannot with words. This may be due to difficulties with expressing themselves or still learning English when other talk focused therapies may not be helpful. Music focuses on listening to, reflecting, or creating music to improve health and well-being. Art uses drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help express themselves and “decode” the nonverbal messages behind the art. Sandplay uses sand/toys/water to create scenes of miniature worlds that reflect their inner thoughts, struggles, and concerns.

Who this best serves: Children, adolescents, or adults who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. They are useful for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, or on the autism spectrum.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Trauma Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This therapy is short-term and focused on intervention in the way an individual thinks and feels and how that affects the way they behave and problem solve. It works on changing thought patterns as a way to change behavior. Trauma-focused is for focusing specifically on effects of early childhood trauma.

Who this best serves: Adolescents and adults but school age children can benefit from this therapy if they are developmentally able to do so. It takes participants who are engaged in therapy and works well with depression, anxiety, PTSD, anger, panic disorders, phobias, or eating disorders.

Trauma-focused is best with adoptees or adoptive parents with abuse histories, PTSD, depression, or anxiety as a result of incidents in childhood.

 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

This is a specialized therapy that diminishes negative feelings associated with particular memories of traumatic events. It focuses on emotions and symptoms from the event and uses a hand motion technique causing eyes to move back and forth which engages both sides of the brain. This physical and emotional connection can bring deeper healing, particularly with individuals with significant trauma.

Who this best serves: Adolescents and adults with PTSD, anxiety, phobias, depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and stress. It can also be used with younger children with therapists who have this experience and training.

 

Special notes for adoptive parents: The adoption process can bring up difficult emotions, thoughts, or experiences from your own past. While this is painful, it is also good that this is surfacing so you are able to seek healing. You may find your adopted child is pushing buttons you did not know were there and counseling will benefit you and your parenting. We encourage you to also consider the therapies listed above for yourself while you seek services for your child.

 

This information is sources from Psychology Today. You can learn more about these types of therapies and search for counselors on their website.

 

By: Heather Sloan, LBSW

Book Review: The Connected Parent

A Book Review by Dana Poynter of “The Connected Parent: Real-Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment” authored by Karyn Purvis, PhD and Lisa Qualls with Emmelie Pickett

 

Several Nightlight employees, including myself, through a grant from Show Hope, had the privilege of becoming TBRI trained in 2012 by Dr. Karyn Purvis herself!  Nine years later, this continues to be a highlight of training as an adoption professional.  It is our intention that all Nightlight clients become familiar with the letters “TBRI” which stand for Trust-Based Relational Intervention and receive an introduction and understanding of what it means to be TBRI trained as they begin their adoption journey.  As part of our Parent Education process, we require Nightlight clients read The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross, the best-selling book in the category of adoption.  It is our belief that much can be learned from their thorough research and resources on attaching with and parenting children from “hard places”, a term coined by Dr. Purvis.

When Dr. Purvis passed away in the Spring of 2016, after a long hard-fought battle with cancer, we at Nightlight, along with others familiar with her research, mourned her loss.  When The Connected Parent was released in 2020, so many of us were excited to get our hands on a new resource backed by Dr. Purvis.

Lisa Qualls had approached Dr. Purvis about co-authoring a book wherein Ms. Qualls would explain how she used TBRI principles with her own children who were adopted.  What transpired was a wonderful parenting guide for families who are parenting children who come from difficult beginnings.  By combining Dr. Purvis’ research and strategies and Ms. Qualls (and others) real life situations, even more practical information is given for handling difficult parenting moments.  The book not only shares advice on how to approach and direct children, but also how to help them heal.

The book is easy to read with short chapters ending with key takeaways and simple ideas of strategies to try “today”.  The chapters are organized into three parts. The first part delves into understanding attachment.  As always, TBRI focuses on a child’s cycle of attachment while also encouraging parents to consider their own history of attachment and the effects on current relationships.  The second part addresses real life strategies, which include but is not limited to using scripts, nurturing practices, teaching respect, recognizing sensory concerns and adapting the strategies for all age groups.  Part three reminds parents the importance of caring for themselves and applying the Empower, Connect, Correct strategies in their own lives to maintain hope and strength through the journey.

This book will remain in my personal collection of adoption references to be used as a guide in parenting my children from hard places.

Bonding with a New Child

When I adopted my then four-year-old daughter from China in 2008, I did not plan intentional ways to attach to her. I thought it would come naturally, like it did with my birth children. I was mistaken to think I did not need to have an idea of what to do. Shortly after bringing her home from the orphanage, I read an amazing book which changed by parenting plan. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen (2008) changed my perspective. I was reading it the first few months together and wished I had read it prior to the adoption and the multiple times I have referred back to it over the years.

I used many of the techniques Cogen refers to in her book. I had my four-year-old using a bottle to rock her to sleep and then a pacifier. I sang her lullabies and played silly finger games of Itsy Bitsy Spider. I read story books and played dress up. I pushed a stroller, took pictures, and did many of the things I had with my birth children when they were much younger biologically than four. I rebuilt the foundation to help my daughter to attach, learn the world is safe, and built trust.

There are fun ways for families to build this attachment with children of all ages. Their beginning story in life does not have to be the end of their story. Here are some suggestions for you to put into practice with your child:

  • Play games! Bring out Candy Land, Old Maid Cards, and Trouble. Roll the dice. Play games that call for the child to make eye contact with you. Do peek-a-boo with your young child.
  • Give piggy back rides to your child, play airplane on the floor or bicycle gymnastics with your child. With airplane, have your little one lay across your feet while you are on your back. Holding their hands, move the child through the air as you make sounds. And bicycle? Face each other and touch feet with your knees bent. Cycle your feet back and forth, singing a silly song of “bicycle, bicycle, who’s going to ride the bicycle”.
  • Embrace crazy hair day and let your child do your hair, or make up, or even face paint!
  • Dance & Sing – swirl around holding your child in your arms, your child standing on your feet, or do a fun hip hop. Break out the karaoke machine. Put on a dance video. Use songs that are soothing and quiet. Sing lullabies.
  • Write notes to your child. Leave a sticky note on the counter, put a love note in their lunch box, or mail them a letter. Send a meaningful text to the teen or write a loving post to the child, expressing affirmation to the child.
  • Read together. Make this a daily part of your structured routine. Get a library card and make going to the library a meaningful event for your child.

Whatever you add to your parenting to help your child attach, be attuned. Make things fun, even if they are intentional. Baking, decorating cookies, drawing, coloring, folding clothes, cleaning up their room, Legos and building forts – all activities that increase the time you spend with your child building the relationship they need to become thriving individuals and adults.

 

By: Tina Daniel, Ed.D., LPC

Misunderstanding Development

A child’s development is a long process, with many ups and downs that can feel impossible to predict, and adoption will most certainly affect that process. How much of your child’s behavior is typical, and how much of it is a result of your unique family circumstances? Here we will explore what average development looks like. We encourage you to learn more in each stage of your child’s development to help you normalize what are typical behavior and feelings and what may be complicated by their adoption story. Here is one site to reference for child development: https://www.childrensneuropsych.com/parents-guide/milestones/

 

Infancy

         In this period of life, the adoptive parents have the opportunity to build a foundational emotional attachment with their child. Learning your baby’s unique temperament and reactions to things that upset them can help you shape your parenting style to meet their needs. At age one, they will seek more independence as they learn to move about. This means you will see the beginnings of disobedience. Shape behavior by rewarding good actions rather than punishing bad ones.

 

Toddlerhood

         As language develops in ages two and three, children will begin to appreciate narratives, including that of their own life. Though they can learn and repeat the story of their adoption, they will not understand what it means to have a birth mother and an adoptive family. Using make-believe play may allow them to work through emotions they do not yet understand, as well as the concept of past and present. Greater pushes for independence combined with little knowledge of emotions can lead to tantrums when children are denied something. Though they may be stressful and embarrassing, tantrums are completely normal. Sensing their needs before they arise and having meaningful conversations about emotions can reduce their occurrence.

 

Preschool

Beginning in preschool, children spend more and more time away from home, and their worlds will rapidly expand. They will begin to compare themselves to their agemates on the basis of sex, race, family, and interests. Where the answers are too complex, it is normal for them to assume magical explanations, like baby-carrying storks. Be open and honest if your child comes to you with questions about these comparisons, similarities, and differences; being honest sooner will prevent confusion later.

 

School Age

         As children’s logic centers develop, they will spend more and more time puzzling through their place in the world. They may still struggle with the concept of adoption and what it means for your family and their future. They may even fear abandonment or wonder what they did wrong to be “given up” in the first place. This may result in angry or defensive behavior as a way of distancing themselves from potential hurt. You can help to positively shape their identity by reaffirming your love for them, as well as the love of their birth mother or family.

 

Adolescence

         This period is characterized by two forms of development: identity and independence. Now, more than ever, your child will be trying to find themselves outside of your family. They will want to reconcile their birth and adoptive families, a process that can be made much harder if they have little information about or connection to their birth parents. Self-image is also a vital factor of this time, and turbulent changes of adolescence can quickly lead to declines in mental health. Encourage them to explore and connect with their past, making sure they know they can ask questions without judgement from you.

 

It is always going to be hard to see your child struggle with their identity and relationship to you. They may need your help to work through their complex feelings at first, and later it may be enough just to tell them you are there for them as they grow on their own. Building a support system with other adoptive families, such as through your agency, can give both you and your child a head start on dealing with these feelings.

 

written by Ashley Conner

Love Language Within the World of Trauma

 

Love languages and the knowledge of different ways to communicate love have gradually increased in popularity over the past few years. It can be especially important for children who have experienced trauma to be able to receive love in a way that they understand and can receive without fear. This can be particularly complicated when the child you are caring for may potentially have a love language that was abused through traumatic memories. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect may react differently to love languages that are spoken by their foster or parents through adoption. Here are some things to keep in mind for each love language with some alternatives that may feel more secure for a child who has experienced abuse in an area where they have a predominate love language.

As an overall reminder, young children between 0-6 rarely have a set love language and need each language to fill their bucket until a clear preference starts to show as their personality develops. This is the recommended starting point for all children and youth of all ages when they first come into your home, even the 17 year olds. Children who experienced trauma at a young age may have never had a consistent or attentive caregiver. It will be important to communicate each language consistently while you are bonding, and well after they begin to trust you and push boundaries. It may feel as if you are starting with an infant and working your way up, but this is a good sign. With safety and connection in place, often their language will develop into one or two predominate preferences. This can take years, or happen quickly depending on the child and their past experiences. If your child is rejecting certain languages, do not assume that they do not receive love that way. It is possibly a sign that they were extremely hurt before in that area, and they need extra care, attention, and patience before they will feel comfortable letting anyone touch, affirm, help, give gifts to them or spending one on one time with them again.

Physical Touch. This language has a lot of capacity for abuse, especially for children who were either neglected and left alone for significant amounts of time, or those who were physically hurt by their parents. Often kids experience both, which can make a child crave physical touch while at the same time being frightened of it and left struggling to relax when they are receiving physical contact. The goal then becomes safe touch and a lot of patience. We recommend looking through handheld therapeutic acupressure tools and helping your child pick one or two they may like to try. If deep pressure does not appeal to them they may prefer something like a paint brush or using a soft brush to make predictable circles on their arm as they relax. You may even introduce cuddling during a movie where there can be a pillow as a barrier. This provides enough felt safety while still meeting their needs. You may also want to consider a pet like a cat, dog or rabbit for some children who can cuddle something that has not caused physical harm to them in the past and keep your own touches to their shoulder or arm and only for specific purposes like when you are teaching them to cook or a sport. Be especially cautious with situations where family members may be requesting good bye hugs, as forced contact may be uncomfortable and feel unsafe for children and youth. Eventually, your child will feel more comfortable letting their guard down around specific caregivers and may request a lot of physical contact or even seem extremely needy in this area. This is a great sign! Be patient, they are catching up for lost time. Many parents intentionally will rock much older children as a reminder of the contact they should have received in infancy, but missed out on.

Words of Affirmation: Children who prefer verbal affirmation to receive love may have come from emotionally and verbally abusive homes where they were told they were stupid, selfish, or screamed obscenities at. This is particularly destructive to their self-esteem, as they can easily develop the belief that they are a bad child, unlovable, or a waste of space. Grand statements of “you are amazing” will feel fake to children who have a damaged self-esteem. Instead we recommend starting with a softer approach. When you are around your child, try pointing out exactly what they are doing, just notice it. For instance, if you are with a child who is playing with Legos, let them lead and avoid asking questions but make comments about what they are doing and mix those comments with gentle compliments. “I see you are building a ship there” “you are making your ship blue” “you are great at building Legos” “I love how gently you play with your toys”. Pick a time of the day where you can focus on using these types of statements and compliments, even 5 minutes a day. This will help with bonding while also showing them that they are seen and heard. Eventually they will become more receptive to hearing compliments to you outside of that concentrated time of play. You may be surprised at how many affirmations that it can take to start making a dent in the damage that was done before they came to your home, but it is well worth the effort. This is also important with youth and older teens, but they may be more aware that you are choosing specific times to concentrate on this, so it will need to be broken up throughout the day.

Quality Time: Is your child stuck to you like a little barnacle and afraid to be alone? They may have missed out on a lot of quality time as they moved home to home in foster homes with a ton of kids, group homes, or orphanages. Often these group settings have few caregiver and a lot of kids who need care, so a healthy need for quality time and attention becomes a fear that they will not have their needs met if they are ever left alone. Usually parents underestimate the amount of concentrated quality time that a child needs to fill their bucket, 15 minutes a day per parent. For these kids, schedule that time in and make it a priority that you will sit down with them to play for 15 minutes, even if you need to use a timer. Put your phone and other distractions away and let them lead the play, comment on what they are doing, affirm them, go along with their goofy antics. That consistent 15 minutes a day will have a bigger impact on them than you may realize. With it, they will be more open to you scheduling in your own self-care where you can step away for a mommy or daddy break and your own 15 minutes of rest. With patience and time their fears of not having their needs met will shift to trust.

Acts of Service: Neglect is one of the biggest factors for children who have experienced abuse in this particular love language. If your child is parentified, it is a good sign that this language is of particular importance to them. They may have had a parent who completely ignored their needs, and so they turned to meeting others needs and caring for them in the hopes that it would earn them love and safety so that their own needs could finally be met. They are likely to be particularly combative about anyone doing things for them, because their trust has been so damaged in this area. One of your first steps is to acknowledge all of the hard work that your child has done to care for those around them, because it is likely that their siblings and past caregivers took it for granted. Take time to do those extra touches that parents do for younger children, especially for older kids who can reasonably do these things on their own. Make homemade lunches for them, help clean their room when they aren’t looking, and sit next to them while they are working on their homework to offer assistance. They may not show that they appreciate this, but it speaks louder than you may believe. These are often the kids that don’t show their trauma, or get forgotten because they are so busy taking care of everyone else, and aren’t showing their need in an obvious way. In reality they need their love language spoken just as much, if not more than the kids that they were always taking care of.

Gifts: This language is consistently misunderstood in adults and children, so taking time to understand what that language is about is particularly important. Gifts as a love language is more about having something tangible to know that someone was thinking of you when you were not physically around, and that they care enough to listen and know what you like. This is not about the cost, it’s about the “I was thinking about you”. There is particular room for abuse of this love language as abusive caregivers may have used gifts as an apology for abuse, or even in grooming. In those situations, gifts that were supposed to be about “I care about you” were really about “I want something from you, and I know you like this”. This can be devastating to the psyche of a child who may come to believe that the only way they can receive love is to please their caregiver regardless of if that causes them physical and emotional harm. This also can create a lot of manipulative tendencies in children who are simply trying to get their needs met and feel loved.

Parents of children from hard places should focus on small gifts given consistently over time, and do not stop providing love this way when your child has messed up. This doesn’t have to cost anything, try picking a flower for them, painting a small rock, drawing a picture for them, or even taking them to the dollar store to pick their own gift out. You will want to avoid rewarding manipulation, and instead give these gifts when they are least expecting it and are entirely removed from difficult or good behaviors. The main goal is consistently speaking this language in small ways with no strings attached.

Children who have dealt with trauma often feel as if it is their fault. This causes a loss of self-esteem and eventually, the child may believe that they cannot be loved. Love languages are a way to show you care, you are there for them, and that they are loved. In the beginning, the child who does not believe they can be loved, will be hesitant with you and become potentially suspicious as to what you are doing. Don’t take it personally, be consistent, be patient, encourage self-esteem, and be emotionally and physically available for them. We recommend working with a reputable therapist if possible as you work through each love language, especially if you child finds a specific love language to be triggering.

Our favorite kids tool for speaking all of these love languages? Melissa & Doug Scratch Art Notes can be used for safe physical touch (helping kids learn to sketch things out, soft touches on the shoulder or sitting close by a child while you sketch together), Words of Affirmation (encouraging notes left all around the house or in lunch boxes) Quality time (drawing together), acts of service (little notes left behind after you helped do a chore they don’t always enjoy), and gifts (little drawings or gifting a card and scratcher for them to play with at school in their free time).

 

written by Natalie Burton & Deb Uber

 

How to Promote Your Child’s Development of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is comprised of a variety of abilities that allow someone to understand delayed gratification, focus and shift their attention between tasks, and control one’s emotions and behaviors.  Self-regulation allows a child to resist impulsive behaviors and outbursts, cheer themselves up when feeling down, and respond appropriately to different scenarios, consequently allowing them better control over their behavior and their life.  Developing this skill takes time and practice, and as you can probably guess, directly impacts social interactions and success at school and work.

In the world of international adoption, many children spend the early years of their lives without the consistent one-on-one support and mentoring that is so important to the development of complex reasoning and thinking… directly affecting their ability to self-regulate.  However, it is never too late to teach a child self-regulation strategies.  These abilities are practiced and developed through continuous social interactions across one’s lifespan.  This is great news for all parents, as this means that self-regulation can be taught and practiced through formal and informal interactions and environments at any age.

So what can you do to help your child develop these important life skills?

First things first. Teach your child about different emotions and how to identify and label them.  This might entail pictures of different faces, voicing your feelings out loud as they come up, and helping your child to verbally label theirs.  Facilitate discussions with your child about these emotions, for example, “Did you throw that toy because you were frustrated?” and help them formulate appropriate responses, “What else could you do if you’re feeling frustrated?”  This provides a gateway to brainstorming appropriate ways to react in future scenarios.  Try asking pointed questions to allow your child to arrive at an appropriate response, such as, “Could you ask for help?” or “What if you tried to play with this toy instead?”

Strategy Tool Box. When self-regulating, it’s important for children to have a “tool box” with different strategies for calming themselves down.  These strategies take time to test out and practice, as different strategies will work for different children, but here are a few calm-down techniques to teach to your child:

  • Take a mental/physical break: walk away from the situation, find a quiet place to sit and breathe, read a book, listen to music, walk a lap around the room
  • Take a spiritual break: pray, use deep breathing exercises, practice a yoga pose
  • Engage in a sensory experience: draw, cuddle under a weighted blanket, play with playdough
  • Engage in positive self-talk: repeat a short, affirming phrase or mantra
  • Seek social support: talk to an adult or friend, ask for help

 

Self Talk. A major contributor to good self-regulation is a child’s use of self-talk.  Through self-talk, children repeat various lessons and sayings from adults to themselves when making decisions and reacting to different situations.  To support your child’s use of self-talk, break down different scenarios to them, talking them through how you analyze and think about a situation, and provide them with short and simple rules and coping skills that they can repeat to themselves when needed, such as, “When I get mad, take a deep breath” or “I can have dessert after my homework is done”.

Simple Play. Children learn many life lessons through simple play.  Even older children and adolescents benefit from one-on-one play with an adult.  This is a great time to model appropriate interactions and reactions with your child, and to exhibit different coping skills.  For example, during pretend-play, your child might pretend that a doll or loved one passes away.  This is an excellent time to verbally walk through appropriate processing and response to grief with a statement such as, “Oh no, I’m so sad that my puppy died, I’m really going to miss him, I think I need a hug”.  With older children, similar lessons can be learned through more age-appropriate scenarios, such as playing and losing at a game or role-playing different scenarios, “Oh man, I really thought I was going to win!  But that’s okay, I can’t win every time.  Hopefully I win next time!” and “How could you respond if you try really hard at a game but lose?”

Model. Children learn from what they see and experience.  Make sure to regulate your own emotions when disciplining and interacting with your child.  It is okay to vocalize “I’m really upset right now, I need to walk away and count to ten to calm down before we talk”.  Do your best to stay calm and maintain a firm and even tone when disciplining or redirecting a child.  This helps with modeling, as well as maintaining a safe and positive environment that your child feels comfortable making mistakes and learning in.

Adjust Expectations. When disciplining and speaking to your child, it is always important to respect and listen to them.  Pay close attention to their attempts at communicating and validate their emotions and concerns, regardless of how they express them.  It can be easy to forget the developmental level that your child is thinking and reacting at, but adjust your expectations as necessary to meet their current level, rather than the level you want them to be functioning at.

Clear Limits and Expectations. Children need regular reminders of rules and expectations and benefit from immediate, specific, and direct responses when their behaviors are out of line.  Rather than only focusing on what your child should not do, follow-up with redirecting the child to appropriate activities that meet their needs and offer simple choices for them to choose from.  This teaches your child what acceptable options they have and gives them some control over their life.  For example, “We don’t scream in the house because it hurts our ears, but if you want to use your voice we can sing a song, or you can play and scream outside”.

Shower with Praise. Keep in mind that learning these important skills is a challenging task and takes years to develop and fine-tune.  It is easy for children and adolescents to grow weary, so be sure to shower your child in praise and celebration as they successfully navigate tasks and situations appropriately.  Offer mental breaks and opportunities for your child to choose the activity when you see them getting frustrated or tired, alternating challenging tasks with fun activities.

Importance of Environment. The environment can have huge impacts on a child’s behavior and development.  Many emotional outbursts stem from your child feeling a lack of control but there are many things you can do to avoid this:

Investigate triggers and make accommodations. If your child has more difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors in certain environments, cue into what could be causing this and make environmental accommodations.

  • Is there a TV or radio in the background that is distracting or overwhelming your child? Turn it off or find a quiet place for your child to go to.
  • Are bright lights or UV lights over-stimulating? Many children with sensory processing disorders and sensory sensitivities react negatively to artificial lighting and benefit from natural lighting provided by windows or soft-white lightbulbs.
  • Does your child have a harder time regulating their behaviors when exposed to loud noises or busy hustle and bustle? Consider noise-cancelling headphones, or a weighted blanket or object to ground and comfort them when exposed to these stressful triggers.

Provide a structured and predictable schedule and routine.  Walk your child through this routine often and give them warnings ahead of time to remind them of what comes next, “After we eat breakfast, we need to brush our teeth then go to school” and “After this TV show is over it’s time to work on your homework”.  For some children, it’s best to have a printed or picture schedule that they can refer to throughout the day or week.

 

Helping your child learn to self-regulate will ultimately benefit you, your child, and their overall well-being, happiness and success throughout their life.  Remember that the more your child practices regulating themselves, the easier it is for them to interact appropriately in various scenarios.   To ensure their ultimate success, offer numerous opportunities for your child to think through and talk about their emotions and interactions, and provide boundless, loving support.  With time and patience, you can pave the way for your child’s future successes.

 

For further information on self-regulation and parenting tips, check out the following resources:

https://positivepsychology.com/self-regulation/

https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/self-regulation

https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community-services/parent-education/parent-articles/self-regulation-difficulties

 

 

Foster Parents Who “Get Too Attached”

As a private foster care and adoption agency, the staff at Nightlight Christian Adoptions have heard many express the fear of “getting too attached” to foster children placed in their home. This fear is real, scary, and full of tension: the worry that the family will grow to dearly love, bond, and attach to a child who is very likely (and hopefully) returning home to his or her biological family. This fear is one for foster families to sensitively navigate as they process what this means for their family as they live in tension with these children and/or teenagers in their home, but also one to embrace for the sake of children in care so that maybe they may grieve a little less.

Children in foster care have experienced unthinkable trauma, simply by being placed into foster care. Children come into care at no fault of their own, and many may not have experienced the kind of love, stability, and security that a family is supposed to provide but may not be able to just yet for a multitude of reasons. The inherent loss in foster care is so deep and raw for these children, as they are removed from their home, their biological family, and much of the time, their community, teachers, friends, and pets. Sometimes, they are even separated from their siblings. Foster parents have a unique opportunity to fill the gap for these children and families. And it is always the perfect opportunity to “get too attached” to these children.

These children likely have many unmet needs (educational, physical, emotional, psychological, etc.). Predominately, these children need caregivers who can provide attachment and consistent, loving care, no matter how short a period these children remain with their foster parents as their biological families work hard to bring their kids home to them. The reality is that children in foster care may not have had the opportunity to experience the kind of care they need. Foster parents can show children, the most vulnerable of our population, what it means to be a family, to have attachment, and to receive unconditional love, with the hope that their biological family will be able to do it very soon.

All children need attachment, especially those who have experienced trauma. Their relationships with their caregivers are the blueprint for all future relationships in their life. It teaches them how to interact with the world and others around them. And for a foster parent to step in, fill the gap, and pour into these children the way they truly can – the results are lifelong and eternal. Foster children are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society, and we all have a duty to step in for our most defenseless and stand in the gap, no matter how long.

Foster care is messy, but oh so necessary because sometimes families are broken and need help to get back on their feet. Foster care is also costly, as families pour into littles who may not stay. And these children deserve for others to fill these needs for them when their parents cannot for a period of time. Imagine the impact for generations to come, to love on children and families and be an instrument of impacting families in true, lifelong ways. When these children leave, they carry with them the time spent in a safe, secure home where their little souls were dearly loved and a picture of what family can truly mean. In the end, for these children and teenagers, we have a duty to risk our hearts to break so that their hearts can break a little less.

In no way does this diminish or negate the very real feelings of loss that foster parents will feel when children leave. But if we don’t do it for these children, who will? Ultimately, the grief that is so real, so raw, is always, always worth it for the children who already have lost so much.

 

Identifying Signs of Post-Adoption Depression

Much like the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy (also known as Post-Partum Depression), Post- Adoption Depression can sneak up on families during what seems like the happiest time in a couple’s life. Post- Adoption Depression can happen after a family welcomes an adopted child into their home, especially when reality does not meet expectation. Attachment and bonding do not always happen instantly, with biological children or children that have been adopted. New parents can be laden with negative feelings, like some of those listed below, and can often feel very alone during this time. It is estimated that approximately 65% of adoptive mothers experience symptoms related to Post- Adoption Depression Syndrome (PADS). Listed below are some signs that you or a loved one might be battling PADS and some suggestions for what you can do!

Signs of PADS:

  • Losing interest or enjoyment in activities you once loved
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or increased need for sleep
  • Significant weight changes
  • Excessive guilt
  • Feeling powerless, worthless, or hopeless
  • Irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Feeling inadequate or undeserving
  • Retreating from friends, family or others sources of support
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

Fighting PADS:

  • Take time for you!
    • You cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of you. Take care of yourself however you see fit- enjoy a healthy meal, spend time with friends, get fresh air, or participate in any other self-care that leaves you feeling a little more like yourself.
  • Remember you are not alone
    • Find other adoptive couples who have experienced what you are going through. Many of our families complete an activity with an “alumni family” as part of their educational instruction, so you already know at least one person who can help!
  • Give yourself time to bond with your child
    • Attachment and bonding are not always instant in adoption. Be patient with yourself and with your child and allow that process to happen at its own pace.
  • Ask for help
    • Never be afraid to speak up and ask for help for you and your family. Call your social worker, your best friend, your preacher, your Nightlight contact, or a licensed professional to help you today. You don’t have to be in a crisis or at a breaking point to ask for help.

Most importantly, if you or someone you know is dealing with Post-Adoption Depression, I’d like to leave you with this:

“If you are suffering with bonding issues or Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome, there is something you need to hear: There is nothing wrong with you. Bonding issues or PADS have no bearing on your worth as a parent. You are capable of this. There is nothing to be ashamed about. There is hope. You are not alone. This is not the time to duck and run. This is the time to dig deep, make a plan, assess and re-assess, pour your time into this, and fight for your child. You’ve got this, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Keep pushing forward, knowing you’re not alone.” – Melissa Giarrosso

 

 

No matter what problems you’re dealing with, whether or not you’re thinking about suicide, if you need someone to lean on for emotional support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Other Resources:

https://www.adoptionstogether.org/blog/2013/01/07/why-arent-i-happy-recognizing-post-adoption-depression-syndrome/

https://adoption.com/overcoming-post-adoption-depression-syndrome