They always ask me what to do next, what will help us make a difference in our lives as adoptive or foster parents? My answer always begins with … Intentionally build a safety net for your child. There are a number of ways we do that and I think one of the most fundamental ways is when we find them right where THEY are.
Our children come to us with so much life and loss behind them. Among other things, developmental milestones have been missed and the impacts of trauma have taken hold. They have had to adapt and survive. There is so much behind the cover of the book that it is the story of his life.
As I continue to answer my question, I urge you and those who have asked it before to realize that we seem to know this story, as we have read this book before, and that we seem to know the ending. Here’s the BIG part: it may look the same, but it’s imperative that you remember to never judge the pages of the book by their cover. It is VERY important that we review our expectations and read the book with an open mind and heart … even memorizing every page.
Knowing your child right where he is increases your child’s successes in life and ultimately in relationships. Start by understanding that your chronological age and your emotional age are NOT the same. It may look like 13, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to emotionally handle all that that entails (remember … book – cover). Do you see your son sabotage the goodness in his life? What about trouble making friends, doing housework, or looking after toys / things? What if emotionally that 13-year-old can only deal with life when he’s 6? What if your seven-year-old is only able to cope emotionally at 3? What if your 3-year-old is still trying to master the milestones of childhood?
Remember my friends, your son’s story involves being a survivor. The survivors may look good on the outside, but for the moment they are managing. It’s what it’s costing them, inside, every time they have to survive that gets in the way of healing. That gets in the way of your ability to build positive, loving, and trusting relationships.
Many misinterpret survival behavior as defiance. Many misinterpret their child’s emotional inability to manage a moment, finish a job, do a chore, relate to a person, be careful with an item, interpret a nuance, etc., as defiance, manipulation, or worse, lack of awareness. or respect.
I once had a client who was very frustrated with his twelve-year-old daughter. She really felt that when her son wasn’t doing his homework in the right way, in a timely manner without being reminded, he was being disrespectful and showing that he didn’t really love her. (Has that been done? I get it!) Now my answer is usually something like … “Would you ask a 3 year old to complete that job the right way every time, in a timely manner without You ask? It seems ridiculous when you put it like that, doesn’t it? Her daughter was so emotionally 3 years old! She handled most emotional situations from a 3 year old girl’s perspective, especially within her relationship with her mom .
Get to know your child at their emotional and chronological age … and most of the time in that order!
I want to challenge you to start today and every day remembering to read every word on every page. Don’t assume or paraphrase. Don’t look for the ending to be like someone else’s ending. When we look clearly at the pages of our children, we can meet them where they are, allowing us to build the safety net they have lost. From that network comes confidence, self-esteem, regulation and the belief that I am worthy of kindness … from the network comes healing!