Today's post comes from Christie Minich, a dedicated admin on one of our favorite online support groups: Parenting Teens and Tweens with Connection. If you are a foster, adoptive, step, or special needs parent desiring to bring more gentleness and healing into your home, join. this. group. All the best practical advice, philosophical consistency, and friendly encouragement of a support group, without meeting times or childcare arrangements.
When I was growing up, [my parents] fostered mostly babies. But there were a few emergency placements of older children. Those placements have stuck with me my entire life.
When I was 12, two little girls came into our home. They were distant relatives of a Hollywood actor, and my mom's first comment was, "Rich people don't even want their own relatives." Now if I remember that comment, I GUARANTEE, that comment went straight into the hearts of those little girls who were 7 and 11.
My family was not very connected [or trauma-informed] and honestly, should have never fostered, but that is for another day.
The 11 year old shared my bed. I remember not knowing what to do because she would go to sleep quietly sobbing.
I didn't tell my mom, because frankly, there was no compassion.
So these children were expected to just "get in line" with the family, do what the family did, eat what the family ate and somehow be respectful, do their chores, and be happy.
They were just supposed to "know" that you don't wipe cereal from the table onto the floor.
When that happened, they were "consequenced".
And I ask, “HOW IN THE WORLD would they have known what and what not to do in a family they had never been in?”
How I wish I personally could redo those two weeks.
Instead of saying, "Don't wipe cereal onto the floor! Didn't you know that?" I would have said, "Let me help you."
I was a kid, but I felt deeply the pain these girls felt.
The judgement. The loss. The uncertainty it was there and I had no idea what to say.
They left, and the next year, a girl came into my 8th grade class from foster care. She was nervous and laughing, and inappropriate. She sat beside me in Art.
I will never forget the little figures she drew. They were that of a toddler. She knew it and was embarrassed.
Trauma hurts our kids.
She was only at our school a few weeks and then moved on.
How many of our kids have this very scenario?
They come into a home they know nothing about, life is uncertain, they stay a short time, get in trouble, and move on.
[The constant moving means] they never grow. They stay at the place of their trauma.
And then, some are adopted.
They may be adopted at 12 or 13 but I promise you they are not 12 or 13, they are just like the girl in my 8th grade art class. They are toddlers, nervous, insecure, and unsure.
Please, have compassion. Please understand how deep biological roots go, even to the very way a person crosses their legs, laughs, holds a book.
They are so far behind neurotypically, how CAN they be expected to move forward if they are stuck in the past?
When we say, "Treat them where their trauma began" because they are developmentally younger, that does NOT mean, "Well, you are acting like a 3 year old so I'll treat you that way."
NO. That is shame.
That means, "Oh honey, let me see your hurt. Let me sing to you. Let me cuddle you. May I read you a bedtime story?”
“Here, let me help you with washing your hair.”
“Will you walk with me to take out the trash?”
“How about if YOU put the things in the basket at the grocery store."
All things a younger child will naturally experience, they need to experience to walk through the process.
And then: you will see great growth.
When my daughter came home at 11, she was at a 3 year old level for play. She played with the toy kitchen with our grandson who was 3. As we worked with her, nurturing her as a little one, even giving her a Christmas present early so she didn't burst before Christmas, letting her pick things, letting her use the kiddie carts at the store, letting her hunt for Easter Eggs, all things she had been shamed about or missed, she began to develop quickly and went from 3 year olds to her age group within a couple of years.
Please remember that children who have had no family, have been orphaned, or in foster care, may NOT understand family structure. It must be lived and they must be accepted and loved just like a newborn baby.
As they learn they are accepted and loved, things will begin to fall into place.
Just as you do not consequence a new born baby for crying in the middle of the night, or for throwing up on you, you can't consequence a child who is newly home who really doesn't understand what to do.
Instead, you teach, lead and guide with great care and compassion.
If you need to step back and do things over yourself and tweak how you are relating to your child, DO IT. You will not regret it.
Thank you, Christie, for sharing your years of experience as a second-generation foster and adoptive mom. We look forward to welcoming more Foster Together readers to Parenting Teens and Tweens with Connection! Sister groups include Parenting With Connection and Homeschooling with Connection. All are wide open for anyone willing to build a home on the foundation of trauma-informed care.