I am always being asked what to do next, what will help us make a difference in our lives as adoptive or foster parents? My answer always starts with… Intentionally Build a Safety Net for your child. There are multiple ways in which we do that and I think one of the most foundational ways is when we meet them right where THEY are at.
Our children come to us with so much life and loss behind them. Among other things, they’ve missed developmental milestones and trauma’s impacts have taken hold. They have had to adapt and survive. There is so much behind the cover of the book that is their life story.
As I continue to answer my question, I urge you and those that have asked it before to realize that it seems like we know this story, like we have read this book before and that it seems like we know the ending. Here’s the BIG part – it might look the same, but it is imperative that you remember to never judge the pages of the book by it’s cover. It is HUGELY important that we check our expectations and read the book with an open mind and heart… even memorizing each page.
Meeting your child right where he/she is at increases your child’s successes in life and ultimately in relationships. Start by understanding that his chronological age and emotional age are NOT the same. He may look 13, but that does not mean he is prepared to emotionally handle all that entails (remember… book – cover). Do you see your child sabotage goodness in his life? How about problems making friends, or doing chores or taking care of toys/things? What if emotionally that 13 year old really can only deal with life at about his 6 year old self? What if your seven year old child is emotionally only able to manage at 3? What if your 3 year old is still trying to master the milestones of infancy?
Remember my friends, your child’s story entails being a survivor. Survivors can look okay on the outside, but they are “getting by” for the moment. It is what it is costing them, on the inside, each time they have to survive that gets in the way of healing. That gets in the way of his ability to do 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, even worse, a lack of conscience or respect.
I once had a client who was so frustrated with her twelve year old daughter. She really felt like when her child didn’t get her chore done the right way, in a timely fashion without being reminded, she was being disrespectful and showed she didn’t really love her. (Been there done that – I get it!) Now, my response usually goes something like… “Would you ask a 3 year old to complete that job the right way every time, in a timely fashion without you asking? Seems ludicrous when you put it like that – doesn’t it? Her daughter was SO emotionally 3! She handled most emotional situations from a 3 year old perspective – especially within her relationship with her Mom.
Meet your child at his emotional age as well as his chronological age… and most of the time in that order!
I want to challenge you to start today and every day by 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 with clarity at our child’s pages, we can meet them where they are at, which allows us to build them the Safety Net they’ve lost. From that net comes trust, self-worth, regulation, and a belief that I am worthy of goodness… from the net comes healing!
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