If you had a child who was four years old and suddenly they were kidnapped from your home and abused for the next three years– how would you treat them when they came back? The seven year old you would be dealing with would be completely different from the happy, healthy child of four that you remembered.
Foster children are no different from this when they come into a new foster home. They have often been beaten and neglected, cold and hungry for days at a time, they are frightened and feel completely alone. Even if they have been in a safe foster home for several years and you are their adoptive placement, you are a total stranger. How comfortable would you be as an adult if someone decided for you who your new family should be and forced you to move in with them?
It is no wonder children have sometimes violent reactions to these events. Wouldn't you? Furthermore, if your biological child were taken from you and you got him back several years later you would undoubtedly be patient and compassionate with his recovery. Foster children and newly adopted children deserve the same treatment.
Attachment specialists and even the foster care system often tell us that highly structured, rigid environments are what will help foster and adopted kids to heal. Using systems of charts for rewards and punishments are the answers offered to us when children have prolonged tantrums, refuse to help with household chores, or do not do well at school. As a result, these kids are often more stressed out by our systems of rewards and punishment than they would be if we just offered a little compassion.
What if we allowed children to ease into school transitions by attending half days until they could handle more time at school? What if we understood that overly stressed little brains can't handle two hours of homework every night? What if we recognized that frightened children sleeping on the floor of our bedrooms for a few months isn't the end of the world? What if we treated them like they were hurt? … 'Cause they are.
Attachment happens when kids are comfortable. It happens when they feel loved and accepted – when their joy is more prevalent than their fear. We can only do that if we take the first step and love them – even when they are unlovable. For more information about being a successful foster / adopt parent, and about adoption attachment, go to adoptionattachment.org .
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