How to discuss BIG feelings with foster families or children who are adopted.
When fostering a child there are many things to consider before starting this rewarding journey. A foster child may bring with them a myriad of challenges due to the difficulties that the child has lived in his or her life.
Some children who have experienced trauma may come with behavioral problems, while others may be the “perfect” child. However, many times when I have visited a home and a parent will tell me, “She is perfect and gets perfect A’s”, I wonder to myself is there something else going on? Often, there is, and once I meet with the child, I find out that they are experiencing nightmares every day or having anxiety. Many children who are doing well and not exhibiting behavioral problems may be ignored because we think they are coping well. This is understandable and sometimes that is the case. However, other times these children may be overcompensating by focusing on being perfect and/or hiding their symptoms.
It is important to be patient and be willing to listen to the child. A great tool to open up communication is by reading children's books, that are about kids that are being fostered, or adopted, and then having age-appropriate conversations regarding the stories.
I wrote the book, The Adventures of Lana and Lilly: Lilly gets adopted, as a tool to help therapists or caregivers discuss adoption or being foster with children. Lilly was abandoned as a puppy and fostered until she found her forever home. Lilly struggles with trauma, grief, and loss, as well as, other big feelings that she does not understand. As you read this book (or other books that are about fostering or adopting), you may pause after each page and ask the child questions to elicit conversation. Some questions to consider asking are: how do you think the dog is feeling? Have you ever felt like that before?
Many times, kids will share their stories without any prompting at all while others may be reluctant to share their feelings or thoughts. If they are hesitant to share, it is important to respect that and not push them to talk about it. I find it helpful for children who are reluctant to share, to make the questions more general rather than specific. For example, instead of, “how did you feel in that situation?” try “How do you think children would feel in that situation?” If your child is seeing a therapist, it might be helpful to share with the therapist that you are reading this book.
Additionally, your child may have similar experiences to the story or even still very different experiences. Do not assume that your child can relate to this story. Instead, explore if they can relate or what their experience was like.
Remember that children in the foster system may be experiencing big feelings and may need time to process and heal from the traumatic experiences. However, with patience, along with seeking professional help when needed, your child would be able to adjust to their new home.
If you do not know where to start or how to seek help for your child, you can dial 211 or call your county behavioral (sometimes referred to mental) health department and they can provide you with resources. Other options are 1.) you can contact your insurance carrier and ask for a list of providers that take your insurance; Or, 2) lookup Psychology Today website and click on your insurance and it will show you a list of providers in your area.
Finding the right therapist may be a frustrating process but do not be afraid to go through a few therapists until you find the right fit. Be prepared and write down a list of questions for your initial visit so that it can be easier to see if that therapist would meet your family's needs.