I want to talk about something that is very near and dear to my heart- communicating with a kiddo that is a foster or adopted child. I’m sure that we can all agree that communication in general is very important. It’s a skill that is ever growing and that we all struggle with sometimes. I find a lot of my parents, even in my own family, struggle with communication with their children. We forget how important it is and get frustrated at times. I think that’s pretty normal. When it comes to foster and adopted children communication really is key. Especially when it comes to letting them know it’s okay to talk and you are here to support them.
Oftentimes foster and adoptive children have experienced so much in their short life and have grown accustomed to caregivers and authority figures not listening to them or to be relied on to meet their needs. So now it becomes super tricky for a foster or adoptive parent to overcome what their earlier experiences have taught them. How can we navigate this?
The Gift of Choice
I recently watched a video from a foster mom who shared her “hack” so to say. Something she does for all of her foster children on the night they arrive is have a care package with clean clothes, hygiene products, and a note. The note welcomes the kiddo and states something along the lines that they can relax in quiet, if and when they would like to talk, they are there for them. I instantly thought about how amazing this is. This is giving the kiddo space to be alone if needed, opening the possibility to communicate, and letting them make their own decision on what they want and feel they may need.
More often than not, these kiddos feel like they have no room to make their own decision which has a negative affect on them causing them to be angry or defiant. Being given the opportunity to make a small decision in a world where they may feel like they have no control makes a difference and helps open up that communication stream.
Be a Broken Record
I feel an important thing to remember, with all children, is to constantly remind the kiddo that you are here to listen to them. You hear and care about them. Be a broken record! I have so many parents that say “well they know I’m here to talk to them….,” I think we forget our kiddos are continuously hearing otherwise. A lot of kiddos are in their head and scared about talking to their parent or guardian, a lot even think they won’t understand. Some fear they will get in trouble, especially if they have previous trauma history. This fear overrides the logical sense that they can talk to their parent or guardian.
Another form of communication is non-verbal communication…yes, we communicate without using words! As therapists, we are trained to listen to non-verbal’s, but how does that help adoptive and foster parents? It can be simpler than you think. When children become angry, defiant, aggressive, etc., this is them talking to you. They are saying they are hurting. It’s important to remember there are needs behind every behavior being communicated. They are hurting and this is how their body and mind are coping.
As kids, even sometimes as adults, we have to learn how to meet our needs in healthy ways and how to have healthy coping skills. So if a foster or adoptive kiddo is showing hard behaviors, that’s because they don’t know of any other way and need to be taught new health ways to express themselves and communicate their needs.
Opening up the communication stream can make all the difference for these kiddos. Even through a simple reminder that you are there when they are ready. It’s also important to use your resources to help with this change that everyone is experiencing. Don’t be afraid to rely on family, friends, support groups, parent trainings, and even therapy. We are here to listen to you.