the magic word (adoption/foster)

What’s the magic word? Well, truth be told, there isn’t one. Sure, “please” and “thank you” are magic words that might get you what you want, but when it comes to parents trying to convince their adopted children that they will never leave, there is no magic word. Parents try to tell their children, “I won’t leave you,” “I’ll always be here,” but do those words sink in? We wait for them to, but it never seems to go beyond that top crust where it washes off in the bath.

Our children’s experiences have taught them so much more than what our words ever can, and those first experiences shape their mind, literally. Maybe your child was left with strangers, or the one they trusted most beat them, or their mother deposited them on the steps in the freezing cold. The stories can be listed by the thousands, but they all have at least one common thread, and that is, they learned their mother/primary caregiver couldn’t be trusted. Whether that mother knew better or not, it’s what our child perceived from their experience.

As a writer I constantly hear the words, “Show, don’t tell.” We are supposed to show our readers, especially in fiction, what is happening, not tell them. The same thing goes for us as we help our kids form attachments. Our words will mean nothing to them, we have to SHOW them with actions that we’re there and will never leave. A great time to do this is at bedtime. They will SEE that you are present. It won’t be your words (which they have difficulty believing), it will be your actions showing them day after day that you are present.

We still use our words every day, we don’t leave them out, we just have to pair our actions with them. As I’ve said many times on this blog, my daughter has made significant bonds with us, yet she still has a hard time believing us, and we  make great efforts to stick to what we say. It’s still lingering though, this inability to completely trust that mom and dad know what they’re talking about.

Most children pop out of the womb thinking their mom and dad know everything, but our kids find this nearly impossible. Is that because they weren’t able to trust their first caregiver?

Because it’s difficult for my daughter to believe everything I say, I make sure and kindly point it out whenever I’m proved right. It’s not an ego thing, it’s that I want my daughter to see that she can believe in her Mommy. Last month I needed to take my daughter to the dentist, and prior to leaving we had a discussion about this fluoride they put on the kids teeth. I knew that she could eat afterwards, but she wasn’t supposed to brush her teeth that day. Payton believed that she wasn’t able to eat or brush her teeth after the fluoride treatment, and no matter what I said, she wouldn’t believe me. In the end, guess who was right? I made a point to kindly say, “See, I was right.” I’m sure the hygienist thought I had an ego complex the size of Texas, but I just needed to point out to my daughter AGAIN that she could believe me, and I could be trusted.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We must have actions to pair with those words. One overwhelming concern our children have is that they can’t trust anyone. We can help them by being there for them, listening to their worries, and being present at a time that matters most to them; bed time. They are laying there awake, their mind is wandering more than ever, they don’t have anything to distract their brain. It’s dark, they’re lonely, and they are scared. No matter how old your child is, be sure that you meet them where they are. If you sense that they don’t want to be alone, one way to begin proving that you are committed is to be there for them at night. (See the links at the bottom of this page for helpful tips to use at bedtime.)

I would also encourage you to find other ways where you can physically show your child that you are trustworthy. Some ideas include keeping consistency between what you say and do (stick to your word as much as possible). Being calm when they are out of control, or have negative behaviors can help them see that you are different from the other adults in their life. Sharing with them how you keep them safe will produce a feeling of security for them. Hold hands if they are willing. Give hugs consistently. Have family time with every member of the family. Sit down for meals as a family.

If we continually pair our actions with our words, our children will eventually trust those words. They will recognize that they can trust us because we’ve proven ourselves. Remember that those first months and years of life transformed their brain, and they are on guard against all outside influences. They are protecting themselves. Really, it’s quite amazing if you think about it.

You may find these posts helpful in showing your child you will be there for them when they need you:
the lies hurting children believe
why “good nights” are illusive (sleep issues part 1)
no really, good night (sleep issues part 2)

How will you work to have continuity between your words and your actions? How will you SHOW your child he/she can trust you beyond using your words?

If you have more ideas about how to instill trust in your children, please share them. I’d love to hear from you!

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