Sometimes it’s common sense and sometimes it’s not. Despite that common sense we’ve all supposedly been given, I’ve heard some terrible things said in front of, and to, children. Guidance has also been disposed by some professionals that can be detrimental to a child’s healing (I mean completely stop it right in its tracks). Some of the points on this list may seem obvious to you, but I encourage you to read through them, because even parents with the best intentions can say things that are hurtful to a child. This can especially happen when a hurting child is acting out because of what’s going on inside of them. So, here they are:
- Don’t talk about how difficult your child is.
By making statements like, “Ezra is so naughty, you wouldn’t believe what he did today,” “Sarene is such a pistol, she knocked the lamp over again,” “Jared won’t stop hitting, he’s a brat at school.” These statements can make a child feel like they can’t do anything good, especially if 70% of their behavior is negative, it can shine like a negativity rainbow around them. Your child already feels like they can’t do anything right, children will blame themselves for being removed from their birth family, for being in an orphanage, for moving from one foster home to another. They may even feel worthless, so talking about what they aren’t doing right doesn’t help.When your child has negative behavior decide whether there will be a consequence, and leave the behavior there (meaning don’t carry it through to that night or the following days).
*The reason I say “decide” if there will be a consequence is because there are certain behaviors that shouldn’t have consequences: stashing/hoarding food, sneaking food, getting up in the middle of the night or not staying in bed, wetting the bed, and pottying their pants to name a few. These can all be indicative of an underlying problem, and frankly so are all behaviors.
Try to find out what is triggering your child, what is causing the problem, try to help them through it, and don’t jump to discipline first.
- Abstain from discussing the money you’re getting or not getting for foster care.
This one seems obvious to me, but obviously it’s not obvious to others, because I’ve heard it, or I wouldn’t list it. Parents forget their children can hear them, even if they’re chatting on the phone or talking to a friend while the kids play. Once, while standing in front of the Department of Human Services a foster mom talked with someone while her foster kids ran around her playing. She said, “I won’t adopt them (the kids who were with her!) unless they increase my stipend. This child needs_____ and that child needs_____ and they won’t increase my stipend to pay for it.”
If you want to talk about what the state is or isn’t paying you, it’s your right, but discussing it in front of your kids can be hugely problematic. They’ll feel they’re only wanted if you get enough money for them. And, honestly, no matter how little a state pays foster parents, it doesn’t mean children aren’t worth being cared for.
- Avoid talking about how easy your life was before them. “Before you came, it was so peaceful here.” “There was no fighting until you came along.” “I’m always exhausted now.” – Statements like this will make a child feel unwanted and that they cause all the problems. When it’s true that it looks like the hurting child causes an immense amount of strife, we must remember it’s their past causing all the turmoil within them and rising to the surface. – Help yourself and find peaceful moments in your day to have to yourself.
- Refrain from telling them: “If you can’t follow the rules, you can’t live here,” or “I guess you don’t want to live here since you can’t follow the rules.”
Interestingly (I actually have another word for it) this is advice given by some therapists. This gives the impression that a child or teen is judged solely based on their negative behavior. And sorry, but if the only behaviors a child’s been taught are negative, they will have less then desirable behaviors.
Kids are also going to test you to see if you will stick with them through the bad. They’re going to prove to themselves no one will love them if they do wrong. In my opinion leaving the home is not an option. When you say they can’t live in your home if ____, it gives them an option. An option to miss out on love, possibly for the rest of their life.
- Don’t place blame on children by saying things like: “You’re ruining everything.”
Blame can also come across very strongly through actions and attitudes toward kids. I’ve seen this happen so often, and sometimes it’s perpetrated by therapists. They blame the child, saying, “See what you’re doing to your parents.” When it’s not a contemplated action against them, but rather a protective instinct because adults aren’t safe and are untrustworthy. A hurting child cannot heal themselves. Put blame anywhere else, but on a child. Do you blame your child for anything? Loss of anything, changing anything?
- Avoid talking about what the social workers are saying.
When doing foster care you are surrounded by social workers, they come in and out of your house, you talk to them on the phone, you email, you see them in court and at visits, and there can be a lot to discuss with your spouse, friends and family. But telling your kiddos what was said, or saying it when they can overhear you, can cause major behaviors among other problems. However, if discussions are serious about your foster child being reunited with their family then you need to share this with your child to prepare them.
Remember children are much smarter than many people give them credit for. Although it may seem like they aren’t listening, they are. While they’re playing, watching a movie, or sitting in the backseat, they’re listening.
Also, there are times when our own words, attitudes, and actions cause negative behaviors in our kids. I created this list so you can look at what you’re saying, or when you’re saying it, so you can avoid breakdowns and help your kids heal.
So you know, I’m far from perfect myself. I’ve said some things I regret. We can’t erase the past, but we can apologize and we all have a chance to change what we say from here forward.
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