the importance of consistency & routine (adoption/foster)


I looked up “quotes on consistency” for this post. What I found was in direct contradiction to what I was looking for. Oscar Wilde says, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” Aldous Huxley said, “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only complete consistent people are dead.”

For the sake of being a rock in the shoe, let’s address the latter point. My in-laws are the most consistent people you will ever meet; dinner at five, dinner at Dollar Scoop Chinese on Friday nights, small group every Thursday night, spaghetti for lunch on Wednesdays, and grocery shopping on Tuesday nights. Point is, they are consistent, and they aren’t dead.

Both quotes are made by writers. It surprises me that writers would reference consistency in this way, as most would say they have the same routine every day to accomplish their writing goals. Most inconsistent writers aren’t writers, they are wannabes.

I also wonder how consistency is contrary to nature. Don’t Monarch Butterflies migrate to Mexico every winter? Don’t deer follow the exact path each time they go to the water source, and isn’t that why it’s called a “game trail?” Don’t Salmon swim hundreds of miles back to their hatching grounds to spawn?

If nature is so dependent on consistency for it’s survival, wouldn’t humans need some of the same?

What about children who come from neglectful, abusive, and traumatizing situations where they didn’t know if they were going to eat again, who was going to take care of them, if they would be going to school not, or if they would celebrate their birthday.

Our hurting kids worry excessively, and the above mentioned scenarios are only a clip of their life movie. We can take action to relieve much of that anxiety.

Consistency and routine are two important aspects to helping our children feel safe and know what to expect.

By implementing consistency and routine in our children’s daily lives, we build trust, and trust is another key element in helping our hurting kids heal and attach. If a child cannot trust their primary caregivers, they will feel their life is spinning out of control.

If you spin around until your world becomes tipsy, what are you likely to do next? Probably look for something to stabilize yourself. You are going to try to gain back that control you lost. It’s the same with our kids. They want consistency and routine, when they know what to expect, it will cut down on the worry, the questions, and the behaviors that stem from not knowing what will happen next.

When our children don’t know what to expect, they will feel the same way they did in their neglectful and abusive situation.

They weren’t able to trust their previous caregiver, nor will they be able to trust you if they don’t know what’s happening day to day. They will feel lost and out of control. You can help them stabilize by providing a consistent environment that incorporates plenty of routine.

Here are some ideas on how to implement consistency and routine:

  • If you say something, do it. This will require giving thought before you say anything, whether it be a plan you’re making, or a discipline you’re going to put into place.
  •  Keep daily and weekly routines as consistent as possible so your child knows what to expect each day. IF events in your week are going to be different, let your children know well ahead of time. Also, calendars are great ideas, something simple like a printed list of days and what happens on each one.
  • Stick to bedtime and waking routines. This will also cut down on behaviors because they know what to do and what is expected.

Do you have consistency and routines in your every day life? Does it seem to help your kids? If you are a fly by the seat of your pants type, is there an area that you can begin to incorporate more consistency and routine?

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study your child (adoption/foster)

original photo courtesy of IGNACIOLEO
original photo courtesy of IGNACIOLEO

Now that school has begun for your kids, it’s time to do your homework. No worries, it’s pretty simple, and it will pay great dividends in the end.

So what’s the assignment? Study your child. Always be aware of your child and their reactions to the world around them. What situations make your child wary? What happened before your child became enraged? What was the precursor to your child throwing a toy at you? What caused your child to fall on the floor and scream? It may be something as simple as they are hungry and haven’t learned what that feeling means or how to express it, or it could be more complicated; the trigger was something that sent your child’s brain back to another time and place that was very scary.

Here’s a scenario for you. We could drive around for several hours on road trips and our daughter would not fall asleep. Her eyes would glaze over, but she would not close them. She was one at the time. Eight hour road trips and not a single shut of the eyelid.

I have heard this story repeated over and over by adoptive parents. One family I know adopted their ten month old daughter, Ming, from Asia. They live in a small town, one hour away from the big city where they attend church and do their shopping. After attending an evening church service that ended at seven-thirty, they would pile in the car for their one-hour drive home. Both of their biological children quickly fell asleep, but their adopted daughter, eyes peeled, never fell asleep.

Why do both of these children from different situations force themselves to stay awake on trips? Let’s imagine our adopted child’s life before we met them. When my daughter was an infant, her bio mom was homeless. She lived with multiple people, leaving Payton with strangers whenever the need presented itself, which was often.

Payton was removed from her mother’s care at seven months and lived in four foster homes. She then arrived at our home. Now imagine how she was feeling. When children are placed in foster care we tend to think, “Well she/he’s been with us since…” But many kids who are in that situation still have supervised visits with bio parents. You want your foster child to come in and trust you, yet the state requires you to take them to see the ones who hurt them. This does not foster trust in you, their new parent. They don’t understand that you don’t have a choice.

When we took her on road trips to see family in the months following her placement with us, is it any wonder why she didn’t fall asleep in the car? Do you think she wondered where she was going? Did she worry that we were going to take her somewhere and leave her there?

You can do all the talking you want, but a ten month old won’t understand. (You can read more about that here.) You can tell a five-year-old over and over that you won’t leave them, but they won’t believe you until it has been proved over and over for months, more likely years.

What about Ming? She was in an orphanage during her first ten months of life, she had been abandoned by her birth mother. Although life in the orphanage was anything but rosy, it was familiar. Then the American family showed up. Different people, new places, a new language. They take her from what had become her “normal.” She traveled in cars, on buses, in planes, and she never saw the orphanage again. Although we know this is best for her, she doesn’t understand this. She doesn’t trust her new family yet. When they take her in the car, she will wonder where they are going, or who they will leave her with.

What consequences mean nothing to your child? When our daughter was younger we thought about implementing the very simple consequences of losing something when she misbehaved. Problem was, during those first two years she was with us there wasn’t anything she cared enough about. So when something we thought was significant, and would make an impression was taken away, there was no response, no behavior change. She was more attached to the world around her, than she was to any specific item. (Children who have been neglected and abused connect to the world around them not specific items because they have been programmed to protect and watch out for themselves. They have not been given a normal childhood.)

If we took a toy away from her, it didn’t phase her. On several occasions we even tried the loss of doing special things; going to McDonald’s, going to the park, but none of it made a difference. Understand that when we began this discipline technique our daughter had a good grasp of language, she was very intelligent. At the time I was urged by a friend of mine to find whatever it was that Payton loved. She said emphatically, “There’s something.” Really, with many adopted children there is nothing significant to them, because prior to healing taking place, they don’t care. They just don’t. They are testing you to see what you will do.

When Payton was around the age of four, consequences were much more effective, but a lot of healing had also taken place.

It may take a while to make connections to what causes your child’s reactions, what actually brings them joy, etc. Maybe you think your child is angry because you told him no, yet if you move backward twenty-minutes, you remember that Dad had just said that he wouldn’t be home the following evening, he needed to work late. Your child may be disappointed that Dad won’t be home, he doesn’t get to see him much, and your son likes it when the whole family is together. The moment when you said “no” is when the negative behavior showed up, but what really bothered your child was that Dad wouldn’t be home the following evening, which disrupted your child’s routine.

Being mad, disappointed, or angry is fine, but acting those feelings out on others is not. Give your child an outlet. If he wants to yell, let him do so in his room, or outside if you don’t have neighbors in close proximity. If he wants to hit something, get him a cardboard box. Sometimes there is some intense anger that needs to come out, and showing them what they can do with that rage can help, instead of always saying, “Dont…!”

You can also check out this post: the behavior battle

Have you found connections between negative behavior and a situation that happened that wasn’t obvious? I would love to hear about it.

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