This is a different world folk. With the younger children, you can still mold them, and hold them when they are scared.
The teen and preteen want their space. They don’t trust you. They don’t like you and every moment you believe you are beginning to make a connection –YOUR NOT!
At least, not until they decide to change.
Most of these children suffer from Attachment Disorder. They’ve also witnessed violence, severe disputes (screaming, cussing, pushing, damaging words) that would leave most people appalled. Yet, they must continue to live, despite this trauma.
So, what do you think you are going to say to the teenager, when they mess up? Let me tell you what doesn’t work.
They’ve already had their fill of these punishments. If you’re a foster parent, adoptive parent, or caregiver to an abused teenager you need to understand that they are dulled by years of severe abuse. Your childish tantrums will go unheard, and be completely ineffectual.
What you have taught them:
- All adults behave the same way
- I don’t have to listen to them anymore than I did my own parents
- There is no one who will protect them -so they must take care of themselves
They enter the foster program to be protected and hopefully to learn a different life -a life that will break these chains. Even though your responses may not be as severe -you’ve still shown them they can’t trust you.
Seriously, these teens aren’t even afraid of their own parents most of the time. How do you possibly think you can intimidate them? Long term abuse becomes like a cancer. You can learn to live with the pain, the fear, the anxiety. You just handle it a different way. A child with cancer understands they will probably die -even if no one tells them. They cling to those they love and embrace strangers. An abused teenager rejects love, rejects leadership (that doesn’t fit in with their own plans), rejects guidance.
The abused teenager believes they know what is best for them. They’ve been raising themselves this long, and they aren’t dead yet! Now, here you are, lying down ground rules they must follow, and giving them consequences that are ineffectual -in their minds; you have no right.
How do you positively help the abused teenager:
By sticking by them, no matter how hard it gets -they will s-l-o-w-l-y begin to heal. It took years of getting to this point in their lives. You won’t change anything in a day. You actually may not see changes until they are out of your home. What they need more than anything -is someone who refuses to give up on them and your long-term relationship with them. Love is often given freely, but it means little in the end. These kids will do their best to push you away because that is what they believe you will ultimately do to them. Try showing them something new.
This doesn’t mean you have to keep them living with you if things are too destructive. What it means is staying in their lives and offering your relationship up for a lifetime.
Patients with these kids is a miracle in action. Think of how this practice (daily) will improve your own life, let alone theirs. We are working toward a better future, even if today -sucks! They need you to see that they are trying, even when everything around them is going to “pot” -probably, that is what they are using to escape. They will mess up over and over and over and over and over and over and over (are you sick of reading this yet?). You’ve got to have patience just to get through it.
They won’t believe you love them -no, don’t try to convince yourself that they know this. They don’t! But, they desperately want to believe in something other than what they’ve known. Even when they are determined to continue living the way they are accustomed to. So, the example of your own life, is the best love they can be offered.
Show them the stability of your household by working as a positive family. Always include them (even when they don’t want to go).
Go to church and show them how God can change their lives.
Be patient with one another (not just your foster child).
Stick behind each other, and find strength in what this child brings to the table as well as your own spouse, children, etc.
Have a strong work ethic, family ethic, and a moral compass.
If you can’t live by these simple rules -don’t foster.
A child raised in a Christian home will find peace in our Lord’s promises. I know this is not a requirement for a happy home in many peoples eyes -but, to me, a Christian home is the best choice for a foster child.
We can save many of the abused teenagers, if we keep trying. Still, we fail because the work seems pointless. And, it will seem pointless – often -yet time combined with patience, gentleness, and a stick to it attitude, along with a God that heals -they can change. I hope you will accept the challenge -because even if they don’t believe you love them -they still deserve it.