Coping Skills

We see it every day. Children who are sad, scared, and anxious act angry and destructive because they simply don’t know what else to do. They are experiencing a lot of intense emotions, and they aren’t quite sure how to handle them. They want to be helped, but they have never learned the right way to ask. All they know is that they’re scared. Kids who have born into traumatic situations don’t always have the emotional regulation and coping skills needed to make healthy choices in stressful and uncertain times. They are attempting to process adult sized issues with child sized brains. It’s really not a fair fight.

Infants in healthy environments quickly learn that crying is an effective way to get their needs met. When they are in an unhealthy environment, they learn that crying does not get their needs met, and could actually be harmful, so they stop crying. Once they are in a healthy environment, they relearn the effectiveness of crying. Sometimes, their needs are never fully met until they are toddlers or even school age children. This process often begins in foster homes after they are removed from their unfulfilling home. Once that begins to happen, they often revert to where their development was initially stunted. That means crying, or somehow being disruptive, when they have unmet needs. Over time kids (hopefully) learn better communication skills and ways to more effectively get what they need.

That’s why family teachers, foster parents, and parents in general have such an important job. Teaching social skills and coping mechanisms to kids doesn’t just help them to be successful at home and school. It gives them tools to use when they grow up and go out into a stressful world. Proverbs 22:6 says Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.  I just had a conversation with one of our boys about how sometimes we turn little issues into big issues because we’re trying to teach lessons about life that will help them when they grow up. Lessons that they probably should have learned already, but haven’t.

An incredibly effective way to teach these things to kids is through modeling. Kids are so often a mirror of what’s going on around them. If there’s arguing and yelling in their house, they are much more likely to argue and yell. If they’ve experienced sexual abuse, it’s much more likely that they will mirror that behavior with their peers. This is all they know, so they think it’s normal. They assume that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s why the cycle of poverty and abuse is so strong. They don’t know any different. We get the chance to show our kids, maybe for the first time, how to interact respectfully with others and take care of themselves. As foster parents and family teachers our job isn’t just providing a home for children who need a safe place, it’s working to break the cycle of generational poverty and trauma that often leads to a child needing foster care.

Since I’m a non-confrontational person, I try to stay away from current event and political debates, but I have a hypothesis. What if rioting and unrest is the go-to for some people because as a child they were never taught coping skills to positively deal with negative emotions? Just like we see so often with our kids, these people are angry, anxious, fearful, and sad. Often rightly so. They want help and comfort, but they were never taught how to ask for help. So they act out. They respond with destructive behaviors, because they don’t know what else to do. They feel unheard and lost, so they make sure their voices can’t be ignored. I don’t have an answer for what’s happening now, but I believe that teaching social skills and coping mechanisms to kids can help future generations of adults better handle the inevitable hardships and negativity they will face.

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Foster Care is important

I know we finished the ‘foster care is’ series, but I can’t stop thinking about a picture and I think this title is fitting. If you haven’t seen the picture, it was posted on Facebook by the East Liverpool, OH police department. (I’m not going to post the picture, because even though it’s shockingly real and helps to shed light on a huge nationwide problem, it’s not really fair to the individuals in the picture. The problem needs to be seen and addressed, but public shaming isn’t the best way to do it. If you still really want to see it, it’s here.)  It shows two adults who appear to be unconscious in the front of the car, and a 4 year old boy in the back seat. According to the police report, the vehicle was pulled over due to erratic driving and the officer found the female unconscious and the male severely altered, saying that he was attempting to drive the female to hospital. Both adults were given Narcan (a medication that reverses opiate overdoses) and were successfully revived and arrested on a variety of charges.

It’s a really hard picture to look at, but, as the police department said in their Facebook post:

We feel it necessary to show the other side of this horrible drug. We feel we need to be a voice for the children caught up in this horrible mess. This child can’t speak for himself but we are hopeful his story can convince another user to think twice about injecting this poison while having a child in their custody.

As a paramedic, I was able to see the struggles of heroin addiction first hand. I’ve given Narcan to bring someone back from the brink of death and listened to them cry about how addiction has ruined their lives. This isn’t a post about the adults or the illness that they are victims of though. This is about the 4 year old in the back seat wearing the dinosaur pajamas. It’s about the system that he is now a part of, and will forever be connected to. It’s about, as the police department said, being a voice for the children caught up in this horrible mess.

Foster care is important. It’s important because that 4 year old, like hundreds of thousands of other kids, didn’t do anything wrong. He was placed in a very unfortunate situation and needs someone to speak up for him and protect him from the brokenness that he’s known his whole life. Foster care is important because we have a chance to be that voice. We can protect that child and others like him from the evils that their caregivers can’t escape.

That picture is really hard to look at. The picture of the little Syrian boy in the back of the ambulance is absolutely heartbreaking. As horrible as those are, they are real, and they highlight a need. Orphan care is important because those kids need our help. They need our voice. Obviously I am passionate about foster care, but you can ‘find your something’, as Jason Johnson says. Find what you can do to help children here or abroad and do it. Foster care, orphan care, and adoption are amazing opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The first part of Deuteronomy 10:18 says that  He [God] ensures that orphans and widows receive justice.  He ensures that through people like you and I. We need to love these children like Christ loves his children. Meeting them in the midst of their brokenness and being a consistent and loving force for good in their lives. Love God. Love People.