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WHAT HAPPENED TO RESPECT AND APPRECIATION, PART SIX
This is the sixth and final blog in a series addressing the topic, What Happened to Respect and Appreciation. These blogs correspond to six foster parent training classes that I am facilitating at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a. m. to Noon, starting January 11 and ending January 28, 2011. Next Tuesday begins a new series entitled Healing From Sexual Abuse. If you live nearby and want to attend the classes, email me. The first blog will be posted on Monday.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011 What happened to Good Ol’ Authority?
Friday, January 14, 2011 What Are Our Needs For Respect and Appreciation About?
Tuesday, January 18 The Relationship Between Foster Parent and Foster Child.
Friday, January 21 Firmly Holding The Child Responsible and Accountable
Tuesday, January 25 So What About Discipline?
Friday, January 28 What Do I Want For Their Children?
PLEASE NOTE. Although the target population, so to speak, are foster parents, the wisdom here is for all of us who are parents and or caregivers of any kind.
In case you missed the previous classes or blogs, check out the following blogs
WHAT DO I WANT FOR THEIR CHILDREN?
BEGIN WITH FAITH
How do you know when someone is genuinely interested in what happens to you in the future? Well, not just the future, but YOUR future. And how can you tell when someone not only wants you to be successful in your future, but believes you will? And then what is it like when you get a sense that someone expects you to fail in your future?
Are there people right now in your life who mirror to you that you will be successful in your future? Have you ever had a friend, a boss, or a relative or spouse who you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, totally believes in you? I am assuming you have at least one such person. I hope! These same supportive people never give you a direct or indirect message that you are a screw-up and that someday your screw-ups will catch up with you, or that someday you will screw up and get caught screwing up. These supportive people never tell you that you have no chance in the future. Yes, it is absolutely wonderful, as an adult, to have people in our lives who believe in us and believe in our future.So if such belief is important for us as adults, imagine how important it is for children and teens. As foster (resource) parents, guardians, kinship parents, adoptive parents, I don’t think we have a choice when it comes to having and communicating an absolute faith in the children’s future and their children’s future. It is an absolute must.
It is partially true that we have little or no control whatsoever over their futures, but we must make an act of faith and convey to the children that we know they will do well and be successful in the future and will, in turn, give their very best to their children.
Think about it. It costs you nothing to have and to convey this faith. We are talking more than positive thinking here. We are talking faith. Some of you believe in God. I dare say it is easier to believe in a child being successful in the future than it is in the existence of God, but YES both require FAITH.
If their future is going to be a disaster, you have no control over that, EXCEPT to believe to the contrary. And what is the point of believing the so-called reality–the reality that life will not work out for them or their children?
Our absolute faith that everything will work out for them may be their only chance and their only hope. Think about it. Think about how powerful other people’s belief in you has been or how powerful their lack of belief has been?
IDENTIFY THEIR STRENGTHS
To begin with, identify the strengths of a child. I have been working with children in out-of-home placement since 1967! I have worked with children who simply cannot live at home and have no particular personal or mental health issues. I have worked with children who are quite anti social and street wise. I have even worked with children who have severe developmental disabilities.
All children have their individual and unique strengths. Our job is to identify those strengths.
A few years back, I did assessments for a program here in California, called TBS, Therapeutic Behavioral Services. The program is sponsored by the State Department of Mental Health and was developed because of a law suit brought against the department. This program has very specific mandates, the first of which is to identify the strengths of any prospective recipient of TBS services.
On one occasion, I was interviewing a highly educated (Phd) administrator of a treatment program, regarding a fourteen year old young women for whom she was requesting TBS services. This fourteen year old was quite sophisticated, often ran away and lived on the streets for weeks at a time, and drove everyone a bit crazy by her defiance of rules.
My first question, as mandated by the program, “What are Natasha’s strengths?” She stared at me stunned. Like what was I talking about and why would I even ask such a question about a teenager who was so completely and totally out of control? Isn’t that her problem? She doesn’t have any strengths, so to speak!
She finally broke her silence and said, “I can’t think of any. That’s why we are requesting these services.”
I always enjoyed saying this part. “Well, I guess I am done here!”
“Well, what do you mean? Aren’t there other questions you need to ask me for your assessment?”
“ Oh yea,” I responded. “But they are all based upon this first question, and I can’t go on with the assessment until you tell me her strengths.”
As intelligent as she was, as much as a licensed and good therapists as she was, she could not think of a single strength.
Finally, after staring at each other for a period of time, she said, “Well, last spring, she rounded up a group of teenagers and put on a dance production at the community center, and it was a big hit!”
Now I was the stunned one. “You gotta be kidding me. And so what happened to that? Why hasn’t there been another dance production? Who’s grabbing this kid’s talent and supporting her developing this?”
There was no answer. I finished my assessment, and a team of us put together an intervention program for this young woman, but the important people in her life could not t take he interventions and run with them. The bottom line was they could not get to the place of believing in her and seeing her as a successful young woman. All they saw was a defiant teenager who they wanted somehow to break, which is sad because we don’t even believe in breaking horses anymore! We know now that the way to healing is not by breaking one down even further or by adding additional wounds. That is why I really LOVE the film, THE HORSE WHISPERER.
And of course, Natasha made her way to Hollywood one more time at least. I do not know where she is today. A sad commentary on our inability to have faith.
So what does a conversation look like? Well, let’s get even more basic. What is the focus of the conversation?
For whatever strange reason, those of us who work with people who are wounded or broken or who have some kind of identifiable problem, tend to take the drill instructor approach in our conversations with children and teens. We become ball busters. And so we focus on everything they are doing wrong and remind them how this is going to lead them nowhere. We constantly remind them that if they keep it up, they have no future. We constantly remind them of what sad examples they are of humanity. We constantly remind them that since they give no one respect, they cannot expect respect in return. We constantly remind them that they are making bad choices and have no one to blame but themselves for their awful predicament.
So why does this type of conversations make us feel good? Why does this kind of one way conversations make us think we are doing our job? Why do we imagine that anyone would respond positively to such a conversation? What did this kind of conversation ever do for us when we were on the receiving end? And be honest with yourself? Did this kind of conversation take you to where you want to be in your life? ARE you where you want to be in your life? If so, how did you get here? If not, what has kept you from getting to where you want to be?
When we are failing, when we are making miserable efforts to be successful in our own lives, we resent anyone who thinks they should remind us about how badly we are failing ourselves. We don’t need any reminders.
When, as adults, we are down in the dumps, we have obviously forgotten about our strengths and what we have going for us. We need people who are going to redirect and refocus us. We need people who are willing to take the risk to have faith in us and to take the risk to not only tell us that we can be successful but that we are going to be successful.
YES, if you are stuck in that I-got-to-be-honest trap or mind set, I can’t really see any strengths in this kid, then learn to LIE, for crying out loud. Whatever it takes to make the shift out of so-called honesty to faith.
“Wow! You know what I like about you? You are very brave. I mean you end up in the principal’s office almost every day. That takes bravery, kid....You know you have such a sense of humor.....you know you are so skilled at putting your make-up on and doing your hair....You can really dance.....I like the way you are so determined sometimes to break all the rules, and I just wonder sometimes, Wow. You know, where do you get that kind of courage?....I see the way you treat your little brothers and sisters and the way you take care of your Mom. I am really impressed....I saw you playing basketball the other day. You are very talented.....I heard you singing the other day. You sound like a rock star, Man. You got talent....I heard that rap song you made up the other day. You are something else.....I saw you with your girlfriend the other day. You really lover her, don’t you?....You know I like the way you stood up for yourself with me right now. I know I kind of don’t like people telling me to F...off, but hey, I get it. You’re not taking crap off of anyone, and well, hey, that’s good thing.....I know you really struggle with Math, but you read just about every science fiction book you can get your hands on. That is awesome.....I watched you work on the bicycles....motorcycles....computer....lawn mower....You are quite the mechanic. I am so grateful you like to work on this stuff, because I have no mechanical ability....I see the way you protect your friends. You are one loyal person. That is admirable. Your friends can trust you and rely upon you....I watched you spraying the graffitti the other day, and I am impressed. How do you do that? How are you able to direct that spray can so artistically?....I watched you with the dog...cat...the other day. Whoa, you really know how to take care of the animals? Where did you learn that?....I heard you arguing with the other kids the other day. Wow, you ought to be a lawyer. I’m serious.....Wow, you really keep your room neat.....Wow, you don’t seem to care if your room is clean or not. You know, maybe you just know what is important and what isn’t....I really like the way you run the lawmower. Our lawn looks like a baseball stadium....Man, when you get mad, your language is quite colorful. I bet you’d make a good actor (actress). Where did you learn to play the......? You can really skateboard....snowboard....You know I always wanted to get a top score in a video game the way you do. Can you teach me?”
Do you get the flavor? Have conversations that focus on what they do really really well. That opens the door for other conversations about their future and then their children’s future. Not conversations of WARNINGS how unsuccessful they are going to be or how their own children are going to pay them back for how they have mistreated you, but conversations where you are predicting and guaranteeing them that you see success for them.
“You know you are a really wonderful young man....woman. And I watch how you are with the others kids here, and I can tell you are going to be one wonderful Mom....Dad.....I know you struggle with school, but you know what? You are going to be successful as an adult. I can tell. You have that desire to be successful in you. I can see that.....I know how discouraging it is for you right now with school and moving in and out of foster homes....placement....and you know what? When I am with you, I can see that part of you that wants so desperately to do well, and that is going to see you all the way to success. You are going to be okay, really okay when you grow up. You know that, don’t you?”
So now, let’s look at some specific examples of both children and teens you work with. Share them with us. Share your struggles with them and what keeps you from seeing nothing but goods things for them in their future. Share with us what keeps them from seeing nothing but good things for themselves in the future.
Shifting gears and seeing wonderful things for them in the future does not mean you have to turn a bind eye to the reality that they may in fact get shot, commit crimes that will land them in prison, become pregnant before they are ready, abuse or neglect their children. These are realities as well. But you have a choice what you focus on and you can stop and think for a moment, what focus is going to best motivate them to become the best that they can become in their future.
THANKS FOR ATTENDING AND OR READING THIS SERIES OF BLOGS AND OR CLASSES. If you are attending class online here, leave your questions in the comment section and be sure to check back to see my response to your question or problem.
WE START OUR NEXT SERIES, NEXT TUESDAY,HEALING FROM SEXUAL ABUSE . JOIN US BOTH HERE ON THE BLOG AND IN CLASS.