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How Adoptive Parents Can Foster Self-Acceptance In Their Kids

Addressing the Dilemma of Low Self Acceptance Amongst Adoptees and Foster Kids

Self–acceptance is seemingly unattainable  for many adoptees and foster kids and adoptive parents can’t understand what more they can do. There is something I’ve discovered  that may be valuable to parents in dealing with the dilemma of fostering self-worth and self acceptance in your adopted kiddos.

Of course, the following is my voice only. I’m not speaking for all adoptees. I do hope this is a help to you.

It’s important to state that many adopted/foster kids thrive and self-esteem and self-acceptance come easy. They excel and if you ask them about adoption, they’d probably say, “It’s no big deal to me.”

However, for many, including myself, find self-esteem and self-acceptance is a winding and treacherous path toward growth and maturity. How can we ever feel good about ourselves if we’ve suffered serious depression, multiple addictions, or unplanned pregnancies?

The majority of adoptees I’ve interviewed over the years have non-existent self worth. They’d never tell you, but they often believe, even subconsciously, that their lives are a mistake. This occurs with infant adoption and the challenge comes in learning that they are “the unplanned good” in the lives of the first and adoptive parents.

Foster care kids often believe there’s something inherently wrong with them. If not, why would their first home and parents be taken away? Why would they experience multiple placements if this were not true? Why would so many fostering families find them undesirable? The challenge for older children is self-acceptance–to learn that even though they are acting out their trauma pain in the family setting, it won’t always be that way.  It won’t always hurt this bad.

Here are some ideas for building self-acceptance and worth within your child:

  1. Teach the lifeline of an adoptee.

This is key for an adoptee’s identity. Many think their lives began by mistake but actually their lives began in the heart of God the Father. God is the only one that create life. He created everything we see-including you.

In addition, He created you in his image–body, soul, and spirit. Because he created you, he has a special plan for your life. He will help you..

Parents may want to have the child make this verse on a card or plaque:

My life bean not on adoption day, not on my birthday, not at conception. My life began in the very heart of God.

Here is a visual to teach this truth:

cropped-adoptee-lifeline-final3.jpg

2. Share the effects of trauma on their development.

Adopted children must understand that their struggles and sometimes slowness are because they are children of trauma.  Just because an adoptee doesn’t thrive and goes under once in awhile doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him/her. That is where you can nip shame in the bud, parents.  Shame shouts, “There’s something wrong with y.o.u.” 

You may want to share this illustration of trauma with your child. Have him/her imagine what it’s like to hear the smoke alarm suddenly blare in the dead of night. What is the reaction? We throw off the covers, jump out of bed, run through the dark in search of the on/off button. When the alarm is turned off, life is peaceful again and you can go back to sleep.

When you suffer trauma as a baby/child/teen, the alarm is still going off in your brain. No one has shut it off, and so you have difficulties. We and your counselor will find effective ways to help you turn off the noise in your brain.

3.  Assure them that wasted years and brokenness can be redeemed.

It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to learn the different stages of child development. The theory is that none of us can move to the next step of development until the prior one is completed.

You will need help from an adoption-competent therapist to know your child’s “emotional age.” This is what must be identified. Then, you can identify the stage that hasn’t been completed and work on it with professional help.

Because of various factors in my adopted life, I didn’t move on the developmental chart. My parents must have looked for growth and development at different stages and ages, but often what they saw was the same thing–I was stuck in my development due to pre-and post-birth trauma, but also RAD.

It would be tempting to look back with regret and condemnation, chiding myself for not getting my act together before now.

But, far from being guilt-ridden, I can sense layer after layer of shame rolling off me, like waves.  I rest on the promise from the *Bible that says, “He makes up for the years the locusts have eaten.”

You may want to consider having your child make a drawing or collage of what “the locusts ate” in his life–the discouragement, the depressions, the temper tantrums, the running away.

Then, read what God does with those things. This may be a second drawing or collage. Gather old cards, newspaper clippings, buttons, photos, etc. White boards are a great idea also.

4.  Reveal the beauty of late bloomers through another adoptee’s life.

What To Do When Your Adopted Kid Doesn't Bloom
When adopted and foster kids act out pre-adoption trauma, it’s not only hard for parents to see their potential, but also difficult for the adoptees themselves. However, even though the growth process is slow, the potential is great. Sherrie shows at least four reasons that adoptive and foster parents can take hope.

You may want to share the following story about my late-blooming amaryllis.

Amaryllis plants are supposed to be incredibly beautiful, with showy blossoms that grow from a bulb that many people use for Christmas decorations.  Keep this in mind, for the bulb the hubs brought home hardly fit the ideal description.

Frankly, my first impression was doubt–would the poor thing would ever blossom?  Potted in a dark green plastic container, only its brownish bulb was visible. Oh, yes, it had soil around it, but it was bone dry.

After watering the poor thing, we watched for w.e.e.k.s.  Nothing!

Why didn’t it hurry up and blossom? We wanted to see it “do it’s thing” when our family gathered for Christmas. We wanted them to see its beauty but it just wasn’t happening. Thus, Christmas came and went.

As the stalk became awkward and leggier, we thought maybe we should change its position on the coffee table so that it pointed toward the sun. There were minor changes, but nothing significant. Were we doing something wrong? Did our amaryllis not like it here? 

One day, we saw signs of growth–the tips of the green stalk were turning pink and today, it is crimson red, with four blooms shaped like trumpets.

Include the thoughts of a fellow adoptee

Watching the development of the amaryllis reminds me of my development as an adopted person. When my adoptive grandmother brought 10-day old me through Mom and Dad’s front door, you certainly couldn’t see any blooms. After all, who can bloom after a traumatic loss? Who can sing when the heart is broken?

Parents, isn’t that how your adopted/foster children entered your family? They have lived in a proverbial dark green plastic pot that isn’t conducive to growth. In fact, the depth of their trauma renders them unlikely recipients of growth.

Perhaps, when they come through your doors with only a garbage bag to their possession or obvious black eyes from abuse, like the amaryllis, there isn’t much evident hope they’ll survive, yet alone thrive.

Sherrie’s letter to your child:

Please share this personal letter from me with your adopted child:

Dear fellow adoptee,

I love you and I haven’t even met you. It’s taken a lifetime for me to get through the trauma I endured when I lost my first family,

When I was growing up and even as an adult, there was little information for how to survive, and thrive, through the losses I’ve endured.

Things are different now, though, for you. Many parents are informed and there are many professionals to help you in developing into the person you were created to be.

Don’t worry that your development doesn’t line up with the non-adopted kids you know. They haven’t experienced the trauma you have. You have many hurdles to jump over that they never will.

And, yet as you jump, there is light and life ahead of you. Even if you turn out to be a late bloomer like me, it is simply okay.

I am cheering you on in your race of life. Be compassionate with yourself and trust that in due time, you will blossom as you never dreamed possible.,

Love to you,

Sherrie

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