Does sheltering in place put added pressure on your family? Are your family relationships subject to increased jeopardy? Is your family at heightened risk? The answers to all of these questions is, “It depends.” It depends on how well you personally handle the added stress and how conscientiously you attend to the pressures and stresses on your family relationships. The episode includes some tips and perspectives that you may find helpful.
What would you never say to your five-year-old? It’s hard to say exactly what goes on your list but I suspect that things on your never say list all have a negative or critical tone or message tucked in there. I doubt that any of us would tell our five-year-old that he or she is stupid, ugly, lazy, in the way, too much bother, or anything else implying that the child is not valued or not okay. At least I hope none of us would relate to or respond to a child in ways like that.
Even so, there is definitely another side to that coin. Our five-year-old certainly needs feedback, and sometimes, that feed back needs to be negative or critical. Children need to learn how to do things and how to behave. They also need to learn how not to do things and how not to behave. They require guidance, coaching and the opportunity to take advantage of our experience, awareness and judgment. They also have to occasionally deal with a firm and unequivocal “No!” The issue isn’t whether they should receive our guidance and feedback – they should. Rather the issue is how and when that guidance and feedback should be forthcoming.
You may be thinking that I’m about to offer some advice about how you should or should not go about providing guidance and feedback to children. Not this time. Instead, I want to share with you my father’s first principle for offering guidance and feedback to me growing up. As much as I have read about and studied child development and parenting over the years, I have never come across any childhood scholar or parenting expert who even mentioned Dad’s first principle, little lone recommending it. Nonetheless, I think you may find it worth your consideration.
Mental illness is many things. Like physical illness, mental illness can affect anyone and has many forms. The first important point to see is that mental illness is not just one illness but is many illnesses.
It will help you to think about it in this way. There is the part of the young person that thinks and understands. You can call this part the child’s mind. There is the part that feels happy and sad, frightened and calm, angry and joyful. You can call this part the emotions. Also there is the part that does things and takes action based on what the youngster thinks and feels. You can call this part behavior.
What is mental illness? The child’s mind, emotions, and behavior normally work together as a team. When children become mentally ill, the three members of the team stop working together. They each start doing their thing and the child cannot get them to start working together again.
Some kinds of mental illness affect the mind the most. The youngster is unable to think clearly and understand things the way they really are. The world becomes a strange and confusing place for him.
Other kinds of mental illness affect emotions more and other kinds affect behavior more. Here is another important point. All types of mental illness affect the child’s mind, emotions, and behavior to some extent and in some way. When this happens, the young person finds it very hard to keep the three members of the team under control and working together. Keep this problem of teamwork in mind as you think about these signs of mental illness.
Sometimes children get so confused about what is going on in their lives and so down on themselves that they can hardly stand it. They may feel like running away or just giving up on themselves. These are awful feelings. They feel afraid, angry, and very upset. They have more stress than they can handle and their self-esteem is very low. They cannot get their thoughts straightened out or figure out their problems. There seems no end to their bad feelings. They believe they have come to the end of the road and don’t fit or belong anywhere.
Killing themselves seems like their only choice. Looking at these signs that a child may be suicidal will be useful. As you consider the signs, give some thought to how vulnerable foster children are.
The signs here are serious. Each one means the child needs professional help. As his foster parent, you will be asked to join him in his treatment. It is important for him for you to cooperate. Also, you will be given ideas about how to work with him at home. Be sure to follow the suggestions.
You will not find specific suggestions here about how to limit or control the child’s behavior. For children with serious problems, this takes careful thought and a plan. Also, the plan has to be tailored to the individual child. What works for one child can make another child worse. This needs discussed with the child’s caseworker to be sure you have the right plan for your foster child. There are no quick fixes.
Thinking about these signs will help you better understand the child and his problems. It also will help you see that, as his foster parent, your main job is to understand, be firm with him, and keep an open and gentle attitude toward him.
Your foster child’s fit with you is not the only relationship she has that needs your help. She has relationships with other people in your family and with children and adults at school. She needs to get along with people in your neighborhood and in your community. Being able to get along with people may have more to do with her future success than anything else.
Here is the key. Because of abuse, neglect, or other bad life-experiences, foster children often have problems getting along with people. Maybe this comes up every day and maybe only once in a while. However often your foster child has problems, she needs your help.
Here are some signs of foster children having trouble getting along. Your concern and help with these problems are a start to a better life for them.
Learning is not simple. There are three important areas you need to think about. First, your foster child’s abilities are where learning starts. Some children learn easier than others. However easily your foster child learns, he learns some things more easily than other things. Some assignments and subjects are easier and others are harder. Even if he is a very good learner, learning is hard work at times.
Next, his attitude is important. Does he want to learn? Is he willing to do what he needs to do to get the job done? It comes down to this. Does he think he is important enough to work at it? Is his future important enough to him to bother learning? Learning takes self-discipline and hard work. It also takes an attitude that says, “I am important enough to do what I have to do.”
Third, your foster child needs learning skills. Some of these skills help him pay attention and study. Some help him listen and try to understand. Others help him cooperate. Still others help him follow the rules. He also learns about what adults expect and about the rights of others. If your foster child has problems learning, look at his abilities, attitudes, and behavior.
How do you think foster children fare with school and learning? Some do better than others. Still, they have more than their share of learning problems. Understanding this will help you as you think about your foster child. Here are some signs of learning and school problems. They will help you develop a learning plan for your foster child.
What is self-esteem? It is who children think they are. You can see it in how they treat themselves. It is there when they feel valued and important. It is missing when they feel unworthy or put themselves down.
Self-esteem can be high or low. When children think they are important and valued, their self-esteem is high. When they feel good about themselves, are comfortable with who they are, and like themselves, their self-esteem is high. When they treat themselves with respect and avoid doing things that are not good for them, their self-esteem is high.
What is low self-esteem? Children have bad thoughts about themselves. They do not think they are worthwhile people who will be successful. They do not feel good about who they are. This makes them sad and angry. They do not take care of themselves and they do things that are not good for them.
Here is the important part. Children have good days and bad days. Sometimes their self-esteem is higher and sometimes lower. It depends on how things are going for them at the time. Low self-esteem is only a serious problem if your foster child gets extremely down on himself. More so if he is down on himself most of the time.
Here is the main problem. Abuse and neglect are killers when it comes to self-esteem. Foster children have low self-esteem. It is as simple and as tragic as that. It may be harder to see in younger children but is hard to miss in older foster children. Keep this in mind as you think about these signs of low self-esteem.
Stress is usually not much of a problem for children. At times, a little stress is good for them and keeps them sharp. Young people can normally think things through and figure them out for themselves. They can usually handle their feelings whether they are feeling good or not. They can do what they need to do. They have some stress but handle it fine.
Children can have more stress than they can handle. Foster children almost always have too much stress. When they do, you see signs their stress is getting to them. Here are some typical signs.
Being a foster parent can be a delightful and satisfying adventure and will definitely be a difficult challenge that requires your full attention and patience. Even so and if your heart is truly into the adventure, it can be wonderful for both you and your foster child. There are many aspects to being a foster parent; but for now, let’s think a while together about a few of the behavior and adjustment concerns that may develop while the child is with you.
Your foster child comes to your home with her strong points and special problems. It is hard for any child to adjust to a new family; but for your foster child, it is extra tough. If her past family experiences had been positive and healthy, being her foster parent would be fairly easy. Loving her and giving her a chance to live in your home would be enough. It is sad but true that love and a good home are not enough for her.
Your foster child is with you because she (or he) could not stay where she was. Maybe she was abused. She may have been neglected. There might have been other problems that made it impossible for her to stay with her family. Whatever happened, she was not safe, happy, and getting her needs met. She now has more problems than most children.
Learning about her special problems is your first step. You will love her, care about her, and encourage her. That’s just the way you are. At your home, she also can count on help with her problems, whatever they are. She will get what she needs, whatever it takes.
Let’s think about children who are abused and neglected. Abuse and neglect cause lifelong problems. Being mistreated hurts children in ways you can see and in ways you cannot see. They suffer at the time and will have problems at later life-stages. Although the harm done may not be easy to see, it is there.
So far, you have developed a wide range of understanding and skills to assess families at risk. You have studied the behavior and attitudes of family members and have thought about stress, depression, value problems, and other personal issues. Your learning has included identifying specific signs of risk and seeing how they are experienced by family members. You now have a good feel for people, families, and their problems.
You also have learned about assessing how people get along. You are able to focus on relationships, communication, problem solving, and decision making. Additionally, you now know how to use some tools and shortcuts to determine the risk level for your family.
It is now time to bring your understanding and skills together. In this episode of Audio Tidbits Podcast, I bring you an extended narrative of a family at risk. As you will see, the people in the narrative behave and reflect attitudes that are sometimes helpful and sometimes very risky. Your challenge is to identify the elements of risk, understand how bad outcomes follow from actions and events, and assess the risk for the family.
The narrative is divided into seven sections reflecting critical periods in the life of the family. The underlying events are true. This is the way it really happened. Many of the details and descriptions have been changed to protect the family’s anonymity.
Were this a fictional family, all the motivations, events, and details would have been carefully crafted to answer all of your questions and to eliminate all gaps and inconsistencies. Real life is not so neat. You will need to use your developing insight and skills to fill in the gaps, understand the inconsistencies, and to somehow make sense of life in the real world.
Be safe, be well, and may you and yours enjoy being one big happy family.
This episode of Audio Tidbits Podcast brings you Part 4 of Just One Big Unhappy Family. If you combine this episode with the first three, you will have all of the tools you need to assess your family’s level of risk and will better understand the why and what of family risk. In this episode, I focus specifically on Getting Along Risk. I think you will see how this type of risk fits with Individual, Marital and Parent risk to establish the level of jeopardy the family is experiencing. Thank you for the time you are spending to better understand your family’s functioning. I sincerely hope it helps you and yours.
In Part 3 of Just One Big Unhappy Family, the discussion shifts to how to recognize when things are happening in your family that foretell problems and increased risk. You learn to assess individual, marriage and parenting risk and see how those risks evolve and escolate. Your ability to understand risk and malfunction continue their development from Parts 1 and 2. Please listen and thoughtfully consider how you and your family are relating and loving together.
Warning: This episode of Audio Tidbits Podcast contains significant violence and strong language so is not suitable for children or for teens or adults who are sensitive to family violence or strong language.
Our discussion of family malfunction moves to a new dimension extended from the last episode: Just One Big Unhappy Family. The vignettes in this episode follow one family over thirty years or so and track the evolution of its malfunction. You see that problems unattended become a dysfunctional life style that leads to places few would choose to go. The illustrations are based on real people and on a real family. The best that can be said is that everyone survived. I hope you find the half hour or so it takes to listen is a good investment of your time and compassionate emotions.
If what you see is one big happy family, there may be many reasons and explanations, not that any of these are necessary. Happy is normally its own accounting. If what you see is one big unhappy family, there are only a few likely reasons, and explanations totally depend on who you ask. Emotional distress, psychological and interpersonal malfunction and unhealthy family environments typically have their base in only a limited number of problems and issues. Being able to spot these problems and issues is the key to helping your family avoid even more devastating unhappiness. In this episode of Audio Tidbits Podcast, I share with you a series of vignettes that illustrate the range of mental health and interpersonal issues unhappy families commonly experience. I am simply assuming that you know enough to find qualified help if any of these signs of serious difficulty show up in your family.