Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it must feel like for a child entering our homes. It’s an unfamiliar environment they’ve never seen before. Nothing would feel right.
The past two weeks have been a bit much for me and I’m in my own home. Life has been disrupted far more than I imagined when we decided to refinish our floors.
I feel unsettled.
I know, I know, this sounds whiny, “first world problem” and all that, but stick with me.
I continually remind myself this is a privilege, not a problem – and that’s 100% true. But it doesn’t change the reality that for more than a week I couldn’t cook, my refrigerator was in the living room, and the rest of the room was piled high with everything from the main floor.
The following week, everything in the living room was crammed into the dining room and overflowing into the family room.
With a crew of men in my house, even great guys, it’s hard to relax – nothing feels normal.
I can’t seem to settle in and think clearly enough to write. A low whir of anxiety is like a cloud around me.
How does this relate to kids who come to us through foster care or adoption?
When they join our families, their environments are completely disrupted. They are simply uncomfortable in our world.
Nothing feels familiar, smells right, or even sounds normal. We are strangers to them, whether they are adopted from the other side of the globe or joining us as foster children from the other side of town.
For a child raised with the constant hum of the television, the peaceful quiet of our homes may feel profoundly wrong. Our food may smell strange. And while the sheets may be clean, they just don’t feel right.
I’m an adult who chose this home project – even if the reality of the disruption far exceeds what I imagined. I tell myself it won’t last much longer and it will all be worth it. I know life will get back to normal.
I also know this is a small problem, a very small problem, even if it’s uncomfortable.
In contrast, our children have no control, no choice, and they are afraid. Their fear may look like anger, defiance, crying, or other behaviors. They may alternate between hitting us and clinging to us. The early weeks (months, years) can be especially hard.
How can we help them in these early transitional days?
1. Find familiar smells
If your child is joining you from another country, add familiar spices to your menu. Our Ethiopian kids love berbere, a chili and spice blend, and sprinkled it on nearly all of their food in the early years.
If you’re adding a new child through foster care, wash his clothes, but not his familiar blanket or stuffed animal. That being said, sometimes things like lice make it absolutely necessary,
2. Find familiar sounds
If your new child has a favorite show, let him watch it, provided it’s not harmful. The theme song and characters may be a comfort to him. Even if it’s SpongeBob or Caillou, you can handle it for a while.
If your child is from another culture, find music in his language and play it in your home.
3. Find familiar routines
If your child is used to falling asleep while watching tv, maybe you’ll need to do that for a few days as he adjusts. If she’s always slept with a light on, do that for a time. If she’s not accustomed to taking baths, don’t press for them each night. It takes time.
This isn’t profound, but it’s come to my mind often these weeks. Right now I’m working on my laptop at the kitchen island trying to write while stacks of books are on the floor, the sofa is sitting on its side, and electronics are piled in a big box in the corner. The top of the dining room table is removed and leaning against the living room wall. Stacks of games sit on the side of the bookcase as it lays on the floor.
Nothing feels quite right.
I’m unsettled, and I’m pretty sure my kids have felt that way too.
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With courage and hope,
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