I know you know this, but I am going to say it again: of course kids need encouragement, but as you probably know, kids with trauma might need a little bit more.
And the holidays probably brought that to the forefront, don’t they?
That said, I just want to take a minute to encourage you to encourage your kids.
And I know there are times that will be the absolute last thing you’ll want to do. You’re so mad, hurt, upset, stunned, frustrated, confused, heart-broken…all the emotions. (I realize if you’ve not jumped in the foster care ring just yet, this might be confusing and perhaps a little off-putting, but I ask that you stick with me on this!)
But I am a firm believer that things can turn around by speaking them out loud. Now, to be clear, I am not saying this is some sort of magic spell or incantation; it’s simply a tool to use to help the child (and you) see his intrinsic value. (Obviously, it still might not turn the day or your child’s struggle completely around, but it may help your mindset and plant a seed for him).
And sometimes it’s difficult to find the “right” words you want to say which will hit home or make a big impact on a child.
Instead of going to that well, so to speak, I have been using something I call an “Encouragement Ritual” for the past few years. And what I mean by that is a short phrase I repeat each day (sometimes ritualistically) but always in the same way, tone and inflection. Even if I don’t necessarily feel it in the moment I say it, I at least make my voice sound like I do and personally I find that once I speak the words, the feelings will follow. I hope that makes sense…but if not, please continue, as I hope my example will give clarity.
Your ritual might look different for you, but I have found the main one which is very helpful for me and my child is this: It’s just a few words that I speak to him at least once a day. If we are in close proximity, I put my arm around him (asking for permission first) and I say, “Guess what? I love you and you are treasured.”
Now by this point, because we’ve been doing this for years, he knows what I’m going to say, so he often says it before I do…but I always make sure to say it as well; I truly believe there is power in speaking blessing and truth over someone, especially a child from hard places.
Just to be clear…I always tell him that I love him, multiple times a day in fact. But the thing that I try to add at least once a day is “You are treasured”.
So over the course of his life, he will have heard hundreds of times that he is treasured. And I will have reminded myself hundreds of times that he is treasured (even on days when it still is true, but I don’t always think it).
Will he ever really and truly believe it? I don’t know…only time will tell. But I know kids with trauma history often have low self-worth, whether they have tangible memories, or felt memories, or both. But they often can’t fathom themselves being a treasure.
But I know for me, the children we care for ARE a treasure. They are valued and loved deeply.
Not that things aren’t hard sometimes, not that we don’t all have our moments of absolute frustration, but building up a child’s value and self-worth is a key to positive mental health and well-being, both now and in the years to come…whether a child is with your forever or not, his heart needs to know how deeply he is valued.