Allow Them Their Feelings

Today I processed a lot of emotions. At one point I was anxious, another joyful. Later in the day I was tired followed by irritated and then not too long after encouraged. I would venture to guess you, too, processed a lot of different emotions today. As adults we do it without thinking, channeling our anger into something productive and sharing our joy through actions. It’s easy for us to accept, acknowledge and continue on with our feelings.

It’s not as easy for our children.

They struggle understanding why they are feeling a certain way and what to do about it. They struggle naming their emotions and possibly voicing them at all. Emotions are complicated.

If we allow ourselves – grown adults with coping mechanisms – to have a bad day and sometimes submit to our emotions, then we should also allow our children the same. Too often we scold children for their bad days, implying to them their emotions are wrong or  invalid.

By dismissing our children’s feelings, they will never learn to accept them, work through and in them. We have to allow children their feelings, validating and encouraging them. By allowing our children their feelings, we are stimulating growth as well as teaching important life skills.

Bond with your child over emotions by talking through them. Use words they understand and explain times you, too, felt a similar way. Children respond to knowing you have encountered a similar feeling or situation. Children respond to being heard and feeling understood.

So much is out of our children’s control and it is our responsibility as parents to ease that burden, not increase it. Teach your children about their emotions and give them back a piece of that control. Demonstrate appropriate responses to emotions and fill your child’s strategy tool box with positive ways to respond to how they’re feeling.

As adults it’s sometimes easier to speak for our child, tell them it’ll be ok and brush over their feelings, but in doing so we are setting them up for failure. When we allow our children their feelings, we are validating our child, reminding them that they matter and we care.

Stifling this growth process will follow our children into their adulthood. We must allow our children their feelings as children so they know how to handle them as adults.

Tell Them Stories of Their Biological Family

My children have known since the day they entered our home that they were foster children and then adopted children. We began, very early, telling them about their biological families to the best of our abilities. Although their beginnings are shadowed in trauma, they deserve to have positive thoughts and feelings about where they came from.

We often talk about “the mommy whose belly I came from” and as my children have aged their questions have gotten more in-depth. It’s tricky and can be down right heartbreaking at times, but it is imperative they know these stories. It’s imperative they recognize these stories as an essential part of who they are.

My oldest knows that he likely got his love of swimming from his biological mother. My middle knows he has nine brothers and sisters. Telling my children stories of their biological families shows them that I cherish where they came from. It reiterates that I cherish them.

The stories of my children’s past will change as they grow. Some day I will have to tell them the nitty-gritty details, but that’s not today. I will continue to tell them the parts that are appropriate until I have to dive deeper. When that time comes, I will have already constructed a road of honesty and respect that allows me to share without hesitation.

The stories of my children’s biological families are all they have left of those families. I have been tasked with an incredibly important job to keep them until they are ready to be passed on. Likewise, you have been tasked with the incredibly important job to keep the stories of your child’s relatives until they are ready to be passed on.   

You may not have the same dynamic in your relationship with your children and that’s ok! You still have opportunities to go deeper into the family tree. Tell your children stories of your parents and grandparents; dig more deeply into the family allowing your children to construct an all-encompassing picture of the people who have shaped who they are.

If you are divorced or separated from your child’s other parent, you also have been tasked with the important job of telling your child stories of them. By relaying stories of their biological families you are making deep connections reiterating that where they came, who they came from, is important.

Keeping it age appropriate, don’t be afraid to retell the stories you hold dear to your heart. Don’t be afraid to let your children know who and what has made them.

Tell Them Stories of the Past

My children love stories! From story books to stories of me or them as children, they simply eat it up. Their faces light up and they ask for more and more until I finally have to call it quits because I’m out of stories or breath, whichever comes first.

I have a favorite story for each of my children and they will often request ‘their story’. I then have to retell the time my oldest snuck downstairs and collected all the Easter eggs before his siblings (or parents!) were up. Or the time my youngest smashed into her birthday cake with such fervor we had to take her outside and squirt her down with the hose. It doesn’t matter that they’ve heard the stories over and over again or that I may forget details from one time to the next, they love it and they want to hear them.

The stories don’t get more exciting the more I tell them and they certainly don’t change, but it’s a part of their history, giving them a sense of self. Hearing stories of themselves as babies and toddlers aides in their sense of identity and fills in the gaps of who they are and what they did.

Likewise, my children love hearing stories of my childhood. I bet you did the same as a child, sitting wide-eyed listening to your parents talk about “in the olden days”. It gives us a sense of belonging and joy to hear stories of those we love. It connects us in a way that reminds us we are not alone in our journey.

Our children need to know their stories matter. The good, the bad and the ugly has made them who they are and who they are is a valued member of your family. It is essential that our children are invested in their past and we can encourage that by investing in this moment and sharing their stories.

Celebrate Them

Since children have come into our home, I have become quite proficient at throwing a themed shindig. From 2010 to 2013 I threw close to twenty parties between birthdays and adoptions. I enjoy throwing a good party, celebrating someone or something.

Of course children love parties, but even as adults, there is an overwhelming satisfaction knowing this production is for you. Someone put their time and energy into showering you with love, attention and sometimes gifts.

We like to be celebrated.

Celebrating our children is an open opportunity to show them that we love them and we’ve paid attention to what they like and who they are. This can come in many forms from birthday parties to adoption parties to a more subtle “look what I did” wall. Placing your child in the spotlight, celebrating them in even a minute fashion, reminds them that you are on their side, you are cheering for them in this hectic, crazy, stressful journey called life.

We still have birthday parties in our house, but we no longer have adoption parties. Instead, we celebrate the children’s Adopt-a-versary or day they became an official member of our family. The child gets the undivided attention of mom and dad and gets to choose the activities. We see a lot of ice cream and toy stores on these days, but we’ve also gone to the movies, the museum and to the water park. It is a day where the child’s likes are showcased and the attention is focused on them. Although there is some controversy over celebrating the day of adoption, we lean less on celebrating the legalities of what the day meant and more on who the child is and is becoming.

Celebrating your child, showcasing who they are and who they’re becoming is never going to be a bad thing!

Don’t fret if you don’t have an Adopt-a-versary, there are still plenty of opportunities available to you. National Daughter’s Day or National Son’s Day are both prime opportunities to do something out of the ordinary, reminding your child how special they are.

Celebrating your child doesn’t have to be a whole day production either. It can be as simple as having ice-cream after dinner because they received a 100% on their spelling test. It can be a wall in the living room dedicated to their artwork or fridge space saved for their special projects. Making it a priority to celebrate your child even in the small ways will boost their self-esteem in incredible ways.

Our days are busy and can easily get away from us. Time slips by as we rush from the bus stop to work to homework to practice and then to bed. Before we know it, days have passed and we haven’t reminded our children how special they are.

Celebrating our children is a tangible reminder they are loved. Celebrating our children is a break in the monotony of our days to say, “hey, you’re important”. Celebrating our children is our opportunity to put our priorities back in line with their well-being and our relationship right at the top of the list.

Pray Together

I’ve made a list to start me off on this 31 day writing challenge and I’m excited to see what I learn in the process. Although every day may not pertain to you and your children, it is my prayer that everyday you find something to take away, something to take home and something to enrich the bond between you and your child.

Being a foster / adoptive parent brings with it a unique set of challenges, one of them circulating around bonding. Sometimes we have children for days, months and even years. Sometimes they become a part of our forever family. No matter how long they reside in our home, however, it is our deepest desire that they feel loved and connected. In theory this seems like such a simple task, but in reality, it takes a conscious effort with specific strategies to do well.

Our current children are nine, nine, eight and seven (she’ll be eight in a week!) and we’ve had three of them since they were days old. It seems like a no brainer that we would be bonded (and we are!), but my children also have a biological family they often mourn. My children need consistent reassurance that they are loved, wanted and important members of this family.

Your children aren’t much different. Whether foster, adopted or biological, all children want the reassurance that they are loved, wanted and important members of the family. This concept alone is what birthed the idea of 31 Days of 31 Ways to Bond with Your Child.

Today we begin with a simple yet mighty strategy – pray together.

We often spend time praying for our children. We pray for their safety, for their wise choices, even for their obedience. It feels natural to pray for our children yet we don’t always pray with them. We don’t often allow them to hear the worries of our heart while also listening to theirs.

Praying with our children shows them they are significant and their prayers matter too. Praying with our children allows them to witness vulnerability and authenticity while simultaneously creating a safe avenue for them to be both vulnerable and authentic.

We have an opportunity to model to our children the type of relationship we can have with our loving Father. When they see us laying our burdens at the cross in prayer, they’ll learn to do the same. When they witness our trust and faith through actions of prayer, they’ll begin to exhibit those same actions. Building that relationship with God together is a powerful experience, laying a firm foundation for their spiritual future.

Pray with your children daily. Pray prayers of grace at the dinner table and cry out prayers of need before bed. Allow your children to see you on your knees and invite them by your side. Pray together for your family and each other. Praise the current moment and pray for the next day. From budding friendships to upcoming tests, leave no woe, worry or praise left unsaid.

Pray with your children strengthening not only your earthly bond, but the bond with their Heavenly Father as well.

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