Understanding Hurt Children

Understanding Hurt Children
Children in orphanages and foster care often need more than just a loving family. These kids come with deep scars and emotional wounds that they will carry with them the rest of their lives. So how can those who care for these children help them to live happy, productive lives? The key lies in understanding what motivates them and establishing bonds of trust.

A friend recently shared a video with me about child abuse and domestic violence. In the video, a little girl shared her story of what she had been through. It was heartbreaking to watch an innocent child in this situation. But what got to me even more was how she felt about herself: worthless, alone and unloved. She also pointed out that no one could possibly understand because they hadn’t “walked in her shoes.”

While it’s true the only way to really understand what someone is going through is to have gone through it yourself, there are ways parents and caregivers can ease the pain and help build self-esteem in these kids. The most important thing you can do is educate yourself. When my husband and I began the adoption process, we considered adopting older kids from foster care. We even attended a training seminar in Lansing, Mich., through the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE). The class, called Parents As Tender Healers (PATH), discussed such topics as understanding hurt children, the impact of loss on kids, surviving crisis and helping a child become a part of your family. The training provided valuable insight into the way hurt children behave and why. For example, children who steal food and hide it in their rooms have developed this behavior as a survival mechanism. They were deprived of food in the past, so even though they are now well-fed, they still feel the need to make sure they always have enough. Similarly, children who have trouble attaching and bonding to adults have learned not to get too close to anyone for fear of being hurt and abandoned all over again. And kids who are destructive and defiant use those behaviors as a way to get attention because they learned in their dysfunctional homes that you are ignored and neglected unless you do something bad. Sadly, in their minds, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Deep down inside, these kids don’t want to behave negatively. They just don’t know any other way to act.

Anyone who is considering adopting an orphan or foster child needs to know these things. They need to be sure they are ready and able to handle such challenges. And, most important, they need to be wholeheartedly committed to the child and not give up, even when things get difficult. Too many kids in foster care and orphanages are taken in by well-meaning families who later decide that they can’t handle these children. What they may not realize is that disrupting an adoption or sending a child to a new foster home is just adding to the damage that was already done. These children already don’t trust others. They already don’t feel wanted or lovable. Sending them away will only reinforce these beliefs, creating a cycle of lower self-esteem and further adding to their lack of trust and inability to create healthy, loving bonds.

Before you decide to adopt a hurt child, ask yourself if you are truly ready and able to be this child’s parent. Those who are up for the challenge will be positive, healing forces in these kids’ lives. Slowly, they can help these children feel safe and secure. Hurt children need someone who will never give up on them, someone who will love them unconditionally and prove that it is okay for them to let down their guard and trust again. Doesn’t every child deserve that?

For more information about adopting children from foster care, please visit the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption or AdoptUSKids.

You Should Also Read:
Survivors of Child Abuse and Trust
Therapeutic Parenting

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