No matter how long ago it may have been, childhood is a time that leaves a mark on the present. Many of us can remember the fond moments vividly – those carefree years between the ages of 4 and 12 when we enjoyed a long summer vacation, a thrilling snow day or a spooky Halloween costume – but we also do our best to cope with the moments that we’d rather forget.
For many foster children, these moments come all too frequently. It’s hard to shake off the thought of your father’s drug abuse or your mother’s financial problems. It’s also hard to forget the feeling of loneliness and helplessness many foster children feel when they’re uprooted from everything they know. Fostering children is one way to shelter them from harmful experiences and add to the pleasant memories they can cherish long into the future.
As adults, when we face hardship we draw on thoughts of more pleasant times to remind ourselves that nothing lasts forever. But compared to an adult, a child has a small bank of memories to draw from. If that bank is full of hardship, separation and loss, it becomes difficult for a child to overcome challenges because it feels like there is no reward and no end in sight. Fostering children provides them with a reason to feel optimistic about the future and freedom from the misconception that life is only one hardship after another.
Fostering children shows them that while life may be full of tough times and difficult challenges, these hurdles can be overcome because life is also full of friendship, love and opportunity. Helping your foster child know this will allow him to open himself up to the world and realize that there are people out there who truly care.
Just as important as preventing further traumatic experiences from occurring is making sure your foster child has new, exciting, positive experiences to take with him as he grows. It’s up to you to decide how to go about this: there’s plenty to be said about taking your foster child to Disney World, but for a child who knows loss and separation too well, feeling compassion and friendship is an experience that cannot be undervalued. For a child who has known hunger and neglect, the feeling of not having to worry about whether food will be on the table or whether someone will be there to pick him up from school will become a precious memory.
Simple things like sharing a meal with family and spending time with someone who cares go a long way towards a foster child learning his place in the world. Children between the ages of 4 and 12 learn, both actively and through experience, to form answers to a number of questions about everyday life. Do others care about my well being? Is overcoming hardship worth the effort it takes? Is building relationships with others a good idea, or will I just get hurt? It’s up to the people dedicated to fostering children to show them that these questions can all be answered positively.
Fostering children provides an opportunity for families to provide the simple things to children who deserve them. Fostering children helps them know that others care— that overcoming hardship is worth it and that building relationships matters.