10 tips for supporting a child suffering from abandonment
I don't really have to say this, a child suffering from a loss of a parent or both can lead to a child feeling abandoned. This can be difficult for children especially if it's a voluntary leave of a parent which is a regular occurrence seen in children of Kinship care. With some biological parents, struggling to commit to their children after they leave their full time care, this can be for various reasons. The bond they had with their parent is suddenly cut off, their home may change, their school, their caregivers. During this change some children are unable to have contact with their biological parents, due to their parents internal struggles such as substance abuse, domestic abuse, drug abuse or the local authorities have deemed the parent a danger to the child/children involved. Many children don't know the full situation of their placement due to their age, and may wonder why this has happened to them. They feel the loss of a parent and struggle to understand and articulate how they feel to others and may even be experiencing feelings they have never felt before.
As a child reaches school age they will often compare themselves to their peers, children often are highly inquisitive as they are eager to learn and develop as they grow.
I am not a child psychologist or professional, just a fellow kinship carer that's used many tried and tested methods to support my own little one through her experience with abandonment which gradually over time has improved significantly.
1. Managing feelings - Work on their emotional understanding - With my LO i realised she couldn't express how she felt properly because she couldn't understand the differences between even some basic feelings. Using paper and a pen, I went through all the different emotions and explained scenarios where I myself have felt that way and then I gave time to my LO to give examples of when she has felt sad, happy etc. I showed her facial expressions too, which helped when I needed to spot how she was reacting to issues but not communicating with me.
2. Positive praise - Everyday even when she was terrible, I told her I didn't like her behaviour but reassured that I still loved her dearly and unconditionally. Offering a long hug if she needed it. When she had managed her emotions effectively or improved her behaviour I amped up the praise with stickers and charts. I found working through one problem at a time more effective, than trying to address everything at once.
3. Self esteem - I feared my LO felt that she was at fault and blamed herself. Children have a habit of thinking they are the reason their parents or caregivers left them. They will look at their faults, and think is it because “I was bad” or “I didn't do this". I remember when my parents separated and my immediate thought wasn't that my parents didn't love each other anymore, I thought I was the problem. I never told anyone this, but the impact was shown at school and when I was trying to make relationships with others, I felt as a child I had suffered a drop in self esteem. With my LO, I didn't want her to blame herself so I explained that everyone makes decisions in their lives that can be good or bad, and even adults can make bad decisions. I even reassured that deep down her parent still loves her, but they are just not in a place to be a good parent thus explaining why they chose for her to live with me. I pointed out some positive things that had happened, like her school accomplishments or a new milestone such as being able to tie her shoes and commented that I “was lucky” to be in her life and watch her achieve her milestones.
4. Give time and opportunity to talk and recognise what works for the child - When I noticed she was angry or frustrated, we had a large blow up ball that we would hit as hard as we could in the garden and shout ANGER! I'd tell her to hit her anger away and we would take this in turns together after 30 mins of letting her frustration out she had calmed significantly and it even gave me chance to release some frustration too!
5. Figure where and when your child wants to communicate - I created opportunities to talk to my LO normally when we were walking together. In the autumn we took a light outside and we would search for conkers in the dark. I would use this to create an opportunity to talk whilst my LO was distracted i noticed she would talk freely compared to in the home and feel less pressured to provide me with an answer.
6.Try not to correct their inaccurate view on a parent - Many children can glorify the parent that they no longer see, even with children with separated parents they can view the parent they see the least in a glorified and at times in an inaccurate way. They may tell you incorrect stories or memories about the parents that have left. This can be tough at times and frustrating for us, but let them freely verbalise talking about their parents and at times encourage them to think of more positive memories they have. This will be useful later, as they feel they can be open and honest with their views and be more likely to trust you with their feelings.
7. Encourage relationships with adults you trust - Let your child grow in confidence getting to know other adults. Let them know why the adults like them, it will help their own confidence and help them rebulid trust in others again.
8. A sense of belonging - All children want to feel like they belong, it makes them feel understood and sets them up for secure relationships in the future with others. If you have family ties or even common interests with your little ones point these out. Me and my LO both have a random odd thing that we both like to do we sing songs we have made up on the spot which at times are just silly and random! She finds me incredibly relatable due to the things we share in common. This strengthens the bond we share. A good way of doing this also is to engage the child with other children whether it's a club or a friendly meet up with other families it will benefit their well-being and make them feel like they belong, are accepted and are a part of something special.
9. Keep it positive - My LO had terrible nightmares, that were completely and utterly heartbreaking after a few months of watching her suffer each night and having no clue what to do. I realised I had a bunch of photos on my phone full of days out we had shared together. I got a cheap scrapbook glued in these pictures and any achievement certificates she had received from school and left a short description commenting on the day we had experienced together. I told her to look at this before bed or when she wanted to have a look through. Since this nightmares are rare and few and far between. I often find her reading it at her own leisure too and smiling! Update: She has also added her own comments to the book!
10. Remember tomorrow is a new day - When supporting children that are experiencing issues,it's important that we try our best to hope that the next day will be better (this is incredibly difficult) as over time it takes a toll on us too and sometimes we will often blame ourselves or our parenting or the approach we have on the “unwanted” and “worrying” behaviour the children display. In general children are very receptive, if we are stressed, emotionally drained and fearing the next day will be the same or even worse it will begin to take an emotional toll on us too and they will soon notice this. Give yourself an hour and do something that helps you relax, lean on others if you can and seek rest or understanding if you need it.