Session 11/15Page 3/4 Helping children understand their many backgrounds - Suggestions for activities
Helping children understand their many backgrounds – suggestions for activities
A) WANTING TO AND BEING ABLE TO PROVIDE CARE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS
A professional way of showing respect for the child’s parents is to have a conversation with the child like:
“I’m quite sure your parents have always WANTED to take good care of you. But sadly not all parents are ABLE to give their child the love they want to give regardless of how much they wish to do so. Even though they love you, you know your parents have many problems in their own lives (you may give some examples the child can recognize, such as “Your mother learned to drink when she was only a child herself, and now she simply can’t stop drinking no matter how hard she tries“).
This is why they did something very responsible and decided to do a very difficult thing: to ask others to take good care of you! Perhaps they did not ask directly, but by showing their problems they were really asking for help to save you – only this was too hard for them to say directly.
So your parents try to do their best for you. Even when they are angry or jealous with us and want to have you back, we know this means that they love you, and it is difficult for them to let others give you care. Deep down they know this is too difficult for them, but they show you that they wish to give you care. We are not angry with them when they do this – we try to help them accept that they took the right decision asking us to care for you.”
B) “YOU HAVE TWO SETS OF PARENTS – LUCKY YOU!”
To help the child understand its situation, this explanation offers an attitude free of conflicts between foster and biological parents:
“You know, you are lucky – you have two mothers who wish to give you a good life, and you have two fathers who also wish to give you a good life. Your parents did a wonderful thing: they gave birth to you, and you were in your mother’s belly for nine months. When your parents were exhausted you came in our care. So in a way, you have four parents who agreed to care for you. What one of us cannot do, the others can do. If we sometimes disagree, it is only because we all want to care for you the best we can.”
C) CONSTRUCTING “THE PUZZLE OF MANY ORIGINS” INTO ONE IDEA OF IDENTITY
For this activity you need scissors, tape, some large sheets of paper and pencils or crayons in different colours. You can use other materials if this suits the child better, such as clay or plaster of Paris, LEGO cubes or other materials.
The activity can be performed with children from age five to fifteen. This activity can take days or weeks and it can be repeated when the child is older and understands more about its situation.
First you ask the child to draw or you help it draw “all the people who have ever cared for you” in different groups on the sheet. Each group can have its own colour.
There may be grandparents, parents, siblings, caregivers in former placements, the midwife and doctor who helped at birth, the foster parents and their children, a dog or pet to which the child is attached, a neighbour, other foster children in the family, school mates, etc. etc. Help the child create the number of groups it is able to manage and take your time.
For each group, select some of the following questions and ask the child to find one word as an answer. Whatever the child answers, write a word or a symbol below the group in question.
- “What is the best memory you have about this (or these) persons?” (write the word/symbol)
- “What is the best thing about this person” (beautiful hair/voice, love, kindness, strength, etc.)
- “What is the best thing this person ever did with you” (gave birth to you, remembered your birthday, took you on a nice trip, etc.)
- “What can make you laugh about this person – what is the funniest thing about him/her?” (for example: the way he walks, crazy things they say, strange little habits, etc.)
- “What is the best thing you have received from this person” (courage, strength, endurance, good health, red hair, etc.)
COMPLETING THE PUZZLE OF “WHO AM I?”
Next, you take a new paper sheet and ask the child to draw or you help it draw a very large silhouette of itself that is so big that it fills out the entire sheet. Ask the child to put its name or a symbol above the silhouette and say:
“Now we are going to find out who you are! We are what others have been giving us along the way. We are like pick-up trucks that pick up all the good things people give to us. Finding out who you are is to find out what others have given to you, and it seems they gave you a whole lot of wonderful gifts!. You have met many people in your life, so it’s quite a puzzle we are going to make now!”
Now take the first sheet with groups and qualities and ask the child to cut out each group including the words/symbols for each group, and tape each “piece of the puzzle” on the silhouette of itself. The child should place the groups or persons where they belong on the silhouette. For example if someone loved it, the piece should be placed near the child’s heart. If someone was a good listener, place that piece by the ears, etc.
The child or you can modify the clips when placing them so that they fit into each other like pieces in a puzzle. You can comment on this, for example: “Where do you think we – your foster parents – should be, and where do you think your biological family should be? Perhaps if we cut a little piece of the foster parents, they can fit better with your own parents?” In this way, you can help the child develop an image about its two families being able to unite.
After this process of fitting the pieces together, you can direct the attention of the child to “Who am I then?”:
“Now you can see all the things that fit together in who you are! You are Jack, and you are funny, strong, you have red hair, you know how to give a goodnight hug (or whatever the symbols and words in the silhouette say). You are all the good things that people gave to you, and they are all part of you now! What a wonderful child you are.You are strong, caring etc.” – all the positive words or symbols the child produced are now part of it.
Then you can hang up the drawing in the child’s room or in the kitchen where you can see it every day and keep the conversation going about it with the child. You can make all the adjustments to this activity design as you like. It needs to fit your foster care situation.
D) REFLECTING ON THE PROCESS OF IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT – THE STRUGGLE
For older children (approximately from age 10) and youth, watching this video (The Struggle) can be an activity you do together. You can then have dialogues about what Suzanne tells in this movie and how she has formed an independent identity based on her experiences with different caregivers in her life.
In this process you can discuss with the young person how he or she reflects on the topics presented by Suzanne: the different caregivers she had, the separations, how similar experiences affected your child in care, how this child tries to cope with it and form an independent opinion about itself and others.
The Struggle/De Worsteling
Suzanne over haar adoptie
© Universiteit Utrecht, Afdeling Adoptie, David Blitz productions
We have been given permission to show this video on this website.
For more information about the film visit: http://research.fss.uu.nl/nietgen/adoptie_uni.htm
E) HELP YOUR FOSTER CHILD CREATE ITS OWN STORY OF IDENTITY
After watching and discussing the video together, you can encourage the child or young person to use a cell phone or a camera to make a similar video. This can be about people it has been attached to. The child can describe what it feels like to have different sources of origin.
This includes the process of coming to terms with having two families. If the child or teenager is not familiar with video recording it can write a story about it instead. You can also encourage the child to show this personal video to friends, family or in school. Encourage the child’s pride in being so experienced at such a young age.
THE PURPOSE OF THESE ACTIVITIES
The purpose of all these activities is the same:
To demonstrate to the child or teenager that you accept its sources of origin, that you are open to dialogue about them and the problems connected with having many sources of identity. Including that you support the child or young person in creating a positive idea of him or herself. This process is constantly going on through the years in care.