Okay…I’m going to go off on a little rant here. You can thank the idea of moving to Australia for this post.
I am by no means a stranger to taking care of children. You can ask any of my family. Any. I have always enjoyed taking care of kids. I’ve wanted to be a mom practically my whole life. I chose a career that involved being around children. I gave my life to caring for children. I am the oldest of six kids. I’ve cared for six kids in my home. My point is – I have a decent amount of experience when it comes to children. Foster children are in a category unto themselves. Totally different rule book – and unpublished at that. (You think you’re children don’t come with a rule book. Um, yes, they do. When compared to foster children – oh yes, they do.)
I like to research. A lot. If you’ve been to my house and seen my living room, you know just how much I like to read. The area I’ve researched the most is child development, attachment disorder, and sensory integration disorder. You read the stories I shared in the previous post – those are but a few! A few! There’s a reason why people tell me to write a book about our foster care years.
There is sooooooooo much development that happens the first year of life. Many people think it’s the first five years. Yes, there’s a lot happening the first five years but the first 12 months sets the ENTIRE STAGE for the years following it. You have no idea how much you’re teaching your baby just by holding them! Literally. Just by holding them! There’s a chemical that’s released into their brain to calm them as they are being held. Their brain chemistry literally changes when they are not held and they don’t learn how to calm themselves down. That’s huge! I have a child who cannot even a little bit calm himself down. He never learned how and I’m having to try and teach him techniques for the past several years – with not much luck. (I suspect he was the most neglected out of the three. I have tidbits of info said to me by his birth grandmother and knowing the situation that support my theory.)
Secondly, when a child is not tended to when they cry, they do not learn cause and effect thinking. They learn as an infant that “if I cry, someone will come tend to my needs”. This is a basic skill. When you’re neglected, you don’t develop it. Think about that – really think about the magnitude of this. You don’t have the skills to think, “if I do this, this will happen”. That’s huge! This is why it didn’t occur to my child that climbing onto the roof to watch the bird was a bad idea because it might be dangerous. (One example of many.) This also includes cause and effect thinking when it comes to privileges and consequences. They don’t get if “I do this, I will get this privilege” and they equally do not get “If I do this, I will get this consequence”. I have yet to find a reward system or consequence system that means anything to them. How many of you have told me I’m creative? Enough said.
In addition, when you don’t learn that someone will tend to your needs, you don’t seek anyone out when you’re older and you do have a need. One of my children, several years ago, got a string loose on his teddy bear and twisted it around his finger while the string was still attached to the teddy bear. He twisted it so tight, it cut off the circulation in the tip of his finger. I was making dinner at the time and heard him crying. It was his normal “I’m upset with my brothers because they did something to me” but nothing out of the ordinary. I did not immediately run to see what was going on since I was cooking. The crying lasted too long and I went upstairs to see what was going on. He was sitting on his bed staring at his finger and crying. Never sought ANYONE out. Just sat on his bed crying and staring at his finger. His finger was BRIGHT purple. I yelled to Niki to bring me a pair of scissors as fast as possible as I tried to get the string off his finger. I snipped off the string and rubbed his finger to get circulation back into it. After which, I literally practiced with him calling to me for help. I had him stand at the top of the stairs and yell, “Mom, I need you!” We practiced it over and over again. I told him to call me whenever he needed me. Did he call me next time he was hurt? Nope. Did he call me the time after when he was hurt? Nope. Has he ever come to me since then when he was hurt? Nope. Have I practiced coming to me and calling for me over and over and over again. Absolutely.
When your child cries – go to them! It’s the stupidest thing on the face of the planet to say my baby needs to learn patience or my baby needs to learn I’m not going to come every time they cry! Seriously stupid! They’re crying because they need something. I don’t think they have to be held every second of the day or should never be allowed to cry for two seconds – for goodness sake, you have to shower, go potty, tend to a another child but…the rest of the time, you tend to the needs of the baby. I’m dealing day in and day out with the consequences of neglect. Hold your babies! Tend to their needs.
Additionally, one particular child of mine has an issue with thinking he won’t get enough food. I’ve had him for 7 years and he still thinks he won’t get fed enough everyday. When we got him, we had to teach him not to eat out of the trash can anymore. He fed himself from a trash can as soon as he could walk! To this day, he thinks he will not get fed by us and has a real issue with sneaking into food and hoarding it. Feed them when they’re hungry as a baby!
Also, when a child is neglected – and in this case, it meant he was left in a crib, car seat, swing, floor, wherever for long periods of time – they are not being stimulated for normal development either. When you kiss your baby’s cheeks, you’re stimulating their muscles to develop for eating! I literally had two of my children go to therapy to learn how to eat! This is a basic skill that they should have learned as a baby. Also, NEVER prop a bottle in their mouth. Two reasons: 1) You’re teaching your baby trust when you’re holding them and feeding them – whether that’s nursing or bottle feeding. Doesn’t matter. When you’re holding them and they are making eye contact with you, you’re teaching them that they can trust you. Not a single one of my boys can look me in the eyes. This is a classic problem for foster children. 2) When you prop a bottle in a baby’s mouth, especially a young baby, they cannot control the flow of milk going into their mouth by pulling the bottle out. The milk will start pooling up in the back of their mouth and to prevent from choking, they will thrust their tongue forward to slow down the milk flow. I’m still doing therapy with one of my boys for this – I witnessed a bottled being propped in his mouth when he was a baby and I had five experts from Children’s Hospital tell me he was not fed properly as a baby just by watching him eat at age 2. This is also why many Down Syndrome children have their tongues thrust forward. The parents are taught to make a larger hole in the nipple of the baby’s bottle because Down Syndrome children have a harder time sucking. These children learn to thrust their tongues forward as a baby to prevent from choking and the stereotypical Down Syndrome characteristic of tongue forward is actually unknowingly caused by the parents because of advice from their doctor.
One last tid bit for now, when you play peek-a-boo with your child, you’re teaching them that you go away but you’ll be back again. Seriously. These are simple things we do that you don’t even realize that you’re teaching your child.
There are a myriad of things happening developmentally that first year of life. When those needs are not met, the children’s brains and muscles do not develop properly. It is sooooooo incredibly hard to change it once it happens. Oh. my. goodness it’s hard to change it. I’ve seen some progress in my boys but it’s uber slow, uber hard, and uber frustrating – for both of us.
This is why people tend to not understand when I share a story about my boys and why I tend to not share them anymore. It has nothing to do with them “just being boys”. They were neglected. It has side effects. I haven’t even touched on the emotional side effects.
Sometimes mommy (me) needs a vent so she doesn’t explode. Sometimes a little support goes a long way. What I’ve found is that people get really uncomfortable because they don’t know what the appropriate thing to say is. Sometimes the only appropriate thing to say is what my husband texted to me earlier today, “Oh crap!!! I’m so sorry babe!” Some days are like that around here. Pick myself back up and try again.