Foster children have heard a lot of negatives. Many of them, as a result, think nothing good will ever happen to them. It doesn't matter whether you're a kid or an adult, it can be really hard to challenge negative beliefs about yourself or the world. But, if you're determined you can overcome them and replace them with positive thoughts and affirmations. The negative beliefs that your foster children have about themselves may or may not be obvious when they first come to live with you, but over time, they will come out. Pay careful attention and try to identify these “toxic thoughts” that your foster children have about themselves or the world. Then, start working on uprooting them and teach them instead to dream bigger than life.
Sometimes self-destructive beliefs that foster child have aren't negative. For example, your foster child may believe that she will never get into trouble for doing something illegal. Though this belief about herself and the world isn't “negative” per se, it is still destructive (and unrealistic). If you're going to bring out the inner champion in your child, you're going to have to set some of these things straight while going to work on the negative thoughts that lead foster children to do self-destructive behaviors in the first place. Getting foster kids to have a sense of realism that isn't pessimistic, but still gets them to shoot for the stars is a hard balance to strike. It will take some work on your part, but it's worth it in the end.
My husband an I teach martial arts classes and we work with a lot of children as a result. I use the martial arts classes as an example because many of the children are seriously challenged by things like breaking boards or kicking over a bag with a running jump front kick. I am always amazed at how a child's way of thinking about board breaking or kicking over an obstacle affects whether or not they can accomplish the task. We tell the kids, “Don't just aim to hit the board, go through the board!” This is hard for them. They have to get their focus off the board itself and the impossibility of breaking it with their small, delicate hands and instead, use their imagination and see their hand going through the board. The same is true for kicking over bags. “Aim back here.” We tell them and put up a palm right behind their target. It seems impossible, but we encourage them to believe they can do it. Children lining up to break a board or kick over a bag manifest facial expressions ranging from distressed to determined. Guess which ones succeed every time? The determined ones who've decided that they're ready to break through that board or kick over that bag and they believe they can do it!
Foster children begin their journey with you as distressed individuals. They probably have a lot of beliefs that are self-defeating. They can hardly imagine surmounting the difficulties they face, let alone going beyond to achieve success at something they've dreamed of. But, teaching your children to aim not just to hit the board but to go all the way through it is an important lesson that translates into almost every area of life. Imagine yourself not just doing the minimum, but going beyond that. Do what you're going to do with the confidence that you can succeed. This is what foster children need to hear from you ever day of their lives that they spend in your care!
Years ago, psychologists began to realize that depressed individuals all seemed to have what came to be known as “toxic thoughts”. Toxic thoughts are negative thinking habits that make people feel chronically unhappy and experience learned helplessness in their lives. Psychotherapy for depressed individuals was then aimed at getting rid of toxic thoughts, which often did relieve the depression as well. Foster children can really benefit from hearing positive thoughts about themselves and the world. It's hard not to absorb a positive attitude if you're marinating in it twenty four hours a day. As a foster parent, if you want your foster child to thrive in your care and grow up into a successful and happy adult, cultivate a positive attitude and make sure your foster child hears about it!
So, as you become aware of your foster child's problems, don't aim toward just fixing the issues. Try to give your foster child more than just the goal of “staying out of trouble”. Instead, give your child a positive goal to aim toward. Believe that you child can be more than just someone who didn't do the wrong thing. Your foster child may be resistant and distressed by this at first, but if you believe in her and you encourage her regularly, she may just start to believe you and what you say. It's hard to tell what your foster child can accomplish in her lifetime if you can imbibe her with the right attitude!