Mama S here. I have seen an article being widely spread that speaks about how foster children shouldn’t be required to be grateful for everything the foster family does for them. That the foster family signs up for caring for kiddos from hard places and that they shouldn’t expect their foster kids to appreciate what they do for them. I’ve been sitting with that for a bit and I have to say that, while I partially agree, I also strongly disagree.
It isn’t that I think foster kiddos should have to fall all over themselves to appreciate what their foster families are doing for them… it’s rather that I think that it is all parents responsibly to teach their children (regardless of permanency status) to appreciate things that other people do for them. To appreciate when a stranger that is trying to be their friend in a new school comes up to them and offers a marker to color with. To appreciate someone that sits with them at lunch and asks about their interests. To appreciate the person that goes out of their way to do something to make them smile. To appreciate how hard it is for someone to say they were wrong. To appreciate the sacrifices that their parents make to help them be successful.
Think about it… this is how we teach children about how to care for others. How to go out of their way to help others- because they recognize how impactful it is. How to push through uncomfortable feelings and have hard conversations because they know, and appreciate, how it feels on the other side and recognize that others are doing the same thing. How we teach children how to parent their future children. How to respect themselves and command respect from others.
All of these things have roots in learning to appreciate what others do.
Think back to a time where you have gone out of your way, put a lot of thought into something, delivered that (statement, gift, meal, etc.) to someone in your life and they failed to respond in a way that told you that they appreciated all your effort. How crushed were you? We are teaching our children to recognize what others do for them so that they don’t make others feel like they have wasted their time or made a mistake in doing something for them. People shouldn’t do things for others based on what they will get back, but they should also be recognized for doing something kind- unless you do the kind act anonymously (which is even better) but should still be appreciated by the receiver.
That being said- where I do agree is that kiddos should not be required to fall all over themselves to demonstrate appreciation for the basics- having a home to go home to, having a family, roof, food, snuggles, bedtime stories, hugs on hard days, etc. While it is important for the kiddo to recognize that there is a lot that goes into those items, they should be given without expectation of appreciation. That is just standard for family just like this keyboard is standard for my job to give me to type.
The other important thing to take into account is timing. If someone is in a car accident, that isn’t the time to expect them to express grand appreciation for the paramedic. When a child is in a heightened emotional state due to trauma, that is not the time to expect appreciation. That heightened state can last much longer than you think-months—years–. One of our kiddos that has lived with us was in a constant state of anxiety and panic and we spent all of our waking moments focused on helping them feel safe and loved. There could be no expectation of appreciation in that time as there was no mental ability to realize it or express it.
Lastly- you need to recognize the abilities of the child. Appreciation from a child that is nervous of embarrassment or fear of retaliation may look like a simple “thanks” that doesn’t have eye contact. Celebrate that. It may not be the huge reaction you are looking for, but that may be huge for the kiddo. Meet the child where they are at, and when they are ready- mentally and emotionally, and help them make baby steps to showing more appreciation. The best way to do that is to demonstrate what that looks like. When they do something kind (no matter how small)- recognize it verbally. When they think about other people’s feelings- recognize it verbally. When they give a gift- appreciate it in a big way. Then, after some time, do a debrief and talk about how they feel when people demonstrate appreciation to them and help them develop ways to demonstrate appreciation to other people.
The world needs more kindness, more interconnectedness. This is how we change the world. This is how we make the world better for all people. This is what we do, regardless of permanency status. This is how we help our children grow.