With summer coming to an end, there are still so many groups that we could learn about and serve in our community for our Summer of Kindness. But, there was one in particular, that I know kids my have not really been exposed too: foster and adopted kids.
In full disclosure, I actually have struggled with how to talk to my kids about the experiences of foster children because the situations these kids face are not only foreign to my children, but also really scary. In a way, by talking about the realities foster kids face means I have to break the bubble of safety and happiness I've created around my kids. Especially when it comes to us, their parents.
The potential that my husband or I could get sick, get hurt, or even die is not one we've talked much about. And, while we've talked about different types of families - my family for example is the epitome of untraditional - they've never really internalized it from the perspective that it could happen to them.
By tackling this topic, I knew that this artificial sense of safety was about to be burst. Or at least a little of the air was going to be taken out of the bubble I created. I have always wanted my children to feel safe, secure, and stable. I never wanted them to question that their father and I would separate, that they wouldn't have enough money to eat, or that they could ever become foster kids themselves.
So, I've procrastinated on this kindness activity a bit because I wanted to maintain this bubble around them.
My a-ha moment came when it dawned on me that I could have this conversation with them while also reinforcing their sense of safety.
I realized they could learn about and empathize with other kids and also still feel secure in their own life. The question was how. I started where I often do by researching. Step 1 in my Roadmap for Creating Kid Activists are Parents, Prepare! Naturally, this is what I did.
Based on my research and small, starter conversations I had with my kids, I started to get clearer on what I wanted my kids to get out of this activity.
I wanted them to understand the experience of foster kids and discover ways they could help them, even though this conversation could scare them a little bit.
I wanted them to walk away with a definition of "family" that is defined as a group of people who take care of and love each other no matter what. And, not defined as a group of homogenous people who look like each other with a mom, dad, and kids.
The second objective here is the key to helping my kids build an understanding and appreciation for all the different types of families out there, while also reinforcing their safety and security through a recognition of all those in our family who love and care for them.
Here's how it came down in our household.
We were reading the wonderful book Barefoot Book of Children one night and there was a page in there about families. I had forgotten about this page and it mentioned foster parents. Before my son moved on from this page, I asked him if he had any questions. He said, "mom, what is a foster parent?"
Perfect lay up!!
I took the opportunity to kickstart a discussion with him about foster families and introduced a potential activity to help them. He said he was game. After this "introduction", I gave my oldest a couple of books to read (see the download) and I read some more age-appropriate books to my 5 year old separately. I wanted to keep things age appropriate here.
One book in particular, Home At Last, really helped highlight the experience and feelings of a foster kid, and it hit home with my 8 year old. This book was also about two dads adopting a foster kid, so it achieved my second goal as well.
When I handed him the book, I said I would really like to chat with him afterwards to see what he thought. I asked him:
What did you learn about foster kids in this story?
How did the foster parents in this story support Lester (the foster kid)?
What did the foster parents feel when they realized what Lester needed?
Who is in this family? How is it different from ours?
How is this family the same as ours? (Use this as a jumping off point to talk about family is about love, support, and taking care of each other - and not about the types, colors, or gender of people in it).
How do you think it feels to be a foster kid? What is hard?
What would be something you could do for Lester to help?
What questions do you have that I can answer for you?
We had an incredibly insightful and moving conversation. One of the ones I will remember forever.
It was through this conversation with my 8 year old that I saw the activist in him coming out. He is starting to not just be aware of the different experiences of the people in our community, but also how he can help them. When I asked question # 7 above, he immediately came up with a couple of ideas - write them a card, give them a book, or give them a stuffed animal.
I asked him why a stuffed animal. "Because," he said, "stuffed animals help you when you are scared and anxious to feel better. And, I want them to feel better."
Here are some quick tips on how to have a similar conversation with your kids!
Don't interview your kids! Use these questions as starting points.
Build on what your kids say to go deeper. Use their answers to ask another question.
Reflect back what you hear - often just repeating back to them what they say will prompt them to say more.
If you're not sure what to say, just say "tell me more."
Don't agree with how your kid is interpreting the story? Offer an alternative point of view and ask them what they think.
Use the conversation as an opportunity to reinforce values in your family such as kindness, acceptance, and respect.
Always end with giving them an opportunity to ask you questions. You'd be surprised with what they come up with!
So, a stuffed animal drive idea was born.
My 5 year old son, in a similar but shorter conversation, decided he would use his birthday party as a way to collect stuffed animals for kids entering foster care. Side note: using birthday parties as a way to help others is something we do every year in this family, but this year they each got to decide what to do. The 5 year old chose helping foster kids.
Check out this week's download with the book recommendations for this week as well as how-to talk about pointers, conversation starters with your kids on this topic, AND a ready to go flier to use for your stuffed animal drive!