Do you worry that your decision to foster or adopt will hurt the kids you are already raising? Check out this podcast with Dr. Jana Hunsley, an Assistant Professor of Instruction at the University of Texas at Dallas, trauma therapist, TBRI® Practitioner, and founder of Project 1025.
In this episode, we cover:
Tips for Parents
How can parents lessen the impact and increase the benefits of fostering or adopting for kids already in the family.
This podcast is produced by www.CreatingaFamily.org. We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:
Please leave us a rating or review RateThisPodcast.com/creatingafamily
Please pardon any errors, this is an automated transcript.
Dawn Davenport 0:00
Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. As you know, I am the host of the show and the director of the nonprofit creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about a topic that is near and dear to me and one I don't think we cover enough and that topic is the impact of fostering and adoption on kids already in the family. We'll be talking with Dr. Jana Hunsley. She is an assistant professor of instruction at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is a trauma therapist, a TBRI® practitioner, and she is the founder of Project 1025. That is an organization devoted to supporting foster and adoptive parents through individualized coaching and counseling. Jan has research and clinical work has focused on understanding the needs of every member of the foster and adoptive parent triad. And the her emphasis is on meeting their needs through developing practical post adoption and post fostering interventions. So welcome Dr. Hunsley, we are so happy to have you back on the Creating a Family podcast.
Unknown Speaker 1:12
Thank you, it's good to be back, I'm always happy to talk about this topic.
Dawn Davenport 1:16
So for the purposes of this interview, we're going to start by talking about the impacts of fostering, then we're going to move to talking about how the impacts may differ when you are an adoptive parent. And then we're going to talk about some of the more common worries we hear from parents. And then we're going to end on practical advice of what you as a parent can do to increase the benefits and decrease the negative impacts of kids are in the in the family. So that's kind of the structure. So hang around to the end, because we're going to be talking practical suggestions at that point. So let's start with fostering. So what are some of the common impacts of fostering on kids already in the family? And let me just pause here. And when we use the term kids already in the family or children already in the family or existing children, we are including both children who are have entered the family by birth, but also family, children who have entered the family through adoption. So what are some of the common impacts? And I do want to talk about both negative and positive?
Unknown Speaker 2:18
Well, I love that you give that kind of disclaimer to that, because I think it's one of the things I care the most about in my research is that it we're not just talking about biological children, and adopted children and their two separate groups, but rather that really any child can be in this role in the family, depending on the family structure, exactly the way that I normally answer this question is like, here's the top four ways that they often are impacted. But I think I want to zoom out a little bit with this. And really help parents understand why their children are impacted and why their children respond the way they do. Because when when you choose to foster you, oftentimes, stress and unpredictability becomes a reality and your home environment in your family, because of the transitioning of the children in and out because of the unknown, the uncertainty, all of the scrutiny that can come from caseworkers and other people that are involved in the system. And so oftentimes, the parents are stressed and overwhelmed, and the children feel that and experienced that parents can feel uncertain, that they don't have all the answers anymore, they can feel hopeless, you know, all of these experiences that parents have, and the children that are in the family feel that and see it. And one of the things that we have to be mindful of is that, you know, this is a whole family system, and everyone is impacted by everyone in the family. And so when there is more stress and unpredictability in the environment, when the parents are more stressed and overwhelmed, uncertain, really, what what to do what not to do, the children are going to feel that experience it and need to do something with that. Oftentimes, when I'm talking to siblings, they talk about how like, they feel like they they see it all they feel it all like they feel their parents emotions, they feel the stress and tension that's in the family system. And that's a weight and a burden for that child, whether no matter their age for them to carry. And they have to do something with that if you think about like just like natural human emotions, like when we feel like that heaviness, that burden that overwhelm. Like, we have to release it somehow. And so often for these children, it's what they do with that like they can't just like feel the feelings and not do anything with it. And so that's why often then we see that the children what they do it that way and without without with the heaviness of what's happening in the tension, all the feelings that they are experiencing in their family. It comes out in different things such as like maybe removing themselves and kind of isolating themselves from the family system because things are so overwhelming that they'd rather just like go lock themselves in their room and not have to experience all of it
Dawn Davenport 4:49
or or get super involved in a sport or get you know become very involved in friend groups or whatever. So removing is we think of it as the you know, going into the rooms I think the door but there are other ways they can remove themselves.
Unknown Speaker 5:02
Exactly. Yeah, yeah can try to kind of remove themselves from being as close into the family system as what they were. But also can be like they jump in and take on even more responsibility to try to make everything better. And that can look like being like another caregiver to their younger to their siblings that are being fostered or adopted, it can also look like being an emotional support for their parents, it can even look like just like taking on household responsibilities that aren't, don't need to be their responsibility, but they feel like the pressure and responsibility to do all of these things to try to lessen their parents load, it can even look like them, not having any needs themselves. And like I'm going to be very independent and not have any needs and take care of myself that I don't add any more burden to my parents already overwhelmed plates. And so thinking of it from that perspective of so often, the child is really responding to that stress and unpredictability in the environment, and needing to like do something to act in some way to handle that stress and overwhelm. And so it can look like a lot of different things. But they're all that's what they're always doing is responding to that. And one way or another.
Dawn Davenport 6:09
Interesting. So how does some of that we've mentioned some of the impacts one, children removing themselves in some way, becoming less involved in the family unit, or children becoming more involved in the family unit, or in the family or in the household taking care of things, children becoming more independent, not going not not coming to their parents with questions, not coming with their parents with concerns, because the last thing their parents need is one more thing on their plate. Exactly. Yeah. So what are some of the other either? Those are some of the broad categories? How can we see what are there any other we're going to move to positive here in a minute, but what is how do these big broad categories necessarily manifest? Do we see children acting out? Do we see kids, children existing already in the family acting out more or acting out less? Or what are some of the ways that we might see the behaviors we might see?
Unknown Speaker 7:08
Yeah, so it can go actually either way. So you can see, I mean, you could use the term acting out, but often what can happen is that children will see. So again, if you think about like, from a family perspective, what's happening oftentimes, when you bring a child into your home through foster care, that child has a lot of needs immediate needs, because they're adjusting to your family and your home. And so the parents are very focused on that child's needs. And what can then happen is that the other children in your home sometimes, and this is not always the case. But sometimes the children will start to see, okay, if this child acts out, they get attention. So I'm going to start mirroring that same behavior, because I see that gets attention. And I'm craving attention from my parents, because I no longer receive as much as I used to. So now I'm going to act out more in order to get my needs met. So they really learn a new way to get their needs met and get attention, which can lead to those externalizing behaviors, more of the like the behavioral things that we'd see in the home, that might mirror some of the trauma related behaviors of the child that is being fostered. But also, more often than not, the child children that are already in the home, really internalize. And that I think is, is the trickiest part of all of this is that rather than seeing these acting out behaviors, they get real quiet, and it's all internal. And so they are feeling all of their emotions inside of themselves. But again, because they don't want to burden their parents and overwhelm them, they turn inward and turn inside and really isolate themselves, and don't talk to anybody about what they're experiencing or feeling. And so we see a lot more internalizing behaviors, and children that are already in the home than externalizing behaviors. But that can the acting out can happen. But more often than not, they're the ones that are really quiet, go with the flow, and don't really talk about any of it, which, as we know, psychology is more dangerous, because you're not necessarily attuned and attending to those needs.
Dawn Davenport 9:04
Do children who are already in the home of the children who are coming in the new kids who are coming in the foster children often are coming from not often almost always are coming from a trauma background, or if they have experienced trauma, they've experienced things in their life that are that are hard. And is there a for the children existing in the family? Does it make it hard to complain about getting a C on a test they'd really studied for? Or not having somebody ask them to sit at the table or maybe getting cut from the soccer team or whatever? Is there the pain of Olympics that that tends to go on in their mind? Or even in their parents mind?
Unknown Speaker 9:43
Yes, absolutely. It does for the children, and oftentimes it depends on the child. So I found that children who are more who are more aware and more attuned and maybe more connected to their parents often do that paying the Olympics as you call it, and so that they because they're so a Laron attuned to their family system and the members of the family, they're very aware that, or they feel very much like my needs don't matter nearly as much as their needs, like my needs are minimal compared to theirs. And again, because they see that their parents are so burdened and overwhelmed, they say, this is not a big deal, I'll just take care of myself. And the reality is when I like, I mean, I do coaching often with through my organization, and I get parents all the time who are like, I want them to come to me with my with their needs, I want them, I want to know what's going on with them. But the children in these families are like, I'm going to handle it myself, because this is not a big deal. And I don't want them to be overwhelmed. But a child can't handle those, those those complex things like we need people, we need relationships, we need that connection, just to process and make sense of things. And so that tends to be one of the biggest tasks is helping children see that their needs are just as important and there isn't, there's no comparison of my needs are less than their needs. We all have needs. And those needs need to be met, regardless of how big or little we think they are. And so yeah, that is that contributes to the I'm just going to get really quiet and stay to myself and not talk about any of this because I don't want to overwhelm them.
Dawn Davenport 11:11
So what are some of the RR there? Maybe I should ask it that way. Are there some benefits to children already in the family, when their parents become foster parents and bring children in for fostering?
Unknown Speaker 11:23
Yes, and this is something I would love to research more, because it's fascinating to me that the siblings that are in the home, what we find is that they tend to have more empathy, more compassion, more emotional attunement, awareness, more. So just overall more emotional maturity, they tend to have a more complex and realistic worldview. So a healthier worldview, they also tend to be much more just in general, aware of trauma and brokenness in the world and understand the complexity of that. And they also tend to follow paths where they are going to where they want to live a meaningful, purposeful life so that they're doing work that is fulfilling and purposeful in terms of giving back helping others trying to make the world a better place. And to me, and I have to do stuff, like so many good things. But to me, all of that really points to and this is what I want to research more what I in terms of like trying to make sense of why do they have all these really positive benefits? Or why can they have all these really positive benefits? I think part of it is really, a lot of times these children are their brains are still developing, they're still going through their own developmental processes. And yet they're walking alongside and loving someone who's experienced early adversity. And that is shaping their brains as they are in that relationship with that person as their understanding the complexity of that, and how somebody is affected by that. And so we see that really play out in their lives just in terms of their social and emotional development, and how much that can benefit them.
Dawn Davenport 12:56
So you have done some of the limited resources that exist on this topic, which is why I so enjoyed talking to you. So what does your research show on? How significant and how often children already in the family are negatively impacted by fostering? And then also the same question on how often they are positively impacted. And by positive, I would include all the things that you mentioned. So what does your research show?
Unknown Speaker 13:26
It's such a spectrum, there's not necessarily like, here's this is how this is the percentage that experience positive, this is the percentage of experience negative, but rather that it's it is so much I've seen, I mean, in the research I had done, think about the one study I did that was with several 100 adult adoptive siblings. And it was such a spectrum of like some who had incredibly negative experiences, others who had incredibly positive experiences, but the majority live in that middle ground, which is there's positive and negative, which makes sense, right? That's like, that's why and so they have the really high highs and also the really low lows, and they can hold both things, which again, points to the emotional maturity of the children that are in this position because they can hold you know, it's hard for people to learn how to hold the complexity of, of two realities that may make them housing and so yeah, they're able to do that and really see both the positive and the negative that can come
Dawn Davenport 14:22
the ability to embrace the the end of the world to know of things being able to exist together versus the or meaning that we have to choose things have to be one or the other. Exactly. Interesting. Yeah, that does make sense. I hope this conversation you're enjoying as much as I am. I want to thank our partnership with the jockey being family foundation for making it possible. jockeys support allows us to provide you with free online courses at our creating a family.org online Parent Training Center. You could access those courses by going to Bitly, slash, j, b, f sport, it's bi T dot L, Y, Flash, all one word, J. B support, the courses are terrific. You can get a certificate of completion if you need that. If you don't, it just helps you be a better parent. So check it out today. Should parents who are considering fostering? Should they include the kids who are already there? They're already parenting in the decision to become a foster parent.
Unknown Speaker 15:32
This is a question I get all the time because they as parents are understanding more and more about okay, Mike, this, you know, the children that are in the home are affected. So what am I what am I supposed to do with this? And I think an important way to think about it isn't necessarily like you need to get it's not it's not the child's decision, whether you adopt,
Dawn Davenport 15:53
or foster. Yeah, I think that sorry. Yeah. No, no, both, I bet I'm gonna ask the same question on on adoption. Yeah, go ahead.
Unknown Speaker 16:01
Yeah. So it's not their decision. But also, I think, when you're aware of just how much this is going to affect your children, you see the importance of including them in the conversation. So it's not simply I'm just going to inform you, this is what we're doing. But rather, let's have a dialogue. Let's talk about what your concerns are, what you're excited about what you're unsure about, and and for the parents to be able to parent in that moment, and to be able to to help talk through the concerns to get more information if they don't have the answers to really talk through what this might look like and what expectations are. And to get the feedback and to talk through that with your children. I think that is it. I mean, again, recent, my research shows that that having that conversation at the beginning of this process of fostering or adopting that initial conversation before a child enters your home, is is really crucial to positive outcomes later. But also, don't worry, if you've already Foster and adopted and you did not have that conversation, there's other ways to have positive outcomes too. But that's a big one is that is that place of having those conversations with that because it builds that awareness of this is going to affect all of us, and your voice matters. And that's really what we want to in terms of like strategies for for helping our children, it really comes a lot of it comes down to helping your child have a voice. And so this is just at the very beginning of the process, letting them have a voice in this,
Dawn Davenport 17:24
that makes really good sense. Is there a better age for the children already in the family to start fostering because of their ability to understand this and participate in this conversation, as well as their ability to share their parents? Is there is there? I know there isn't a magic age? I would like that to be the case. But there isn't. And that's probably good. But what what do we know about the age of the children in the family and how a fostering impacts them?
Unknown Speaker 17:52
So I wish the I so when I first did my research, I thought that there would be an age or a range that maybe this would be a better time to add children into your family because that's what I think this community talks about is that there are certain ages and do's and don'ts and we want
Dawn Davenport 18:07
answers, darn it.
Unknown Speaker 18:11
But what I found is that there really isn't there is no age, like the age of the child does not matter. And I think when I step back and look at the families that I've worked with, it makes so much sense. Because if you think about it affects them differently based on the age, but not more positively or more negatively. So if you have a small child and you're choosing to foster, it's going to feel very normal to them. And it's not going to be this like big shift in the family, it's just going to be the normal in their family in their home. And so they're not going to have that like difficult transition as much as maybe an older child, because it again, just feels like this is just what our family does. I don't know anything differently. But you have a child who is older and you choose to foster, that's where you're going to see a lot of those impacts of those really positive impacts that can come because they're they're really at that point, experiencing the complexity of loving this child being having this child be a part of their family, while also understanding their story and their history and the trauma they've experienced. And so it really again, it's not there's not at this age, they're gonna have more positive experience or this aging and more negative experience, but rather, it just is different at different ages.
Dawn Davenport 19:26
That makes sense. So what about if you have an only child there's just the in the family, the current family structure, there is only one child, what have you What did you see in your research? For me, we have this image we have this stereotype in our heads about only children. What did you find as far as impacts on only children?
Unknown Speaker 19:48
That's where you kind of taken both. Not that fostering. I do not believe at all that foster is the same as just having a child birthing a child but it also becomes that kind of what an all Like when you have an only child, and you talk about having another child in the family, it's that same kind of process because they're having to learn how to share their parents and their things, just as if they were bringing a child into the family. So that's part of it. But then also it is. And it just requires so much communication, because you're completely no matter how many children you have in the family already, you're completely changing your family structure. And so it's important to talk through those things, for them to understand expectations, what might shift for the family, what might shift and the amount of time and attention I can give you. Because often, you know, they're the center of attention, they're able to be that when there's only one child, and so for them to really, to talk through those things, which is just as important to do if you have two or more children in the family already. And so it's really, I think it might need a little bit more conversation and communication about but it really is similar, no matter how many children you have. And it also depends on the child, I have families that I've worked with where they had one child, but the child was so excited to get a sibling. And the parents worked through like this is what this might look like, it might not be this, you know, all rainbows and unicorns.
Dawn Davenport 21:08
Wait until this point, do you have a sibling?
Unknown Speaker 21:10
Yes, yeah. And so they were really excited about it. And there's others who are more uncertain, because they don't know what that's going to look like. And so I think it is just, it is so different for every child. But again, if it if it goes down to let's talk about this, let's have open dialogue, and and talk through your concerns and also prepare you well for what's going to come, it works well every time.
Dawn Davenport 21:30
So how much information about the new child coming in to the family should you share with the other kids at home,
Unknown Speaker 21:39
I have heard people say, don't really share anything, and I do not agree with that at all, I think that one of the things that I have found to be very true is that you are this person is coming and becoming a part of your family. And so at when to belong, and to feel that belonging in a family, you have to be known. And and so I think about like for the children that are already in the family when I see the most challenges for those children is because they have no idea about the new siblings background. Because they what they will struggle with then is why are they acting like this? Why are they having all these issues? Why can't they just behave? And they don't? Why
Dawn Davenport 22:20
are they embarrassing me at school? Why are they Yeah, or see me when we go to the store? Why can't go out to restaurants anymore? Because, you know, they're throwing, you know, silverware or whatever,
Unknown Speaker 22:29
yes, because they don't have the under the deeper understanding of why they are the way they are. And so they really struggle with a differences between them, when they understand some of their background. And again, developmentally appropriate, right? Like you're gonna tell a 16 year olds and the different, you're gonna tell a nine year old in terms of like what the child's experience before they come home, but for them to at least understand no matter the age, that this child has come from places where they've experienced stress adversity, where they maybe didn't always have a caregiver who was able to meet all of their needs and attend to them and like give and let them know how much they're loved. I think for them to understand that gives the child this compassion and an empathy and understanding for when the child responds or acts differently in the home than what they would expect.
Dawn Davenport 23:17
I'm guessing here based on your answer that you would not be encouraging sharing personal information that the child should belong only to the child but more general information of they came from a background where they didn't have a lot of food, or they weren't always sure they were going to have a house or their their dad was not nice to their mom, as opposed to some of the more personal details. So am I right on that?
Unknown Speaker 23:48
Correct? Absolutely. Yeah. It's because the specific things that happen are not important for the child to know. And also, again, like you said, it's that child's story. And so it's not, you know, to, especially things as sensitive as like sexual abuse or things like that. Like that's not, we don't need to share the specifics of that, because then we also can't control what our children do with that information. Yeah. But the important piece is to deepen their understanding empathy for that child. And so that's where it is just very general in terms of what they've experienced what they haven't experienced before they came home and not necessarily a comparison between what they didn't have and what you have, because that can lead to some competitive, we don't want to have our children comparing themselves to each other. But more so helping to see, here's some things that this child experienced before they came into our home and this is why they might act the way that they do, but we're helping them heal from those things.
Dawn Davenport 24:45
I think it's helpful to paint behaviors in terms when we're explaining it to our kids and to ourselves actually, as as symptoms of coping mechanisms that are they're not good or bad necessarily them the behaviors. can be very maladaptive, but that the child is behaving this way, because they needed to behave this way in order in their past because it was good for them. It's not good for them now, it's not going to be good for them in the world. But as opposed to, I think that sometimes helps kids be more, and helps ourselves, be more sympathetic to behaviors that are, quite frankly, are driving us crazy.
Unknown Speaker 25:23
Yes, exactly. And that and that those types of conversations are what build that empathy and emotional maturity in your children.
Dawn Davenport 25:31
Hey, guys, have you subscribed yet to our free monthly newsletter, if not, you are missing out, you can subscribe by going to Bitly slash trans racial guy, that's bi T dot L Y, slash trans racial calm. And obviously, because you can hear from the from the shortened link, if you subscribe, now, you will be able to download our transracial Guide, which is strengthening and supporting your transracial adopted, it is our way of thanking you for subscribing. The newsletter is terrific. We comes out monthly, it gives you all sorts of resources. And if it does, it doesn't melt your butter. It's not what you like, you could easily unsubscribe. So now we've talked about fostering, how do the impacts of adopting differ from the impacts of fostering, and I think it I think, let's talk about some of the differences just in the structure of how adoption works versus how and what adoption is meant to be versus what fostering is meant to be.
Unknown Speaker 26:35
Yeah, I mean, I think the the biggest thing to talk about in this is the permanency versus the transitory nature of both. And so there's positives and negatives that come with that. And so we think about with fostering, there isn't necessarily a permanence to it. And so a child can come into the home, but could leave at some point, there's a lot more unpredictability that comes in that household because of that. And so, which means that a child's might, you know, a child that's already in the home is going to experience probably more transitions, more children coming in and out of the home, and having to build those relationships, and they leave and then having to, you know, grieve or the loss of that and have to transition. And then at photography, the child comes in having to do that transition all over again. And so there's a lot more transition and change that can come in that. Whereas with adoption, it's obviously permanent in nature. And so a child comes into the home, and they are then there permanently, and they become your sibling permanently. And so, again, there's pros and cons to both. And so in terms of with foster care, you have that transition. And so it's not necessarily that you're experiencing, this is going to be how our family is forever. And so if you're experiencing a lot of stress and unpredictability, oftentimes, you know, when that child if, if the most positive outcome happens, or just that they are able to go back to their biological family, then your experience, you're shifting back to what your family was, and that that nuclear family system that you're used to. And so you get those experiences of going back to what your family was, and then transitioning again, as a family. And so there's not a permanency with that person is always going to be here in our home with us as part of this family. Whereas with adoption, you have that permanent nature and so that, again, you don't have the transition, that change happens all the time. But also what can happen with adoption is that if your family is experiencing stress and overwhelm, in this process, because of any type of like the trauma and early adversity that comes into your family system, what can happen is that can become chronic. And so what we see in families is that when families are experiencing stress, everyone kind of really fuses together, and they take on more, everyone kind of responds to that stress in their own way. Oftentimes, they kind of they become closer and take on more responsibility or take on different roles in the family system to really try to offset the stress. In reality, when we do that, it actually just creates more stress. It's really fascinating. But this happens all the time in adoptive families is that they take like the feeling of stress. And so you kind of just jump in to try to manage the stress and you take on different roles and responsibilities in the family system than what you had before the stress came in. And unfortunately, that can become chronic. And so if it isn't, if there isn't relief that comes if it's not as a stressor is not alleviated, then everybody in that family can take on these new roles and stay in those roles. And so that's where we see with some of the things that I talked about in terms of potential impacts of children who are in families that are fostering, if you think about those becoming chronic, it can really shape and affect a child. And so thinking about things like if I am turning inward and isolating myself and really feeling invisible in the family, I can start to feel like I'm not good enough that I'm not lovable, that I'm not actually wanted and they can change my self perception and my perception of others that I interact with. If I am stepping in and trying to be the helper and be in front of Biden taking all these responsibilities to try to make everything okay in the family. And yet it doesn't really seem like it's working, I can start to feel like, I just need to keep doing better, I need to be better, I need to be better, I need to do more, I need to be good enough. And they can put this pressure responsible on themselves to be perfect. And so you see how, like these experiences, if they're experienced chronically, it can really lead to changes in terms of their self perception, their perception of others in the world.
Dawn Davenport 30:28
But that chronic those chronic changes could happen, it seems to me in families who foster or adopt, especially if they foster more than one child, so it's, you know, they foster a child that child leaves another child comes in or another sibling group comes in. So it seems like the chronic nature could happen in either in my right.
Unknown Speaker 30:48
Yes, it just happens more often with adoption, because it's you, you really settle into those roles. Yeah, yes, during clustering, yeah. The family really changes every time a new child comes into the home, because that child is going to affect the you know, it's going to affect the family definitely or the child before them, because of age, because it just individual differences in the child. And so how the family is going to experience like is going to function in a new way, as a system is going to shift every time a child comes in, even though you might take on similar roles, but your family is going to feel different with each child. Whereas with adoption, this really kind of becomes a settling in of this is how we are as a family. If that makes sense.
Dawn Davenport 31:28
It does. And the other thing that we're not the Another difference is that when you are adopting from foster care, which is the largest percentage of adoptions that happen, the child very often is living with you. It is you are the foster parents. So with fostering, you're talking in abstract, when you're talking with your kids about having that discussion that you were talking about, including them in the conversation, you're talking in abstract, it's because the child has not come to the family yet. So you're saying, you know, we are thinking about taking this child, they're hoping that they go back home to their Mommy and Dad, we're gonna take them and help them while their mom and dad get, you know, work on themselves. You know, blah, blah, blah. And we think this child, we know that they haven't always had a home. And so you know, blah, blah. So it's all it's all theoretical. But when we're talking with children, when we're talking about adopting very often, the child, you're talking if that conversation involves a child who is living in the home, and that feels like that changes, it changes the conversation.
Unknown Speaker 32:33
Yes, it very much does. And I actually find that children who have the easiest transition, and this is not research, this is just anecdotal from my clinical work, so don't freak out that showing this yet. But what I find is that children who were the families fostered and then adopted that child actually have the easiest transition, because it just feels like well, they already were a part of our family. And now they're permanently a part of our family. And so there's less of that kind of like a marked difference. And it's similar in that and we see even like with international adoptions, where are domestic infant adoptions where the child wasn't in your home prior to adoption, but oftentimes, like you're still preparing for that child to come, maybe you haven't experienced them yet in person, they haven't been in your home, but you still are you, you know you're matched with a child, and then you're waiting for that child to be able to come into your family. And so there is a preparation process and a transition process that can happen, that also helps the child really have the time to process and make sense of what this is going to be like for the family,
Dawn Davenport 33:32
and allows the time for the family to this shouldn't just be one discussion. This is if we're including them in conversation, it is Conversations plural, we are having at and we're as fostering honestly, you may very often you would have 24 hours, maybe three hours, notice. So it's a very quick transition. But there is nothing quick about adoption. And you know, regardless whether it's an infant are international, or foster care, all of those take time. So you have, you have the gift of time. That seems like there. It also seems to me that with fostering it, there seems to be less pressure on the creation of a sibling relationship. Because this child again, the goal is to get this child back to heal help the family heal. So the goal is not to necessarily have is that the pressure may be the wrong word, maybe expectation that sibling relationships or lasting sibling relationships will form. How does that play in with adoption versus Foster?
Unknown Speaker 34:38
Yeah, I don't I have not experienced that as much in my work, I think because the goal is still to develop that relationship, right? We want to we want to build that just as the parents talk about in fostering like you need to build that attachment and connection to the child. We want that for the children as well in the home. And so yes, the reality is that it may not be permanent, they may not forever be a part of your Family, but we still want to build and deepen that connection. And so that really, the difference really becomes more in terms of long term. Because for children that are in families that are adopting, you know, you have that relation for that person for the rest of your life, whereas it's fostering, if you're not able to maintain connection, you don't necessarily have that. So in the moment, there's not as much of a difference in terms of the child coming into your home. And because you still want to build that connection. Again, you still want that child to feel like they belong as part of the family. But it's different in terms of more of the long term outcomes.
Dawn Davenport 35:31
Okay, great. I want to especially thank children's connection. They have been, I'm not sure, but I think they're probably one of our oldest, if not the oldest sponsor of both the organization and nonprofit creating a family as well as this podcast. They have just been terrific for us, and we really appreciate their support. Children's connection is an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption, and embryo donation and adoption throughout the US. They also provide home studies and post adoption support to families in Texas. I think parents, there are some common words anyway that we hear from parents when they're considering fostering or adopting. One is, the new child coming in may have developed behaviors that help them survive in their prior home? Or are the physical symptoms of the trauma they've experienced, such as tantrum stealing, cursing, or whatever, parents worry that these behaviors will rub off on their child of the children already in their family?
Unknown Speaker 36:35
We see that often that parents come with that concern of I don't know what to do and what happens and how do I how do I take care of my children. And I think the important thing to remember with this is that there's always a reason behind the behavior. And so it's not as simple as Oh, this behavior is just rubbing off on my children that are already in the home who haven't experienced early adversity, but rather looking at just as we often try to what we call play detective with the children who come into our home, understand why they are the way they are, why they behave and act the way that they do, we need to also with our children who are already in the home, so understanding what is going on as to why they are responding this way. They're not simply just mirroring this behavior, because that's what they're seeing. But they're also trying to get them need met. And so think considering that for what I often see is two different things for children who are already in the home. One is that they've seen that, well, this child, when they act out, they get attention. And I'm feeling like I receive a lot less attention from my parents and what I used to. So I'm going to do the same thing to get attention now. So that my needs can get met. Again, all unconscious, it's all just this is all just how the children are responding. It's not that they're actually like thinking through how do I get my needs met. But it's how our brains are wired, right, our brains are wired to try to get our needs met. And so the children see this is this is meeting, they're getting their needs met this way and gain attention, I'm going to do the same thing. And so again, understand, like, why why the behaviors happening. The other thing can also be that sometimes it's it's vicarious trauma, you know, it's it can be hard to, to witness and experience the effects of trauma on a child that has come into your home. And if you aren't having those conversations at dialogue about why this child is, is acting this way, or what's what might be different here, it can be really hard for the child to make sense of that and can exhibit their own vicarious trauma just from being in that relationship and being at home with a child who might be exhibiting those behaviors. And so either way, there's, there's a reason behind that behavior. And then so for you as the parent, it's to parent that reason, right? If your child's seeking attention, how can you be more proactive with giving them some attention, so that their needs are getting met, and they don't need to act out to get their needs met? If it's vicarious trauma? How can we help to talk through these things and help them process and make sense of some of maybe the hard things that they're witnessing or experiencing the family so that it's not coming out in their behavior, but they're learning to verbalize it, rather than acting now.
Dawn Davenport 39:04
Another common concern we hear is how to handle possible behaviors that could be harmful to the kids already in the family, in an example of that would be acting out sexually with other kids or even acting out aggressively with other kids in a non sexual manner. It can
Unknown Speaker 39:21
be really alarming and scary for a parent when they can't have eyes on all of their children. 24/7. And so how do we make sure that we're keeping every one of our children safe in the home? And so that I see most often the sexually acting out is the biggest concern. And so with that, I think it really comes down to education and communication. So one of the things that I am thinking about several families that I have worked with who have had the sexually acting out behavior, and one of the things we talk about is really educating the whole family. I think sometimes we think about like we want to keep every we want to protect and keep everyone safe. And so we don't Maybe we maybe we don't talk to our children who are already in the home, about what's safe and what's unsafe, what's healthy and what's unhealthy. Rather, we try to just kind of like safeguard this child who might be having these sexually acting out behaviors because of their histories. But instead, again, it's the whole family, everyone's impacted, everyone's affected. And so we have to also address this and talk about this with everyone. And so really talking through things like, what's safe touch, what's healthy touch, really helping them understand what's okay and what's not okay. And so that's a part of it, it's that education piece and making sure that you're educating all of the children in your family, because you can't watch every child 24/7 to make sure they're okay. But with that education, the education is not helpful if there's also not open communication in the family. And so really making sure that as a family system, we've recreated an environment where like, where a child can come to me when they are when they're uncertain when something when something happened to them that they're that they're scared, or they don't know how to respond. If a child starts to do something, they're able to get up and go and talk to the parent about it. And so things like that, you have to really foster that kind of environment where no matter what's going on, no matter how stressed I as a parent might look, or how uncertain I might be, I'm always here to meet your needs. And I will drop everything to do that. And so really creating that environment where the child feels like if something were to happen, or if they were to see something that they might be uncertain about that they can come to the parent and talk about those things. So that education and communication is really critical. On top of just what we naturally I think often think about is really just those safeguards, like what can we put in place to try to do more than just our eyes beyond the children? 24/7? What can we also do just in structuring our home environment, so that we can really like give children safe places to be that we don't have to be constantly monitoring and thinking about just structurally, depending on what the behaviors are independent, depends on the family system, what are ways that I can, you know, keep people safe even at night? Like while they're sleeping? How can I make sure everyone stays safe. And so just those beyond just connection and communication, also, just those kind of structure things in the home that you can do as well.
Dawn Davenport 42:12
Okay, thank you. This one, this seems more, this is another common concern, it seems by comparison to the other two, more minor, but we hear it a lot. And as a parent, I get this. And that's oftentimes to children coming into our homes have had a diet full of limited foods, often processed foods. And that's what they're used to. And we want new kids coming in to feel comfortable. So we may be serving the sugary cereals, because that's what they've that's what they need right now. Because that's the only foods they will eat, or, you know, white bread with butter or whatever, that and that's not our typical eating yet. We know from we want to be serving food to the whole family. And so how do we handle the differences? If you don't want the kids who were already in the family to eat too much of this process food?
Unknown Speaker 43:01
So parents come with this question of really, sometimes it's just very, like tangible, simple things that are just part of your everyday routine. So things like, Okay, well, this child that is coming into our home has, you know, come from different environments, different rules, different expectations. So things even just like food and eating behavior of this child, you know, is used to more processed foods. And I had create as a parent in an environment where we don't eat as many of these types of foods and things even just like with the amount of food or being able to take food and eat it in different places, things like that, that can that can come up that parents can have questions about and sometimes that question is sounds like oh, this is very basic and simple compared to some of the much more bigger, severe intense things you might be experiencing as a family. But I also know what's at the root of that question, which is really how do I manage the differences in terms of what these children need. And I think one of the things that's really important to remember is the importance of equity between your children. I think, on one hand, all of your children have different needs. And so you're going to respond to them in different ways. And you're also going to have different expectations for your children, you're going to have bars set at different places based on where they are developmentally. But in terms of rules for the family, there needs to be equity, because when there's not when one child gets to eat the processed food and the pop tarts for breakfast, and you have to eat the eggs, and you want the Pop Tarts, like all of that is going to lead to is jealousy, inferiority, resentment between the siblings between the children that are in your home and so really trying to to maintain it maintain equity in some way. And the thing that I talked about, which is not a popular answer, and it's much more nuanced than this, but I often talk about this with parents that I coach, they, one of the things to be mindful of is that when you choose to foster or adapt, you also are choosing and having to let go of control and let go of your perfect and so a lot of times parents come as like this is what you know, these are things that matter so much To me, and you have to start to let go of some of those things. Because at the end of the day, your priority has to be connection, and building and being that secure base for all your children. So yes, you may want your children to eat really healthy foods and not have any processed foods because you know what that does for a healthy body. And also, at the end of the day, from a developmental perspective, what matters more than anything else for their well being and for their successes, adults, is that secure base and that connection with you. And so that means you might have to give up some of those things that mattered so much to you. But at this point, given, given the difficult things that you are doing the important work that you're doing in your home, of meeting the needs of all of these children, you might have to give up the control and your idea of what how you want things to be in order to prioritize being that secure base in that connection for your children.
Dawn Davenport 45:54
That makes sense. And the same thing would be we could also say, and I'm glad you actually imply that it's not just food, it has to do with other issues. We tried to control screen time, and things like that it would all depending on the age of the children coming in that yeah, that makes such good sense. And there are there are many common worries. But the last one that I want to talk about is that we do hear quite a bit from parents is they worry that the lack of time and attention that they will have for the existing children in the family is going to inadvertently hurt the kids in the family because they don't have the same amount of parental time, attention, energy, etc.
Unknown Speaker 46:37
Sometimes I wonder if did I make this a concern, because this is something that I talked about so much in my work is that invisibility and children feeling like they're kind of put on the backburner a little bit when fostering adopting happens in their family. But it's really not, it doesn't have to be a big thing. I think one of the things that I talk about all the time is the importance of communication. And what I find is that one of the things that I think is really fascinating about our development, and just in our personal relationships is that when things happen, and we don't understand why they happen, we create a narrative and a story in our heads as to why this occurs. And we make it mean something about ourselves. So if as a child, I start to experience much less time and attention from my parents, but I don't understand why I'm going to start to make that mean something about myself, I'm going to start to feel like I'm not good enough, I'm not wanted, I'm not lovable. I'm not as valued as this other child not as cherished as the other child, when I was a parent, you can think like, That's ridiculous. But as a child, when you start to experience that over and over again, and you don't understand why it's happening, it can start to make you feel a certain way about yourself. And so really, the way to offset that is to simply have a conversation with your child. And again, not just one conversation, multiple conversations when these things happen, to be able to talk through, this is why this is happening this way. And I wish that I had time where I know that I don't have as much time as I used to have, I love you just as much You're an incredible child, and to talk through those things with your children so that they understand why this shift has happened that it has nothing to do with them, or their value, but rather just because of the demands that are being placed on you. And the other thing I always say to to parents is that because parents can come with a lot of shame about this, like I, you know, I'm really, not only am I overwhelmed with trying to meet the needs of all my children, but now I'm also feeling like I'm not a good parent to my children who are already in the home. And one of the things I always tell parents is that your shame is not helping anyone. And so you're like that shame is just putting more pressure on you. And it's making you more stressed and overwhelmed and feeling like a failure, which is affecting your response to all of your children. And one of the healthiest things that you can do that can be that can affect your children the most is simply to apologize. And it's so simple, but parents often don't think about this versus like this is a way to to respond in this way. But to just apologize and acknowledge, I am sorry that I don't have as much time as I used to have, or I'm sorry that we don't get to do maybe a special thing that used to do all the time together. And I it's really hard for me that I don't have as much time with you as I used to. And I'm, you know, going to try to be better I'm going to or or maybe just said I'm sorry. And there's not really anything you can do about it. But then problem solve. So if you don't actually have the capacity to have more time with your children, because ideally, we want to be able to figure out how can we, you know, add in a little bit more time here and there with each of your children so they get one on one time with you. But if you don't have the capacity for that in some way that you can't be creative and finding that time. Also figuring out how do I help my child get their needs met? If I'm not able to give them as much of my time as I used to because of what's happening in my home. Then who else can I bring in to help meet their needs to help be another safe adult in their lives? And so really working to again apologize, problem solve of how to get their needs met so they're not feeling so alone and isolated, but but also to really openly communicate about what's going on, not you sharing all of your stresses and struggles, but moreso, being able to communicate, this is why this is happening so that the child doesn't make it mean something about themselves.
Dawn Davenport 50:12
Perfect. And that's a great segue into everybody's favorite part of the podcast. And that is the tip section. And you've just gave some great tips of trying to find one on one time. And if you can't bringing in extra resources, you don't have to be the only one providing attention and time to your kids. So what are some other tips?
Unknown Speaker 50:34
Yeah, another tip I also tell parents is that it's, it's not about the amount of time that you have for your children. So it's not like, Okay, well, there's no magic number in terms of I need to spend this much time with each of my children. And so I'm not spending as much time as I used to. And so now I need to figure out like, how do I put this much time every day or this much time every week, there's no research that shows this amount of time is the perfect amount of time to spend with your children. Because it's really not a matter of time, it's a matter of attunement. And so as a parent, one of the things to to remember, is really again, prioritizing that connection, that secure base for all of your children, and then everyone's going to be successful. And so we often kind of like in the complexities of everyday life and things that are going on, we make it really challenging in terms of, okay, I need it, you know, all of these small details of things that feel like life or death. And in reality, oftentimes, I tell parents, okay, let's like, get back to the basics though. And what matters most, I'm a developmental psychologist, so it always comes back to Child Development for me. And what matters most is that as a parent, you're being that secure base for that child, which means you're being consistent in your care, you're being nurturing, you're being empathetic and compassionate. And you're also providing that structure and predictability for them. And, and so you have you build this attunement with that child, understanding what their needs are, so you can meet their needs when they arise. And that child also feels attuned to you so that they can come to you when they have needs. And building that is the most important thing. And if you have that your children will be successful, you'll have positive outcomes for your family. And so at the end of the day, sometimes all the noise of all the other things become so much. But if you simplify things down to the basics of this is what matters more than anything else. How can we do this more? And how can we build this and balance connection more in our family?
Dawn Davenport 52:26
Do you have tips for preparing children in the family in advance? And what do we prepare them for? And we've talked about the having, including them in the conversation and having multiple conversations. But what do we prepare them for? You know, especially once it once you've been fostering it's they know at that point, they've got it, you know, they they know what to expect, although some things will be changing, we're going to have a teenager come in. And we normally have toddlers that mean their differences there. But anything you can eat tips for preparing children in advance.
Unknown Speaker 52:59
Yeah, I think one of the what I found in my work with siblings is that the thing that they say, more than anything else, when it comes to what they wish they would have been prepared for beforehand, was the effects of the early adversity on this child. And so for them, what that looks like is for them just to have a basic understanding of how early trauma affects a child. You don't have to be a psychologist, as a parent to answer this question, but just simply for them to understand that when a child experiences early adversity, they struggled to trust other people, they struggled to build close connections with other people, they also sometimes can struggle with sensory things. And just like loud noises, and things like that can be hard for them. And they often can get dysregulated. And so like they it comes out in these, they struggled to calm down, or they struggled to talk about what their needs are. And they struggle until they then there might have like big emotions or big behaviors that come out because of that, something as basic as that really helps the child understand. This is why this child might have different needs or might act differently than what I would expect them to. And that, that we talked about that earlier, just that deeper understanding of why this child is the way they are, why they might function differently, really helps them to have that compassion and understanding for when hard things come up. They understand the root of it. And so that is really the biggest way that children want to be prepared beforehand, as well as the second one is really that piece of how do I know how this is going to affect me? So this might be how the child responds in the home. But what is this going to mean for me? And I think I always think back to when my first three siblings came home through adoption when I was 16. I thought, oh my gosh, like I'm just getting three adorable siblings, this is gonna be great. I didn't know that every part of my family in my life was going to change. And that is really important to have those conversations about like when you bring one or more people into your family. It shifts the whole family dynamic. And so really being able to talk through here's what might like these things are probably going gonna change, but what's not going to change is our our love for each other and our values as a family system. And so being able to talk through, this might change, but this isn't going to change.
Dawn Davenport 55:10
And last question, because this one comes up so often our last tip is tips for how to handle rule differences in behavioral expectations, because we do have different expectations for our kids. And it used to be based on age oftentimes, but bringing in a kid who's experienced trauma shifts that a bit.
Unknown Speaker 55:29
Yeah, I always I say that, you, the rules need to be the same, but the expectations can be different. And so going back to the importance of equity, and so when we have different rules, say that like, you know, Tommy gets iPads for an hour, and Bobby gets the iPad for 20 minutes, that's going to create tension and jealousy between the siblings. And so it's really important that if you have certain rules for some children, those roles have to be the same for everyone. But your expectations of those children. And what they can and cannot do are going to be different, you're going to have bars set at different places for your children, and those are going to shift as they grow and change. And so those are always shifting and changing. So I think one of the important things to do, again, is to really look at, okay, what at the at the basic level, what matters the most, because do the some of these things not as critical. And so if this child needs to have this rule in place, then maybe my child who's already in the home, is gonna get a little bit more leeway on this than what they used to. Because I'm I need to create equity. So there's not this issue of jealousy and inferiority between the children. And so really talking, like really trying to figure that out of what those differences are. And then when there are different expectations on the children. And so maybe some children can, you know, quote, unquote, get away with some things that other children can't. Again, it comes back to communicating the why of that, for them to understand, here's why this is different. So when your child is struggling with like, why does it seem like he gets away with everything, and I don't to be able to talk through here's why it is and it has something to do with, I love them more, I care about them more, or I just want to be really strict with you, but for them to understand the differences just developmentally and that and so again, building, having those conversations so that those stories aren't creating in that child's head, and they're not making the differences mean something about themselves.
Dawn Davenport 57:21
Thank you so much, Dr. Danna Hensley for being with us today. Dr. Hundley is a trauma therapist as well as the founder of Project 1025. Thank you, Dr. Humphrey.
Unknown Speaker 57:33
Thank you. It's great to be here.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai