This week, we are reflecting on our previous Colombia Summer Hosting program as our current program draws to an end this week. We often see similar themes each time. The children in our Summer Hosting program come from all different backgrounds and range in ages. One motif that rings true each year rears its head towards the end of the two weeks. Our staff finds that the children become very emotional and the host families feel tension as a result. The emotions have manifested in ways varying from crying outbursts to being completely cold and shut off. Many of the children realize that their time with their host families is coming to an end and that they got a taste of what it may look like to be adopted. Many question, “do I want to be adopted?” Naturally, this is an overwhelming, scary thought, and decision for a child’s mind! Each child reacts differently and for many reasons, but how do you handle the emotions that comes with this?
Let us ask more specifically:
Have you experienced a child with a range of emotions? Do you find yourself scratching your head as to how to respond? Do you know what they are even upset about?
Children, whether boys or girls, must become mature in their emotions. What do we mean by this? Well, being emotionally in tune and in control is part of a strong character. For example, they can name the emotion and use it to understand a situation at large. We see it as part of having a healthy intuition. In contrast, we may find ourselves trying to teach our children to “rub some dirt on it” or “pick yourself up by your boot straps.” But, is this always helpful? We are selves may find that we cope with emotions by brushing it off or using only our reasoning. This is not always wrong, however, wouldn’t we rather teach ourselves and our children to be intuitive; to have control of our emotions in order to help us arrive at healthy and meaningful conclusions?
“Intuition is a holistic way of feeling and thinking through about issues, events, and people. In some situations, especially those full of ambiguity, it is a better way of knowing and evaluating than logic [alone].” – Growing Strong Daughters by Lisa Graham McMinn (added brackets)
At ASC, we strongly encourage parents to be honest about their emotions and allow their children to do the same. The purpose of this is to be able learn and draw from them in order to thrive in all situations life may throw at you. The goal of healthy parenting is to assist your child in becoming a mature adult; one major way is by strengthening intuition. Our favorite author, Dr. Karyn Purvis writes: “Parents need to make it safe for children to express feelings without encountering dismissiveness or ridicule. All emotions- including messy ones like grief, frustration, and anger- are okay.” You can do this practically by showing the child through your words, and actions that it is okay to feel they way the do. Validating the emotion allows trust and understand prior to addressing why they think they responded in such a way. Getting to the root of the emotional reactions takes this recognition, than the child can begin to process the emotion rightfully. Teach your child to recognize, label, and learn from their emotional responds. Doing so will later aide in reasoning through how they reacted and what the appropriate response should be.
However, “Accepting feelings doesn’t mean that you automatically accept inappropriate expressions of those feelings…” (The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis). We can teach our children again, to recognize, label, and learn from their emotional responds, but sometimes they need to redo the outcome if they acted out on their feelings inappropriately. For example, the child becomes angry and isolates themselves in a public place. As parents, we can recognize and validate that they are angry, but they cannot run away in a public place in response, for it is not safe. Help your child think it through. Teach them why it is not safe and help them come up with alternative ways to cope with this feeling to avoid a bad response (like running off in public). In the words of Dr. Karyn Purvis, “Always honor and acknowledge feelings, and then if necessary show youngsters more appropriate ways to express themselves” (The Connected Child).
As our agency experiences emotional reactions from our Summer Hosting children in light of their departure, we aim to use these principles. Many of the children have never been taught what an emotion is, how to response well, or that it is okay to have such a feeling. Emotions have been given to us for many benefits, yet it is not usually known how they can be used in such a way. We encourage our staff and our adoptive families to pursue feelings as a way to better our children. Intuition is a very powerful tool to capitalize on in order to bring self-awareness, success, and reasonably in decision making. It all starts by allowing room for feelings in your home and exploring health usage of them. We constantly need to keep this principle in practice. This does not mean we all can be perfect at it all the time, but we can make significant improvements in our homes.