This series of articles involve play therapy. The names and genders of the people involved change from article to article to protect the identity of those in therapy. The children in these play therapy sessions are between 6 and 10.
In my last post I ended with the game we play at the end of most of our play therapy sessions. Snakes and Ladders with a twist. Each colour (no that’s not a spelling mistake, that’s how we spell colour in Canada!) square is associated with a feeling. Yellow square is happy and the green square is afraid. This green square has shown us a lot about our child.
It’s mind blowing to watch this play therapy unfold in front of me. In case you haven’t guessed, I sit in on the sessions. Our play therapist believes that the parents need to be part of this process to help the child learn to regulate their emotions. It’s also eye opening for the parents to get a glimpse of the thoughts the child has inside. It’s unreal to see this process in action and I’m so thankful that I am part of these.
In today’s session the play therapist (we will call him Tim) brought out the game of snakes and ladders with a twist. We play this game many times as our child (we’ll call her Angel) loves to play it. As I started to say in my last post Play Therapy #3, this game has a different emotion attached to each colour square. Yellow square is happy so when a yellow is rolled whoever landed on it must say something that makes you happy. The card actually reads “I am happy when…..”.
The most interesting answers came out when the green square was landed on. Here was Angel’s answers to the card “I am afraid when…..”:
*I’m afraid of tornadoes because they could take me away from my family.
* I’m afraid of robbers coming into our house and taking me away.
* I’m afraid of a bad guy taking me if I get too far away from my mom at the mall.
Tim caught on to this pattern right away and pointed it out to me and Angel. “It sounds like you have a lot of big feelings and fears about being taken away from your Mom and Dad.”
Super fascinating to watch Angel process that thought. “Yeah I guess I do” she replied.
Tim asked Angel if she felt Mom and Dad would look for her if she was taken and she responded with a “yes”. Tim spent some time reassuring Angel that Mom and Dad would look for her until we found her if she ever got lost.
Think about this from the perspective of any small child. They see and hear news reports of missing children and they hear from school and home that they need to stick close and not run away for the world is dangerous. We need to instill some level of fear into our children so they know how to keep safe. The most terrifying situation for a parent is when you’re out shopping or in a busy place and suddenly can’t find your small child. In today’s world of human trafficking and Amber Alerts, parents fear is real too. What we must remember is that our children are listening and seeing and taking these messages in. We need to balance those out with messages of security.
The important lesson in this story and why I dedicated a whole post to one green square is that anxiety is a huge cause of poor behaviours. Our child has major control issues, melt downs and freak outs as we call them and much of that starts because she is anxious and needs to fix that by taking control.
This silly little game of snakes and ladders was eye opening for me and I will forever assume that all foster children who have been removed from a parent must feel those same feelings and fears of being taken. Something I hadn’t put too much thought into with any of the 50 foster children we’ve had. We knew it was traumatic for them to be removed but didn’t think about how that affects their brains and bodies long term. We need to be acknowledging the fact that they have feelings and fears no matter what age they were removed. The older children are they actually seem to have less fears as they can at least verbally process and understand why they are being removed. I imagine that the younger the child is the more terrifying the experience. Their mind may not remember but their body does and their brain does. Definitely something to remember when younger children, especially if they can’t speak may be anxious about. Even after they are attached to their foster, adopted or kin family, they can still be feeling anxious about being taken.
How many times we have taken for granted the fact that we know they are with us for life, but they may be worried deep inside that the other shoe is going to drop. We need to reassure our kids often that they are part of our family. That we are not going anywhere and that we will do our very best to protect them. This is easier to do with adopted children and permanent situations. Definitely more difficult for kids in foster care.
Going to put a plug in here for the video “Removed”. If you haven’t already seen it in your foster parent training or in your pre-adoption training it’s sooooo worth the watch. There are now three parts to this series. Many people have only seen the first one. If you click on the link to the YouTube video (in the first line where the word Removed is highlighted) you will see the links for the other two parts. Get your Kleenex ready!