Understanding The Severely Neglected Child

Understanding The  Severely Neglected Child

All of our girls suffered terrible neglect, some longer than others, but two of them in particular developed survival skills that were entrenched in their little souls to the point that it seemed they were clutching those survival skills  with all their might, terrified for any changes to be made.  While they both wanted to have a mommy and daddy, sisters and brothers, it also terrified them.
A child who has been raised as a “street child”, is not going to come into a well meaning home and just “blend in” as one of the kids.  The concepts of normal family life will be so different to them, that even if they are from this country, it will seem like a completely foreign culture to them.
This is the child who has had no voice.  This is the child who wasn’t just unwanted or abused, this is the child who wasn’t noticed. It was as if they never were.

When this child begins to see that needs can be met by a mom and dad, they might really like it, and  pull away from it at the same time.  The pain of realizing what they have missed can be overwhelming for them.  Grief takes hold, and as parents we may need to hang on for a long and bumpy ride of anger, distress, grief, rage, and more, as our children settle in and allow themselves to trust.

Giving our children a voice, saying things to them like, “Tell me what you need. I want to provide for you what you need.”  Is so foreign to them.  If you stay steady, and keep at it, your child will learn to find an appropriate voice.

One of our daughters was a street child for a long time. Her youngest memories were of stealing food by going into other people’s homes.
I remember when she had been home about six months that we were eating at a Fast Food Restaurant.  In the back was  a huge dumpster.  She said, “I bet there is a lot of good food in there!”  “We used to get food that way sometimes.”

Some of our children come home with life experiences that we will have never had, and will never have in our lifetime.
We need to understand that the idea of trying to parent this type of child in a traditional way will cause harm and distress to all.
A street child takes care of number one; themselves. They do not suddenly become a son or daughter because they have been adopted.  All those street smarts come home with them along with a warped view of what parents are.
They will quickly find out that parents are not vending machines.  Parents are not money trees.  Families work together.  This may be a good thing, and they may want some of it, but they also may reject other parts of typical family life.

I remember one of our daugthers saying, “I have to do the dishes?” “What am I, some sort of slave?”
“No sweetie, you are no slave, you are a family member! Our guests to not do our dishes.  And by doing dishes, that shows you are not a guest, but a cherished family member!”
Put everything into a positive light, drawing your child to want to do what you are trying to teach him to do.

Teaching hygiene when a child is used to using leaves or only having one pair of underwear for a week and no toilet paper can be a real challenge for us sanitized overly clean Americans.   Our fascination with clean sheets, pajamas, toothbrushes and washed hair can be overwhelming for a new child; especially if they have survived on their own for a long time.

Be careful not to get frustrated with them.  Teach them through example and with the goal of relationship in all areas of family life.  They will learn, but they will learn better as you listen to them, understand them and then show them a better way.  They will see it as a better way, as they gain respect for you through relationship.  Think of things in long term blocks of time, then you won’t be frustrated when your child cannot wipe properly after being home a few months.

Do not throw a bunch of rules  and consequences at them.  You may wake to find them gone.  Always be willing to relax or firm up what you are doing.  Don’t be so lax that your children don’t grow. But don’t be so firm that they cannot achieve and then feel they can never please you.

Somebody once asked “I am bringing two teenagers home from Ukraine, does anybody have any advice to give for our first weeks home?”
I was shocked to see responses like,
“Don’t give them an inch or they’ll take a mile!”
“Lock everything up!”
“Show them who is boss from day one!”
“Lay down the Law!”
Not one response was to love them unconditionally or to be understanding and tender towards them, as they will be grieving the loss of all they have known.
There was no response like, “Prepare comfort foods for them so they can have something familiar” or “Have movies for them to watch in their language, so when they feel like they are going crazy hearing nothing but English, they can relax and hear their native tongue.”
Relationship builds on tender loving care.
A good way to start the relationship process all wrong, is to think, you can control and be the boss of the traumatized child.  They need tender guidance from us.  We need to reach their hearts so that they will want to follow.  We must give them reason to trust.

Do your best not to view your child’s worth by their outward behaviors.  Do not let your own fears cause you to have thoughts towards your child that will not build them up.
Work hard to guide them and encourage them.  Those first words of encouragement might bounce off of a very wounded heart, but as you continue to encourage, that little heart will start to receive those words and process them.
Soon, a little hand will slip into your hand, and you will have your child’s heart, for life.
They will be fragile for a long, long time. Handle with care.

Comments warmly welcomed!


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