5 Mindset Tips for Caregivers to Support Belonging and Being Yourself

In our family strengthening program, we teach that in order to be a strong and healthy person, every individual has two jobs: Be Somebody, and Belong.
  • “Being somebody” refers to the importance of valuing ourselves and taking personal responsibility for what we want and need.
  • “Belonging” refers to our ability to connect in healthy relationships with others and to be good teammates.

Balancing these jobs (or needs) is like standing strong on both of our legs. When we’re balanced and centered in a strong sense of who we are and our place in the world, we’re able to more effectively face life’s challenges without being knocked down.

For foster, adopted, and kinship children and youth, these jobs can feel foreign and unreachable. After all, how do you value yourself when you were abused or neglected by those meant to care for you? How do learn to take personal responsibility when it was not modeled for you? Where do you find a sense of belonging when you have been moved again and again from the place you called “home”? With these significant challenges in mind, parents and caregivers have an amazing opportunity to support the children in their home to develop a strong sense of themselves and to know what it means to “belong.” When we help them develop the “muscles” they need to stand strong, they will be more likely to recover from past trauma and face future adversity with resilience.

Embrace Empathy and Understanding

  • The first step is to recognize WHY our kids struggle with their identity as an individual and in relationships. “Being somebody” and “belonging” are intricately connected. When we don’t feel good about ourselves, we tend to struggle with relationships and cooperation. So start with compassion and encouragement, and then help point them in the direction of growth.
  • Help your children discover what they are good at AND what they would like to get better at. Give your kids opportunities to try things, like sports, the arts, or a science club.
  • Reinforce that it takes time and practice to get good at something. And it takes courage just to try!
  • Ask them what they like to do by themselves and what they like to do with others.

Cultivate Patience and Flexibility

  • Forward and backward steps should be expected. Day-to-day and moment-by-moment patience and flexibility are key.
  • Just because a child could do something yesterday does not mean that same task will go as smoothly today! Emotions evolve, and they are powerful forces.
  • Accept that some days your child will need more help or even need to take a break and try again tomorrow.
  • When planning a day out, consider how you might shorten the schedule if necessary. Drive your own car, so that others are not impacted if you have to leave an activity early.

Affirm Identity and Encourage Self-Expression

  • Affirm your children’s individuality by routinely and specifically telling them what you notice about them. Keep it positive! Resist following up with phrases like “You could do better if only…..”
  • Encourage your children to make age-appropriate choices and plans for themselves. Examples: What to wear today, what to pack in a snack or lunch (chosen from healthy options 🙂), or whether to spend a half day this weekend with friends or a family member. Letting them use their “voice” in small ways eventually grows into bigger, more significant areas of their lives. We want our children to know that when they speak, they will be heard!

Set Boundaries and Practice Self-Care

  • Design your schedule with breaks and margin for rest and self care.
  • Make a plan to do something for yourself that you can look forward to, especially after spending a day out with the kids. Reward yourself!
  • Get plenty of sleep and pay attention to your food and water intake. Your physical health impacts your emotional health and vice versa. So, make sure to pay attention to both. When our emotional health suffers, so does the quality of our parenting. Our kids internalize our moods, and that can impact their sense of self for the positive AND negative.

Foster Open Communication and Build Trust

  • Be clear and open as you are able. Avoid making promises that you cannot keep or plans over which you have no control.
  • Regularly meet as a family to discuss what is working and what needs work!
  • Give everyone a turn saying something they want or need as an individual or in the family. Reflect back without feeling pressured to agree. When possible, make trades and compromises so that each person feels heard and gets at least a little of what they want.

Conclusion

  • Everyone, including parents and caregivers have two jobs: To be somebody, and to belong. Consider which one you and the other members of the family are really good at and which one might need some more practice.
  • When what you’re doing isn’t working, ask for help!
  • Helping young people discover who they are and what they have to offer the world is an amazing responsibility and privilege.

You are not alone! Reach out for more support.

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