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© Gail Underwood Parker

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Good Things - Bad Things

If you are raising children who spent their early years in a home with inadequate care, and especially if it was abusive, you know how hard it is for some children to move past that time and learn to redefine themselves.  Children who are old enough to remember the abuse and neglect often they see themselves as victims, or lash out at everyone, etc. If I had a dollar for every time one of my charges cried, "You don't understand how hard a life I've had," I would be wealthy. It's true though. I don't understand.  After years of trying everything to help them I found something that didn't cure, but did help them limit.

For the children who struggled with those memories I decided to try a twist on the now popular "gratitude journals"  blended with my life record idea. I started by keeping a 3-ring binder journal for them, then when they were able or interested I turned the journal over to each of them.  But until they can keep it themselves, each time they told me a memory I would grab the journal and write it down for them. I divided the journal [using regular notebook dividers] into each year of their life. I also made one extra section for the "clump" of memories that were before they lived with me, but not individual years [because some memories they didn't know what year].

I found that by writing the memories down, it robbed the memories of some of their power. It also shows them that we recognize the past they experienced. We don't pretend it didn't happen, or expect them to. But the other piece is that I also have them write down GOOD memories, past , and especially present ones. We start teaching them that if you are going to hang on to memories of the bad things that happen in life, you have a responsibility also to recognize and remember the good things. 

Little by little they begin to see that current life has more goods than bads.  Little by little they learn to recognize that those nightmares, those bad memories are a part of their PAST life, not the present. This helps them to define themselves more by the present than the past, a crucial key to resilience and recovery. 

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