By Intisar Seraaj
As I’ve been interviewing foster parents this year, I’ve heard from some parents that sometimes their foster children don’t ever say “thank you” until after they’ve grown up and aged forward from foster care. It may not be that they are ungrateful but are unable to show gratitude in the way that’s common for someone their age. You must keep in mind everything your child’s been through and remain patient with them. Their traumatic past cannot be negated by a loving present; What they’ve lost can not be replaced by what they’ve gained. They are healing. So, it’s not uncommon for former foster youth to return to their foster parents and finally verbally acknowledge their contributions to their life. That shows growth, maturity and, most importantly, that some healing has happened.
I spoke to Crystal Norris, a clinical supervisor and therapist for Seraaj Family Homes, Inc., about this topic. This is what she had to say:
Q: How do care providers step back and allow those receiving care to develop gratefulness on their own?
A: Go into it with no expectations. Don’t think that they owe you anything. When it comes, it comes. Let it be natural.
Q: How common is it for foster kids to come back to say “thank you” after they’ve left care?
A: It depends on each individual child. As long as you have a good relationship with your child and make an impact on their life, they’ll let you know about it. But it’s not uncommon.
Q: What are some signs that the kids are grateful but are just still hurting too much to say so or show gratefulness in the usual way?
A: Sometimes they might show it by showing off. They might boast to their friends about what they’ve been given by their foster parents. But they may not come to the parent and say thanks. Observe them and see their attitude towards what you’ve given them. It takes getting to know your child. When I talk to my foster kids, they may reflect on how they used to not have certain things or used to not be able to do some things and can recognize the changes and that they’re now able to do and to have these things with their current foster parent.
So, remember that just because you don’t hear gratefulness or obviously see it from your foster kids, doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful and that you won’t see it in other ways. Be patient and observant. In the meantime, it’s still OK to encourage a sense of gratitude because studies have shown that grateful adolescents are happier and more optimistic, give more emotional support to others, are more satisfied with their lives, and have protection from stress and depression over time.
Here are some general tips for assisting your child in developing gratitude in a respectful way that doesn’t overshadow the reality of their trauma:
- Respect their boundaries.
- Celebrate their accomplishments with them along the way and encourage them to thank those who’ve helped them meet their goals.
- Identify your child’s top strengths so others can contribute to developing their talents and encourage them to use their strengths to help others.
- Teach them through your actions to help others and to nurture their relationships.
- As a parent, express your gratitude through words, writing, small gifts, and acts of reciprocity because you are the blueprint for some of their foundational behavior.