The LSS Adoption, Foster Care and Kinship Programs are all about kids and families. We believe every child and every youth needs and deserves to have a family who loves and supports him or her. It may be a relative, fictive kin, foster parent, or parent through adoption – families are made so many ways.
So what are some other things kids need?
- Meeting their everyday needs with consistency
Babies and children need to know there is someone who loves them and that their needs will be met as soon as possible. This means feeding them a well balanced nutritious meal when they’re hungry, keeping them warm, dry and safe from danger, making sure they get enough sleep in a safe and comfortable place, helping them if they are in pain, scared or upset, providing family routines, making sure there is always someone you trust to look after them. A few minutes is a long time for a baby who is feeling hungry or upset. The sooner they are comforted the safer they will feel. Older children might be able to wait a little longer, but they still need to know that you will feed them when they are hungry, and help them when they are sad or in pain. Routine is not only comforting, but consistency gives kids something to rely on and allows kids to feel cared for and loved.
- To feel safe and secure
When children feel safe and secure, they learn to trust other people. Children who don’t feel safe can be anxious and unhappy. This can affect their health and learning. But when they learn that they can trust the adults around them, it helps them grow up happy, healthy and to enjoy the world around them. Setting appropriate limits not only gives you peace of mind as a parent, but also helps your child feel safe and secure. Independence for older kids is important too. Allowing kids to make mistakes and learn that actions have consequences gives them the opportunity to correct their own mistakes, and to triumph over failure.
- Physical touch, love and hugs
Kids of all ages NEED touch and affection. Human contact is one of our most basic needs and requirements. Mothers of premature babies are often encouraged to help babies thrive with skin-on-skin contact and studies show that children who are touched, held, cuddled and loved are happier and more likely to thrive. Never underestimate the power of a hug or a few minutes of cuddle time. Hugs and cuddles help children to feel safe and comforts them. Holding a toddler’s hand when out walking helps to protect them from danger and to feel safe and secure in the outside world. Older children need lots of affection to remind them that you care. You can do this with cuddles, a goodnight kiss and a pat on the shoulder. Snuggling up close while reading a story together or watching TV is great for your child and you.
Give a new baby lots of smiles, and smiling will be one of the first things they learn to do. Smiling is one of the simplest ways of helping children feel happy and safe. When you genuinely smile at children you are telling them that you love them, you enjoy their company, and you are modeling what being happy looks like. Happy parents generally have happy kids. Smiles work even better when you are looking into your child’s eyes. Good eye contact when smiling, listening or talking to your child helps to get their attention.
- Talking to promote socialization
It’s good to talk and sing to babies from the time they are born. A gentle voice helps your child to feel relaxed and secure. It helps them to get to know you, and to know that you are there to look after them. When you talk to children they soon start learning words themselves. The more you talk to them, the more they will learn. They will also learn more if you use proper adult words most of the time. Learning words helps them to communicate and to understand more about the world. As they get older, words will become one of their most important tools. Children with a good use of words find it easier to express themselves, to make friends, and to learn at school and at home. Again, physical touch is important here. A hand on their arm or shoulder while talking helps kids pay attention to the message and focus more on what you’re trying to say. A helpful activity might be to have them talk about things they are grateful for. Gratitude breeds happiness. Yet, appreciation and gratitude can be a tricky concept for children to grasp. We need to model gratitude in our own lives for our kids.
As they get older and more able to use word, children begin to ask lots of questions. By listening carefully and doing your best to answer their questions, you will show them that learning is fun. Listening is another way of showing that you are interested and care about them. Even when kids are asking for something they can’t have, they need an answer and a simple explanation. If your child is a bit older, talk about the best thing and worst thing that happened that day, and just actively listen – don’t jump in with advice or opinions unless they ask for it, just let them talk it through and they’ll learn to process their emotions on their own.
- Learn new things
You don’t need fancy toys or equipment to give your child new experiences. You can use everyday things around you, go for walks, explore the park, or look at maps or books about far away places. It makes learning fun and teaches them about the world. They need other people too – other children to play with and relationships with people of all ages. For older children it’s good to be involved in their school activities and homework, and to meet with their teacher often.
- Respect their feelings
Sometimes it’s hard for children to find the right words, or tell you when they are sad or frightened. Babies and small children can be frightened by anything new and different, when there is no real danger. A stranger, a clown, or a loud noise, can all be very scary for a toddler who is not used to them. Sometimes you might feel tempted to laugh, to tease them or or tell them ‘not to be silly’. What they really need is for you to comfort them and give them a simple explanation. This will help them feel good about themselves, and feel OK about talking to you if they have a serious problem because they know you won’t laugh it off or dismiss their feelings as invalid.
- Plenty of praise
Your child wants to please you. If you praise them when they do well at something or are trying hard, it will make them want to do it again. Praising your child for being good will make them want to be good, and it will help them feel good about themselves. Children who feel good about themselves tend to learn more easily and make more effort to achieve, get into less trouble, get along well with others, make friends more easily, and feel happier and more secure.
- Rewards and special treats
All parents want their children to behave, and kids are eager to please. If you give kids attention when they are good, it will make them want to be good more often. If you only notice them when they are naughty, it might make them want to be naughty more often. The best reward for being good is getting your time and attention rather than toys or material things. Positive reinforcement is incredibly important, but it is just as important to give your child opportunities to excel, to work, and to contribute to the family. Make your expectations clear, then find creative ways to acknowledge genuine success. Achievements don’t need to be incentivized by food or toys. Teaching your children to be proud of a job well-done is a much more powerful reinforcement tool.
-Submitted by the LSS Adoption, Foster Care, and Kinship Program staff