When we see a baby take his first few steps, we cheer for this huge accomplishment. When he falls, we encourage him to get up and try again and again until he masters walking, then running, then skipping, and on and on. When we hear a baby make her first sounds, we applaud until those noises become words, then phrases, then sentences, and some day full speeches.
As we at The SAFE Alliance work with children in foster care, the same principle must be applied: celebrate each success along the way to encourage progress.
Fostering a child takes encouragement
In the difficult work of parenting children impacted by trauma, it is often easy to become discouraged by setbacks and to lose sight of small accomplishments. However, that encouragement is an integral part of progress, especially for children who haven’t experienced much reassurance or praise in their past.
I was recently reminded of the impact celebrating even the smallest successes can have by a little boy placed in one of our foster homes.
As a result of what he’s witnessed and experienced, he often reacts impulsively with aggression and tries to control his environment through defiance. This behavior made maintaining daycare very difficult, resulting in two failed daycare placements. Setbacks like this were discouraging for both the foster parents and the child.
But this little boy was lucky – his foster mother is creative. She found a third daycare willing to collaborate with her in order to provide care for her foster son, and facilitate his success
His foster mother told the daycare that if they would commit to calling her at the first sign of a behavior problem, she would pick her foster son up within five minutes. They agreed that this arrangement would provide him with consistency and predictability, as well as the opportunity to start fresh every day. The daycare agreed and for several weeks, he was picked up early each day.
Every time his foster mother picked him up, she celebrated the small success of staying a little later each time. She encouraged him to keep working hard, and stay a little later the next day. Eventually, the boy was able to control his behavior for an entire day.
At the end of this first full day, he came home with a huge smile on his face, stating, “I am so proud of myself! It was really hard to stay the whole day, but I did it! Are you so proud of me?”
Success deserves celebration
His foster mother was very proud of him. And we think everyone involved in helping him get to the point where he could stay a full day should be very proud, as well.
His foster mother should be proud she was able to successfully advocate for the needs of her foster son, demonstrating perseverance and sacrifice to offer needed support. The daycare should be proud of being willing to work with a family, which had nontraditional needs, of being willing and able to allow the little boy to try again every day. They should both be proud of the boy’s growth and dedication.
As we enter this school year, let’s remember this principle and celebrate all the small victories. Let’s praise the test that was studied for, even when it was not passed. Let’s cheer on the homework that was completed, even if it was not turned in. Let’s applaud the game that was not quit, the disappointment that did not escalate into a fit, and the bedtime routine that was completed without an argument.
And then let’s hope that these small successes, when repeated and positively reinforced, will culminate in continued progress, producing a trajectory of success.