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Giving Unconditional Love to a Child who has Been Abused

The number of children in foster care has increased for the fourth year in a row, with a report by the Administration for Children and Families showing that around 437,5000 children were in foster care by the end of the 2016 fiscal year. If you are a foster or adoptive parent to one of these kids, you may not be aware of past trauma, abuse, or neglect they may have faced.

While child welfare will share any information they may have, indeed, you may discover your child’s traumatic experiences over time, if and when they wish to share these with you. It is important to be patient and to understand that building trust takes time. Being aware of how abuse can manifest itself will also ensure that you calmly negotiate any obstacles you or your child may face.

What are Signs Your Child Might have been Abused?

Signs that a child is being abused are often present, but they can be indistinguishable from other signs of child stress, distress, or trauma. Knowing what to look for can help – sign can be physical and/or emotional. These include having nightmares or being scared to fall asleep, bed wetting, anxiety, changes in attitude, hurting themselves, and unexplained or frequent health problems like headaches or stomach aches. Signs will also vary according to age. For instance, children up to the age of five may find it difficult to soothe themselves in a stressful situation, while older children may seem sad or silent.

As children enter into adolescence, they may have a very strong need to be accepted by others socially. Many of these emotions can increase their risk for riskier behaviors in their teen years. It is important to understand that abuse has wide-reaching effects on a child’s physical as well as their emotional /psychological health.

Preparing Other Children in the Home

If you have other children in the home, it is important for them to be aware of the many challenges their new sibling may have faced in the past. They may be too young to discuss specifics, but have open, honest conversations about the importance of providing support to their new siblings and of treating them like a member of their family. Thus, they may be inspired to bring their new siblings along to social and sporting events, or invite them to take part in their favorite hobbies.

Children teach each other skills like the importance of sharing and working together in a natural, unspoken way. Kids should also know that it may take time for the new members of the family to feel truly ‘at home’, to the point that they feel comfortable talking about where they used to live, the people they used to live with, etc. 

Fulfilling Promises

If you tell your child you will be at their next school assembly, be there. If you promised them you would help them with a school project on the weekend, don’t make other plans. Children who have been abused need consistency if they are to trust you. Being true to your promises makes a child feel valued, since it shows that you are responsive to their needs.

Focusing on the Positive

Help your child feel like he or she is making progress by pointing out positive reinforcements. For instance, you might say, “Isn’t it amazing… you read a whole book in a week” or “Wow! You used to be so tired when you started playing football and now you can play for hours.” While it is best not to mention painful things about their past, focusing on present achievements can help them grow in confidence and feel like they are progressing.

Setting Limits Calmly

Reward good behaviors and talk to them about behaviors that need improvement. Set clear limits in your home – for instance, you may stress the importance of following a strict meal and bedtime routine, and you should establish from the outset that shouting and hitting are not valid means of getting your point of view across. One of the most important things when it comes to ensuring your rules are followed, is by setting an example; ‘practice what you preach’, as they say.

Parents who establish rules and help kids aspire towards goals, but who temper expectations with love and responsiveness to children’s needs, earn rather than impose respect. The lack of fear means that children will be more likely to tell the truth and discuss any issues they may be facing at school or in their social life, rather than lying because they fear the consequences of speaking from the heart. 

We have mentioned just a few steps to take when you adopt or foster a child. Be aware of the child’s past experiences and let everyone in the family know that it will take time for the child to move beyond trauma and abuse. Choose a loving, warm parenting style while establishing boundaries is important. By setting an example from day to day, you can earn your child’s respect and love. Of course, if your child is struggling with food, behavior, or interacting with others, individual or family therapy can help through cognitive behavioral and other techniques.

Above all, let them know you are always there for them and will believe them no matter what.


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