In Risking Connection© training we read a letter from a woman who grew up in the child welfare system in the 19950s. She was asked by her therapist, Dr. Kay Saakvitne, (one of the RC authors) what she would want people who worked in that system to know. In her letter she speaks eloquently of the lack of continuity when one is moved from place to place. It is very hard to develop a secure sense of self when there is no coherent narrative of ones life, no pictures, no one to remember the various parts. People appear and disappear. They each say something different about who you are.
This letter makes me think about all the ways we create that narrative for our own kids: we tell them the story of how Mommy and Daddy met, of their birth. We describe their ancestors and say they resemble Aunt Jane. We say "all members of the… family always…" We remind our teenagers of embarrassing things they did when they were kids. When the kids are 57 they are still expected to display the characteristics that were assigned them at age 5.
The author of the letter implores us to ask our clients about their pasts in conversational ways, to help them construct their story. When possible, create a life book with pictures and mementos. When they have to move, explain why, give them time to prepare, and relate the new place to the old- for example, point out both places on a map.
What can we do to help the child put her time with us into her story? One residential (Sunrise, Kentucky) reported some interesting rituals. One is to create a memory box for a child when they arrive. During their stay put in souvenirs, mementos, pictures. When they leave, add messages from staff and kids and send it with them. Another site described a ritual in which they buy the child a necklace. They pass the necklace around to each child and staff, and each states a wish which they are attaching to the necklace to go with the child.
What hello and goodbye rituals does your program do? How do you create a sense of meaning and continuity for your kids during these crucial times of passage?
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