Recently, I’ve been discovering that my techniques and strategies to talk with my soon to be eight-year-old. For the past couple of years when I have been asked a question about this confusing complex world we live in I pulled ideas form books, television shows, and movies she was familiar with. She was engaged and the conversations never had a conclusion. It was open for ongoing follow-up questions from either of us. While I continue to use the past books, television shows and movies her questions are requiring me to go beyond the immediate content and extend it to abstract concepts that go beyond the storylines. In short, Daniel Tiger, Zootopia and Have you Filled a Bucket Today are a bit too simple for my daughter…but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be the foundation of our conversations. It is the idea of creating a foundation early on that is central to discussing (in)justice and (in)equity with young children.
The most recent challenge occurred when she asked me, “Why don’t we adopt a child who is in foster care. They need families.” As usual, I had to pause and consider a formulated response that made sense to my experiences.
My first classroom job was at a therapeutic preschool. The children who attended this school were three to five years old. They were all in the process of going through the reunification process after being separated from their parents by child protective services. Most of the children had experienced trauma on many levels and as a result, they benefited from extensive systems of professional support. As a teacher I was able to work with speech, occupational, physical and music therapists, social workers, child psychologists and family liaisons. One of the key lessons I took away from that experience was the benefits of early intervention and depending on the duration of maltreatment, the intervention was often more intense. Throughout my career, this understanding was continuously reinforced.
“Interesting question…are you thinking we should adopt a baby or a toddler, or a preschooler, or an older child?”
“An older child. Like the kids in [the movie] Annie.”
“Well…children who are in foster care are usually there because they were abused by their caregivers.”
Abuse and maltreatment was something we had talked about not too long ago.
I continued, “When a child is abused they have often been hurt so badly that they have an empty bucket…they have few people who feel their bucket and often no one has taught them how to fill other people’s buckets. All the abuse has cracked their bucket. Even when people try to fill the child’s bucket, all of the good thoughts and feelings drip out of the bucket, just like water in a cracked bucket. With a lot of help and support, adults can help repair the cracks, but it takes a lot of work. Because mommy and I both spend most of our days at work and we already have you and your sister, it would be too much work for us to adopt a child in foster care.”
“Daddy, that’s prejudice! You don’t know if children who are abused have cracks in their bucket. And if we don’t try to fill their bucket then they might not have anyone to fill their bucket.”
She was addressing a sad truth that I and many others often struggled with when working with children who were maltreated.
“Well,” I said. “If we judge and treat people differently and don’t give them the opportunity to access all of their rights as a child, then yes, it is prejudice and discrimination. Some children have buckets that don’t crack as easily as other children’s buckets. So your right. We can’t assume that children who were abused have a cracked bucket. I suppose children could have cracked buckets for other reasons too.”
“Well then…I guess the other answer to your question would be that mommy and I don’t want to have more children. Whether they are adopted or biological, we love you and your sister so much and that’s enough for us.”
My takeaway from this? My daughter is getting older. She wants to take some kind of action, but she doesn’t quite understand the complexity first, what it takes to raise a child, but also. the layers of taking true action. The best I can do is keep talking about it, reinforcing familiar concepts and extending ideas when they need to be expanded.