‘His greatest struggle is what others think of him.’: Foster mom on getting her ‘trauma-triggered’ children back to school 

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We have officially reached the end of summer, our lack of structure and routine is catching up to us. We can only thrive for so long without those boundaries that exist in our daily lives. Boundaries that help keep our trauma-triggered responses at bay; the air is filled with such anticipation this time of year as our bodies begin the shift towards routine.

At 27, I became a single foster mom of three overnight, as if the instructions on my box of life read, ‘just add kids.’ Since then we have dealt with mommies who haven’t shown up on their days to visit, leaving my kiddos heartbroken and confused, phone calls for new children to enter our home to suddenly share their bedrooms, and those same kiddos leaving again to be placed back with their families, which is always the ultimate goal, but leaves our hearts with small holes where they once were. Routine is good for them, but often difficult.

My three oldest are all in school. I am so thankful for our small community and the school we attend where our teachers know us and our story of fostering and adoption. I am also so thankful to see that schools are beginning to have training on trauma and its effect in the classroom. Navigating new teachers and classroom dynamics is a change for any child. Kiddos who have trauma often have unhealthy coping skills that can be intensified when things change. This time of year is hard on my kiddos as coping skills and trust are put to a test.

Woman stands in field with foster children picking dandelions
Melissa Pennington Photography

We have had fabulous teachers who are willing to learn how to best teach and redirect my kiddos and also are quick to partner and find solutions for the classroom. I encourage this by talking with them upfront about what sometimes shows itself when change is introduced. My crew has healed and grown so much over the years, overcoming sometimes absent, drug-addicted parents and the pain in their little souls, that these conversations have become fewer and farther between. Our story is unlike so many other kiddos who have endured foster care. None of my children have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) but our hurt shows up in attachment disorders and anxiety that overwhelms them.

My oldest is beginning a whole new chapter of a new building as she enters middle school. With this change she will go from one to six teachers with the new challenge of changing classrooms. She is motivated by success and getting things just right. This time of year with all the unknowns and questions causes her to be insecure and filled with the desire to retreat. We are working on staying present and the things we can control.

My son will begin 4th grade, a pivotal year of growth where many new habits are made that will affect the rest of his education journey. His greatest struggle is what others think of him; when he feels insecure the impulse control goes away and the struggle to focus becomes the greatest challenge of our day. I watched this week as he spent several minutes deciding where to sit in his new classroom. That was insightful as I watched his process. We are working on anything we can do to help him feel confident as he starts this new year off. This kid has a heart bigger than the moon and he cares so deeply.

Woman stands with arms around foster child while looking down at other foster child
Melissa Pennington Photography

My daughter will begin her 2nd grade adventure. Her baby teeth are gone and she is growing taller by the second it seems. I think back to our first two years together in preschool. At that time I was still foster mom to her and she was still healing and learning to trust. She has grown so much from our days of me getting called to pick her up early from the principal’s office due to behavior. Attaching to new people is a struggle. When she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t trust you and therefore she will likely not do what you asked. Each year she heals and grows, and with that her trust comes quicker.

School has not always been easy for us, we have had teachers that have worked with our family and our needs. I have advocated, had after school meetings and shared resources as I partner with this team to help my kiddos be successful. This time of year is filled with opportunities and hope for success. We are excited to kick off the this new year as we move towards healing.

Woman smiling while walking in field with foster son and daughter
Melissa Pennington Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julianna Klepfer, a 30 something, single, foster/adoptive mama. She lives with her crew of seven, ages 11, 9, 7, 4, 3, 18 months and 6 months, their two dogs and 6 chickens in the hills of Iowa. You can follow along with her ever changing family at My Joyful Broken Heart.

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