Last night was an interesting night. We dropped Kevin off at my cousins' apartment on our way to the meeting. We left early, but rush-hour traffic still caused us to be late. We couldn't have left any earlier either. Grig gets home between 4:45-5:00. We left the home at 5:55. It was supposed to take 27 minutes, and it took 38 minutes. That was pretty annoying, but things got better when we got to the meeting.
While enjoying dinner, we began to learn about child development.
First we talked about age appropriate landmarks and then we took a quiz to see how well we knew our child development. I got about half of the questions right, but as I looked over my answers, I realized that I had gotten all the ones right that fell into my son's age group and under. Anything older than my son was much more shaky. I suppose that made sense.
One of the things I learned last night was that Kevin is entirely age appropriate at the moment. The instructor talked about how between the ages of three and four, children merge reality and imagination. He described a kid who he saw at the store who was dressed as Spiderman and who believed with all his heart that he WAS Spiderman. As he was telling this experience, I couldn't help but think of Kevin.
Nearly everyday right now, I'll ask Kevin to do something, and he'll say, "My name is not Kevin. My name is Superman." Just yesterday, he told me, "I have two names: Superman and Clark."
I asked, "Don't you have three names? Isn't Kevin your name too?"
He shook his head and said, "No. Superman and Clark Kent."
The instructor went on to say that this is healthy for this age and we shouldn't discourage it. They'll grow out of it, but right now they're developing key parts of their brain by pretending and it will make their minds healthier. It won't hurt them, and it doesn't hurt us. He encouraged us to let them pretend.
Next we talked about developmental delays. He told us that when people experience traumatic events, it puts their minds in a kind of freeze. The mind goes into survival mode, and stops developing mentally. Once the danger is passed, then their mind begins to develop, but it starts at whatever point it froze. He told us that most children in foster care have a developmental delay.
We were instructed that we needed to figure out where the child was mentally so that we could understand and be less frustrated with their behavior. If you know a child is 9, but mentally is six, it is much easier to understand their behaviors. It is also easier to have patience, and know how to help them. However, he cautioned us not to simply accept the current mental age. The idea behind foster care is to identify where they are at, and then to help them to grow. Once they enter a safe environment (our home) they can begin to age again, and we should help them to do so as well as we can.
The next section of the class talked about a reverse bicycle. He showed a video of a man who was dared to ride a reverse bicycle. If you turned the handle bar one way, the wheel went in the opposite direction. The man was confident that he could ride, but no matter how hard he tried, the bike would tip over. He discovered that the brain is wired a certain way, and you can't just tell it to change. So, for months he practiced ten minutes a day on the reverse bicycle. After about 9 months (I think that was how long, it might have been a little longer), something suddenly clicked and he could do it. He did the same experiment with his son who had only been riding a bike for three years, and it only took his son two months.
There were some important lessons to be learned from this example. One of the things was that you can't just tell someone to do something. You have to teach them how. It isn't easy to rewire a brain. Children's minds are more malleable, and they are able to learn new behaviors more quickly, but we need to have patience with them and their birthparents.
The goal of foster care is reunification. We are supposed to be trying to not only help the children, but their parents too. Only when that isn't possible are foster children adopted. As we were talking about that, I realized something.
The goal of foster care is to save families.
That was like a hammer blow in my mind. We are here to help not only the children, but their parents. If we have some children come and join our family, it will only be because after our very best efforts, things just didn't work out with their parents. We plan on giving it our best effort too. Studies have shown that when children can be with their birthparents and the situation can be improved, it is ALWAYS better for the child.
It is only when the child's safety is at risk and the birthparent can't or won't change their own behaviors that the children are removed permanantly. If the birthparent is showing that they're trying, they will extend the time that the children are simply removed until the parent's behaviors have changed enough. They won't take away the parent's right unless they are showing no improvements.
We learned some other interesting things last night about different developmental levels, and at the end we talked about teenagers.
We watched a final video from a man who studies the ways that minds work, and he told us that there are several reasons that teenagers act the way that they do. He told us that they have decreased dopamine levels and increased reactive levels. Essentially that means that the part that cautions them against dangerous things is reduced, while those chemicals that enjoy risk and excitement are increased. He explained that this was because teenagers were "preparing to leave the nest" and needed to have less caution in order to do so. They needed to be willing to change, take new risks, and challenge old perceptions.
He told us that we needed to be less critical of teens, and more compassionate and empathetic. We needed to allow them to think in new ways and to use their innovation. We also need to help impart some of the caution that they may be lacking.
I've really been enjoying these classes. He gave us some homework, and let us leave half an hour early.
We drove back to my cousin's apartment complex and parked the car. As we did so, I briefly thought, "I wonder if we need a permit?" However, we were only going up to get Kevin, so I decided not to worry about it.
We walked upstairs, talked to my cousins for a few minutes, retrieved Kevin (who was very happy and very much awake), and returned to our car, only to find it booted and a note on the window.
That wasn't a very pleasant end to the evening. After we had called the number, a young man showed up. I explained our situation. I told him that we hadn't been aware that you needed a permit to park here, we had just been here long enough to fetch our son, and if we had known, we wouldn't have parked in the parking lot. He was sympathetic, but their rules were firm. Evidentally, if you parked there after 9 without a permit, you were booted. There was no visitor parking. It was 9:30, so we were just out of luck.
Thirty minutes later and seventy-five dollars poorer, our car was freed and we were on our way home. Both of us were a bit upset by that. Honestly, my mind kept saying, "That isn't fair. We didn't know the rules, and no one warned us. We've been doing good things. Why did this have to happen tonight." It didn't help that we didn't get home until 10 p.m. and we had to wake up at 4:00 a.m.
Bad things often happen after good experiences, but it's important not to let the bad things sour the good experience. I feel much less frustrated this morning. I think it's going to be a good day today, and I'm really enjoying our foster classes.
One of my favorite things about them is that Grig and I are doing them together. It is really fun to sit with my husband for four hours and to be able to talk and learn together about something that is interesting to both of us.
We're excited for next weeks' classes!