‘Until further notice, celebrate everything’

To help foster parents navigate the back-to-school challenges of the children in their care, we asked school teachers who also serve as Buckner foster and adoptive parents for some tips. Read below for insight from Linda and Jim Kimberly, Buckner foster parents in Carthage, Texas. For more helpful tips, click here for more.

As educators, my husband and I value everything about school. We talk positively about school – how we meet new friends, how we learn cool things, how we behave, what are the expectations for the kids as students. While we hold high expectations, sometimes those expectations don't take the form of getting all As on our report cards. We stress that everyone can learn, everyone can be positive, everyone can be kind and everyone can do their best.  

In the beginning, our focus was mainly on behavior – we celebrate whatever success we can find. For instance, we give daily grades for behavior on a color system. Red ain't so good! If we have a kiddo who has run into the red for many days, we'll do a happy dance for yellow because we always look for improvement.

One thing we do that I think has helped is we also talk about how proud we are of whatever progress we see. Children need to take ownership of their learning. There is so much to learn in a very short time. For our kids, that feels like a ton of pressure and can result in some challenging behaviors – they often haven’t had any positive experiences with school.  

We get excited about behavioral improvement. We get excited about new friends. We get excited about making it to school on the bus without getting a write up. We get excited about a lot of things because our kids come to us from places where they may not have had any expectations for good behavior or achievement. If we can give kids a sense of pride in their accomplishments, they'll begin to re-wire their self-assessment on their abilities.  

So what happens if they don't meet the expectation and we find nothing to celebrate? We talk about trials, their fears and our expectations and then we decide together that they can be Scarlett O'Hara – tomorrow is another day. Then we wake up and do it all over again. And we keep on doing it over until we find something we can celebrate together.

My advice to any frustrated foster parent: Don't yell. Don't fuss. Don't expect them to want to do homework or be at the top of the class immediately. Look for the little things. As one of my favorite coffee cups says, "Until further notice, celebrate everything!'

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