School Transitions for Children from Compromised Beginnings
by Carisa Wilsie
I love fall. Crisp air, leaves falling, an explosion of color, cooler mornings, football and pumpkin spice everything. The precursor to fall for me is back-to-school time. I always laugh at the pictures of my friends’ children in northern states as they wear fall clothes to school. The 110 heat index in Oklahoma City doesn’t feel like fall to me! But the fact that school is starting means fall is coming.
For children in foster care or who have been adopted, school starting is not something in which to look forward. School starting for many of these kiddos is a transition. A BIG transition. Think of how much time children spend at school. My kids are at school seven hours, five days a week. They only see me five hours a day, at most. And in elementary school before they start changing classes, that means they are with a new person for the majority of their day. So, all of a sudden, we tell them to enjoy their day with this new person and ask our kids to trust them instantly. The reality is that our children took a LONG time to gain any footing at trusting us as caregivers. Adults in their lives in the past were not safe to trust. And when they did trust, that trust was broken. The truth is some of the children in our classrooms are still living with caregivers who can’t be trusted. Now we assume that all children can walk into a classroom with a new teacher and immediately trust him or her. It’s hard. Really hard. We’ve found that it takes at least six weeks for my kids to truly trust their teachers. That’s a rough six weeks not only for them, but also for us, and ultimately for their teachers. We try to fill our children’s minds with Scriptures of encouragement like these:
Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 56:3: When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.
1 Peter 5:7: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.
God is the person we can turn to when we need peace. When we need to trust. When we feel unsure. The truth is that I’m probably just as anxious about sending my little ones to someone new who will spend the majority of their day with them. So I have to turn to these scriptures as well. I can’t help my children turn to God unless I am also doing it. I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks on my knees asking God for peace and to help my children to trust. I have also prayed this for myself.
I’m so very thankful for the wonderful teachers I had growing up and for those who have poured into my children so far. I know these relationships are going to be ones that are looked back on as strong and caring. As one of my kiddo’s teachers said at the parent meeting about broken crayons on the first day, “It’s not worth the relationship points to address that today.” They are doing a lot more than teaching them math and reading. I know my prayers are heard. I know they are needed.
I pray that it gets easier every year for my children to trust. To feel safe. To know that they are in the hands of God so that whatever is in front of them is attainable. It’s never going to be easy…but I believe they will get there.
For now I will look forward to football season and my pumpkin spiced latte. I will tell all of my teacher friends how valued they are. And I’ll spend a lot of time on my knees.
Carisa Wilsie, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and orphan care advocate. She is involved in state efforts to better the lives of children with compromised beginnings in Oklahoma. She does life with many bright, compassionate and encouraging people that hold her up. She is a wife and mother to three who were born out of her heart through adoption. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower and strives every day to live out her unique calling. Thoughts shared here are based out of personal opinion and experience.