The Non-responsive Child

Submitted by PeterAKenny on August 14, 2018

“We have had our five-year-old foster daughter for six months and are hoping to adopt her. She causes no trouble but is like a shy little mouse with few words and big eyes.  How can we break through and communicate with her?”

A wonderful question about the attitude of many foster children. As parents, we are baffled by the quiet ones.  What are they thinking?  Are they scared?  Sullen?  Overcompliant? Being careful? They won’t tell us.

Here are a few hints to reach past that wall. Most important, you need to start where she is, not with what you would like her to be and do.  Try using her less-verbal method of communication. 

Listen with your third ear.  Observe what appears to interest her. Sit with her while she watches TV or listens to music. Invite her to sing you a favorite song. Ask her to show you how to play her digital games. Play games with her that she selects.

Do things with her. Common tasks are a good way to communicate without the need for many words.  Eat and do chores together. Perhaps she can set the table for dinner.  Pick up and clean a room with her.  Share an exercise routine with her. Welcome any innovations she suggests to the routines. 

Take advantage of moments with emotional overtones. Pets provide many opportunities for loving physical contact. Don’t be afraid to show your own positive and upset feelings.  It’s okay for adults to laugh and jump for joy at a happy surprise. And to cry when sad or hurt. 

Even shy passive children misbehave, most often by delaying or failing to perform a task.  Avoid lecturing and discipline that punishes or isolates her. Instead, get the task done with minimum fuss.  If after being told several times, she fails to bathe or dress herself, do it for her. If she does not come when called, go and collect her. Nagging takes time and provides too much attention for the behavior you are trying to correct.

And finally, bedtime offers a rare private moment to be together.  Read your daughter a story.  Let her pick.  Or tell her one from your own childhood.

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