Wednesday, January 20, 2016


"Learned Helplessness" is an interesting one.

It used to be something which children developed if the parents didn't nurture independence. Children who leave home and don't know that you need to bleach a toilet or that fried bread needs oil or butter in the pan or it ends up toast (me, both).

Nowadays it's widespread.

I heard that a recently retired international footballer had to phone his wife at her hairdressers to ask her how to make a cup of tea.

It's not just the others, it's all of us.

There's an ad on the radio for Halfords (I think) which says you can bring your car in for a Winter Healthcheck . The payoff is that you get a "Free screenwash top-up". We don't even know how to fill the bottle ourselves.

I find there's a danger I have to be alert to in my fostering, which is not to wrap them in too much cottonwool. They are vulnerable and during the first few weeks they are in your care you try to make them feel welcome, at home, cared for and looked after.

I had a child who famously said to a social worker when it was time to put on shoes and do up laces;

"I have a Butler and I'm not afraid to use her"


It had actually come to that. I was so determined the child should feel peace I'd turned  cosseting into an Olympic sport.

But it's better than the alternative by which the child grows up fast and big but out of kilter because they had to look after themselves from a tender age.

The question I ask myself a lot is: "Should I do this for them or tell them to do it themselves?"

If we're not careful, we foster parents end up thinking we get lots of things wrong. I have met plenty of us who are worrying about this that and the other. Sometimes I think that fostering is about choosing to do the least wrong thing, because every course of action has its downside.

"Learned helplessness" is one thing the foster parent never suffers from. We are out there, doing it, learning as we go, dealing with any mistakes we think we make. In learned helplessness the victim is stuck unable to act because someone has always done it for them. That never happens in fostering. We have to act. We have to make a decision and see it through, there's no-one else.

One of the many things I don't quite get right is that I tend to do it for them rather than tell them to do it themselves, because I want them to know there are people who care.

I don't care if they can't make a cup of tea so long as they know someone cared enough to make it for them, and that they are appreciated, someone cares.

I remember a psychologist saying "No child has ever come to any of us and said 'The problem I have is that I'm loved too much'."

If I ever have a tattoo it will be those words.


  1. Me again! Sorry if I post too much, feel free to not put these on the wall. This blog is my lunchtime reading.

    I totally agree that no child (or adult) ever felt too loved or too cared about. One thing I noticed with our teens is that they never refuse a hug, nor are they embarrassed a public exchange of “I love you” – not even in front of their mates.

    However I suspect we disagree a little on the doing most / eveything for them.

    In our house we all share the chores, although the adults do the lion share and horrible jobs (cleaning the toilet etc). Do our kids feel any less loved for having to pick up their own wet towels from the floor, or load the dishwasher after I’ve cooked the monster Sunday lunch? I don’t think so, that’s just how our family works – everyone chips in except the guests, so mucking is in being a member of the family rather than a visitor.

    I do appreciate that this might not work for everyone, its always going to be a case by case thing. Our current kids are older and we’re playing catch up on skills they didn’t learn in early childhood. Enforcing the good habits now should help them when they leave home – clothes need to be washed, wet towels put on the rack to dry etc. We've noticed how much they enjoy helping too (flatpack furniture if a big favourite) and “I made/I helped/I did” seem to be a source of pride too.

    I wonder if you have read Looneytunes hints and tips for carers from a ex foster child, there is a post on skills:

    And just to confirm - I’m not criticizing other approaches, its something for each carer (and parent) to decide for themselves, and I can completely see how many children need that degree of personal care and attention.

    As long as the kids know they are LOVED LOVED LOVED then its all good!


    1. Everything you add is deeply appreciated, and I hope the blog helps your digestion! I'm just about to go and have a look at looneytunes, thanks for the tip.
      Sharing chores must make the child feel part of the family, and that's great. WE tend to keep certain jobs back, the ones they'd either struggle to complete (eg changing a duvet) and get a visit from the low-esteem fairy, or the ones where we'd have to creep back after they'd had a go and re-do it properly (most jobs! eg hoovering, because being a bit fussy about bits on the carpet if I see something after it's been 'hoovered' it niggles my eye all day.

  2. Dear SCF and Mooglet, I do really appreciate all these different insights into the way things can and might be done, and long for the day when I can add my two-penn'orth from my own experience. Meanwhile I'm stashing it all away against the day when some little kid turns up at my door needing all the love I can give - in whatever the best way is I can give it. Second training day tomorrow, and loads of homework from my social worker. I shall certainly know it all in theory, but that's not the point, is it? Have a good weekend, both of you. I'll be thinking of you. Helen

  3. It's great to follow your progress. We're looking forward to hearing how it goes. That first placement is a day you never forget. We met our first placement years later at a fostering function, voice deepened, body language changed from frightened child to geezer. He was getting an award but seeing us light up when we saw him was clearly an award in itself, for him and for us.
    They never forget their first day with you either.
    When I passed my driving test my instructor took me home and as I got out of the car said "Now go and learn to drive".
    I've never forgotten the advice. The same goes for fostering.

  4. Love this, and agree about making them feel loved and at home. Also I don't think you need to have been doing chores for years to be able to do them when you've got your own home - using a hoover isn't that hard, and nowadays there's a YouTube tutorial for literally everything!!
    We have a 10 yr old who is perfectly capable of fetching his own drink or making a sandwich, but when he asks for one we always make it for him, I think he likes the feeling that someone is willing and happy to care for him, he's had enough years of having to do things for himself. Maybe as he feels more secure and loved he'll want to do it himself, and maybe we'll start encouraging him to but at the moment we are more than happy to help.

  5. Absolutely Maria, well said. It's not the sandwich it's the fact it shows someone cares enough to make it for them. Not just make it, but make it exactly right; with the Flora spread carefully, the filling arranged right, and maybe the crusts off. And cut into triangles instead of in half, if that tickles them. Then taken to them and placed at their elbow.
    What must that feel like for a child who think the world is against them?

  6. Ah Maria - its the difference between knowing HOW to hoover and knowing that you NEED to!

    We had a kid who thought rubbish was just pushed into heaps in the corner of the room - nothing was ever thrown away, and that dirty clothing went under the pillow so it would be a bit warmer to put back on the next day.

    There was the teen who didnt get wardrobes, she thought was "one of those TV things" meaning something real people don't do. Same kid also thought sick should just be covered over with a towel which would be left there until we move house.

    Its a sort of selective blindness, a lack of a learned behavior, all based on life experience telling them that dirt and grime is normal. Again this is just my view based on our experiences.

    I am LOVING that this one has generated so much chat, its great hearing everyone opinion and view. xxx

    1. Wow mooglet yes definitely good to teach kids that sick needs to be cleaned up!!
      I've only just started fostering so don't have experience and haven't seen the extremes (or maybe not even that extreme in fostering?!).
      I guess that's part of the point though that one size doesn't fit all, especially with fostering when you've got children who have experienced such different childhoods than most would consider 'normal', so really I guess it's about responding to that child and what they need at that time, which may well change as they settle in and certainly as they get older.
      So great to be able to get bits of wisdom and advice from people who have so much experience!

  7. Im a 17 year old child in care and came across this (dont know how) anyway I habe been in care since I was 8 and.had more fosterhomes and social workers than hot dinners. I read this and was fascinated. In all of the homes I have been in good and bad they did so much for me. Due to habing to rely on myself and me raising my brothers ect I didn't take too well to any sort of help be it a tea being made to help woth homework. I saw it as them interfering and.trying to replace parents I never had and thought it was patronising.
    Well reading this has made me think about your point of view. I always thought I was an extra paycheque but reading this made me think more openly about foster carers in general. I think I will keep reading these jist to get an insight.

    1. I'm moved, touched by your post 17 year old child in care. I suspect you did a good job with your brothers. I reckon your insights would be useful for the foster parents who read the blog, so keep them coming.
      Secret Foster Carer