We once had a young girl placed in our foster home who seemed to have a difficult time in voicing her feelings. She could show how she felt through behaviors. These behaviors included tantrums, physically acting aggression, pouting, and crying. It was often very difficult to understand why she was reacting in such a powerful way to situations that didn't seem that important. The foster care worker assigned to our foster home suggested that I purchase a journal and a cool pen and use the journal as a way for just the child and us to try to communicate.
I went to the store and purchased a special journal and a few pens. I wrote a simple message to her in the journal, explaining the purpose of the book. I then allowed her to select which pen she wanted to use for the journal. It was an instant hit with the child.
This journal became our primary communication tool for the first few months in our home, especially during difficult times.
Different Ways We Used This Journal in Our Foster Home
- We asked her how she felt about visits or therapy.
- We used the journal as a way to get to know her better.
- We let her know that we noticed when she seemed upset and asked why.
- We explained how we felt when different rules were broken.
- We explained different consequences that would follow poor choices.
- We told her when we were proud of her.
- We told her when we were disappointed in her behavior or treatment of others.
- We explained how she could be a better friend or be nicer to others.
- We told her that we loved her.
- We told her when we noticed good choices she has made.
How the Child Used the Journal to Share
- She asked permission to do different activities.
- She shared her feelings when she was mad at her sister.
- She asked questions about upcoming case plan meetings or court.
- She shared when she was upset with us.
- She shared when she was upset over different losses of privileges or other consequences.
- She asked various questions about our home and family, including if we could change her bedtime.
Basic Rules if Interested in Using a Journal for Children
Neutral location. We kept the journal where she could access it at any time. Then she would leave it on my desk when she wanted me to read something. I would leave it under her pillow if I had something to share with her.
No snoops allowed. Other children in the home were never allowed to read the journal or write in it.
Age not a factor. If the child is not old enough to read or write, consider purchasing a sketch pad for the child to draw out feelings.
Beware of trauma. Know that sometimes children may describe violence or nudity, which of course may indicate trauma. Explain to the child that you appreciate their willingness to share their thoughts with you, but you may need to share the journal with their social worker or therapist. You may consider emailing the child's worker and therapist describing the pictures or writing. Perhaps they will be able to communicate with the child and ask the child to share with them directly. This will protect your trust and the connection you have created with the child. If this is not possible, it is very important to inform the team if the child is sharing disturbing images or writing.
Bring in some fun. It's amazing how a cool pen or fun crayons will open up a child's world. There are a number of neat twisty crayons and even scented markers available for children. Don't be afraid to have some fun with this project.
We truly gained a different perspective on this particular foster child's thinking. Over time she was able to open up more verbally and not need the journal to voice her feelings.
I hope that a children's journal will be a valuable tool in your foster or adoptive home too.