Ask Ann:

"Stay Strong"

(Ann Houck is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience working with at-risk children in the foster care system and in orphanages. Her childcare approach uses Trust-Based Relational Intervention, a framework for parenting children of trauma, developed at Texas Christian University.)

QUESTION: This is very hard work. How do you keep going and stay strong for the kids?

Anonymous Caregiver

By Ann Houck • 3 min read

Ann answers:

For those of us in the orphan care field, we often find ourselves forgetting about us. It is easy to focus our attention on the children in our care and forget that we, too, have needs that must be taken care of.

After all, if we are not taking care of ourselves, how will we be able to take care of the children?

One of my favorite mantras is “we are the tools.” We would never think about building a house without sufficient tools to get the job done; do we not also need sufficient tools to take care of our children? Often, we are all they have. We are what the kids rely on for safety, for meeting their needs, for care and attention. We must keep this basic tool, us, in good shape.

In thinking about the needs of orphan caregivers, I am reminded of an old acronym that I learned many years ago: HALT.

H: Hungry
A: Angry
L: Lonely
T: Tired

At the time I discovered this acronym, I thought it a great one and still do. I like to use it as a daily reminder to check on my feelings and behavior. When I am feeling upbeat, happy, energized, I am not experiencing any of these.

BUT, when I catch myself feeling out of sorts, grumpy, irritated, annoyed, (and any other out of sorts emotion), I ask myself: am I experiencing HALT?

Am I hungry?
When was the last time I ate? Am I indulging in what I know to be unhealthy foods? Am I over/under eating? Am I thinking about food a lot? What can I do to improve my diet and eat regularly so that I do not get hungry? And, am I similarly taking care of the nutritional needs of my kiddos?

Am I angry?
Does my body feel like it is wound tight and about to spring at someone or something? Do I respond in a hurtful way to questions or requests? Have I yelled at someone today?

Maybe I need to take a few deep breaths and calm myself. Maybe I need to remind myself that whatever is contributing to my anger can be dealt with at another time, in a place where I am not going to act inappropriately with others. Perhaps you can schedule a time, say, after dinner, when you can examine what is happening with your anger.

Am I lonely?
Feeling that you are doing this with no help? You may have coworkers, but feel that they don’t understand you? You don’t know how to confide in your friends and you are feeling all alone. Abandoned, maybe. Watch out for this one; it can take you down a very dark hole.

Reach out; open up and share your thoughts with someone with whom you have felt safe. Is this your mind playing games with you, or is there really, truly no one to share with? Be honest with yourself, just as you would have the children be honest with you.

Am I tired?
Yep, all the time. Do I get enough sleep? Probably not; after all, when does anyone in this field have time to sleep? What do I do to refresh myself? Do I tell myself to push on even when I know I need a rest? What can I do to support my rest time? Am I drinking enough water? Am I getting enough exercise? Am I doing anything that adds to my fatigue?

At the end of the day, we have to ask—Am I in control of these feelings or are they in control of me? Do I find myself saying that I have no control over ______ (fill in the blank) and that is why I am always (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). Is that the example we want to set for our kiddos?

How you go about turning the tables on being owned by your feelings instead of owning them is very personal. Many of us have had training in all sorts of personal growth programs and many of us have stopped practicing what we learned. To stay strong, we need to dust off those skills. Go ahead, give it a go! And remember, you can be in control and be in a great place to help the orphans in your care.

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

Ann Houck

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

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