Friends often feature prominently in our memories of the formative periods in our lives, particularly those times when we are carving out our identity and learning the lessons and skills that help us to navigate our way through life.
For the adopted children and young people who are part of our Young Explorer and Teen Spirit programmes, early friendships are a piece of life’s puzzle that tend to be missing. A psychologist might quickly identify attachment difficulties and emotional dysregulation as common long-term effects of an early childhood characterised by trauma and adversity, but for our children this is something that just hurts: it’s the pain of loneliness; of not having someone close to play with; and of not understanding why friends never quite seem to work out.
This is why Saturday’s session was all about friendship – what it means, why it’s important and how to form stable and strong relationships with peers. Friendships are tricky for all of us, but they can be particularly challenging for young people who have been adopted. The parents of our adopted members say that a typical reason for their children being rejected by peers is their aggressive or eccentric behaviour. Because of the immature and sometimes challenging way that they express themselves, some adopted children require more supervision and are therefore less likely to be invited to the homes of friends.
This is where the idea for one of the Young Explorer activities came from: the challenge was for members to split into small groups and to use a collection of paper plates, cardboard, bottle tops and foil to create a friendly looking Robo-buddy that they could programme to behave appropriately in conversation and play – the kind of buddy that anyone would want to have. There are, of course, instances where dysregulation can sabotage a budding friendship, but this was the perfect opportunity to develop Robo-buddy’s anti-overheating programme – i.e. for the group to practise their self-regulation strategies.
At Body & Soul, the Young Explorers programme is a club for young adopted children to begin to find out answers to the friendship conundrum. Everything is geared towards building functional attachment, helping the children to develop an expectation that friendship is attainable, but that it might not always look quite the way they may have come to imagine it. Through practical skills, a sharing of things we find difficult, an experience of being a good friend and lots of positive reinforcement, we aim to make some steps forward towards a less lonely life.