In his classic My Book about Me, Dr. Seuss encourages children to write and draw their own biographies. With a mix of serious (and seriously silly) “Yes” and “No” questions, fill-in-the-blanks, images to complete, and simple writing activities, the reader can put together the pieces of a working and positive self-image.
When you are young and placed in temporary care, the question of identity possesses a special poignancy.
Foster children have been disconnected and placed in transit. They are deprived of the essential connections that help define a person and provide a foundation for well-being. Tom and Jean Gaunt have written Why and How to Prepare a Life Book to fill this gap and provide foster children with a link to their past.
Connections help a child enter new relationships as a more complete person, without feeling so lost and adrift, without feeling empty. A Life Book is one important way of maintaining and reconnecting with old relationships and of creating new ones.
If your foster child is returning to his birth home, you want to honor as many bonds as you are allowed. Simple attachments that make a difference include continuing religious traditions, the parents’ preference for the child’s hair style, and including the child’s favorite foods at dinner. Collect pictures, impressions, and feelings during the period while the child is in your home.
If your foster child is to be adopted, help him gather pictures, record memories, and write down feelings about his or her earlier years. This will help your child frame the past in context with his new family.
Use a standard binder with a clear pocket cover. Let your foster/adoptive child design the front cover insert. Include envelopes in the back of the binder for your child to collect keepsakes. The Life Book is truly a “book about me.”
Chapter One: Who Me?
The place for baby pictures, a birth certificate, birth information (location, weight, etc.), and social security number. Also personal information about my favorite food, what I want to be when I grow up, what makes me happy, angry….
Chapter Two: My Birth Family
This can contain pictures of birth mom and dad and other important birth relatives where possible. If not, provide space for your child to draw pictures of their original family. Make a family tree. Take a trip with your child to the place of their birth, and take pictures of the community. Ask them to write down their feelings about their birth family. This chapter might include a letter to their birth parents saying goodbye.
Chapter Three: My School.
List the schools attended with school pictures, art work, awards and report cards.
Chapter Four: What Makes Me Tick?
Here is the place for a medical history, shot records, the family medical history and any special needs.
Chapter Five: Getting Adopted?
You may include a list of pictures from previous foster homes. After he or she has moved in, suggest that your new child write down some early highlights: the date when they first met their new parents, the date they actually moved in, and the date their adoption became finalized. Record any other delightful or significant happenings and add early pictures of him or her in the new family.
Memories offer a foundation we need as a base from which to grow. That is what a Life Book does: It provides the displaced child with the story of his or her journey. Where he can go depends in part on where he has been. Give your child the gift of his or her past.