The Honeymoon Myth

The Honeymoon stage is the period where individuals are working hard towards positive and pleasant behavior.  We all have heard of this stage and may have experienced it once in our lives. I believe adults are good at presenting in a masked perception for periods of time, some longer than others. Children,  not so much.

In my career, I’ve worked with professionals,  many in an older school stage who found that youth placed in residential care are usually positive in the first 30 days of placement. Afterwards, their true colours and treatment needs become prevalent. I disagree. For an adult to maintain a facade, it can be difficult.  Parts of you slip away or change as you try to hold this image together. There is an intermix of consciousness working to overcome the unconscious to help maintain the image. Many adults can feel an extreme amount of stress trying to hold together this image. Seriously,  if you know children,  can you honestly believe they can maintain such pretenses for 30 days?  Let alone 30 hours?

Honeymoon stage is an adult term and perception.  It is adults who create an environment for young people which changes as they get to know the youth better. When a youth is placed in your care they are automatically provided with extra support. They are encouraged to review their rights almost weekly. They receive unconditional support regardless of their behavior. If there is a level system put in place, youth go through these levels quickly in the beginning. In essence, the first 30 days is set up for the youths success.

However, after that time the expectations from the adult changes. The youth is required to sure maturity and responsibility to maintain positive behavior. The rewards are provided less as youth are not expected to behave well and are much less rewarded. Youth are placed in leadership roles to teach and guide new youth who come into the program. They also receive privileges which they didn’t before which signify they have become skilled in being successful. I’m sure you all are aware of this process. It’s the flaws in thinking which actually set the youth up for failure. It is always clear that our young people in residential care need the extra support, the discipline and the structure. The rewards are essential to motivating behavior and helping them appear invested in the process. Many of our youth do not have strong self regulation skills. Which means they don’t always respond accurately to inner feelings, they don’t always know how to occupy their free time (as community time increases), they don’t always remember the rules (which leads to breaking rules) and they will need reminders on how to best follow the program. Whether the youth has lived with you for 30 days or 30 months, this initial stage is critical to ensuring their success.

My suggestion: change your time lines. Start with strong structure and boundaries with opportunities for success and support. Always ensure youth are surrounded by support. Provide them opportunities to engage in activities and interests which will keep them engaged and interested. If you help them discover their strengths, they will focus on improving them. In my opinion, this is human behavior. Provide short time limited rewards and keep it simple. Always simple because in doing so you can eventually teach them to self regulate without the external rewards.

Then maintain the same consistency for 6 months.

Also, ensure the youth has a strong support team which includes a psychiatrist, a psychologist & a therapist. Within the first week of placement, book an appointment with a therapist. You want to ensure the youth has sufficient time and opportunity to connect with supportive team. As well as a clinically informed team. Spend the first 6 months completing assessments to help your team to understand this youth not just through behavior, but also emotional health, physical well being, spiritual connections, personal strength and so much more.

After the initial six months period, think of ways to add responsibility to youth without taking away structure established. For example, does the youth like children? Can they volunteer with a reading circle or group for younger kids? Can they volunteer at a soup kitchen to help those who are needy? In this way, you are increasing their responsibility and observing how they respond to the added task. In the outcome, you are seeking to improve their ability to relate to others and animals, you help enhance their ability to understand and connect with others, you tap into their strengths, and you improve their self regulation skills. You can begin to see improvement in self esteem, social skills and self regulation skills. You see their independence and their improvement with responsibility. You are also better equipped to provide treatment to the areas identified on need in the first assessment.

By the six month mark, the youth has also been able to foster a positive attachment with the caregiver, the program, the staff, the therapist and other important persons within the team. It is through these therapeutic relationships and investment which begins to foster change in the youth. It’s not the rules or the structure… these are used to provide a supportive environment. This can never change for the youth. But it is through the relationship they learn values within themselves and others which provides rewards to help them succeed to their best ability and feel as though they truly belong.

After 18 months, you begin to have a youth who is workable enough for long term treatment and the development of a positive and rewarding life experience.

Twenty years, over 100 clients, 26 foster children and several degrees later I’m learning about this work I’ve been doing for years. Don’t feel as though you can not make effective change. You can. Youth do not change over night. It’s a lifetime to bring about the changes best suited for the youth. The work you do is a piece of the bigger picture. So, my encouragement is don’t set these youth up for failure but rather success through relationships with themselves and others.


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