Community & Culture

Foster Kids Deserve a Chance to Thrive

What Do Children Really Need To Grow Up To Be Happy, Healthy, & Productive?

One of the most important parenting questions I'm asked - whether in the context of my professional role as a pediatrician, as a parenting expert and author, or as the seasoned parent of three, is: what do children really need to grow up to be happy, healthy and productive adults? While deceptively simple, I believe this question actually gets right to the heart of the important role we, as parents, stand to play in children's lives.

Children Thriving and Surviving Are Two Different Things

On the most basic level - not to mention one that has long formed the foundation for renowned psychologist Abraham Mazlow classic " hierarchy of needs" - it is clear that all children need food and drink, sleep, warmth and shelter to meet their basic biological and physiological needs. That said, I have yet to meet a parent whose dream for their child was to simply settle for survival when what we all wish for most is for our child to thrive.

Thrive is a powerfully important word and aspiration for all parents. It means to prosper or flourish - two outcomes that describe a universal parenting mission. From a practical parenting standpoint, ensuring that our children don't just survive but thrive means that in addition to simply keeping them clean, fed and free from harm, children also need to play, learn and explore in an environment that is not only safe, but also warm and nurturing. Toss in some kid clothes, shoes, a car seat, a crib or bed and some books and toys for good measure, and what becomes quickly apparent is that raising children to thrive requires a significant investment of time, money, supplies, attention and love.

So there you have it: The answer to what all kids need includes both the basic supplies and a safe and nurturing environment provided and created by at least one caring, responsive adult committed to investing in their future.

How To Help Foster Kids Thrive, Not Just Survive

With this in mind, it should become much clearer and easier for all of us to be sympathetic to the needs of those children who find themselves part of the U.S. foster care system (a number that exceeds 400,000 children on any given day!). As daunting a number as this seems, and as complex as the foster care system may be, the needs of children who are in foster care are surprisingly simple: they need the very same things that all children need - just amplified. All too often, foster kids must leave their homes in search of safe and nurturing environments and caring, responsive adults committed to meeting even their most basic of needs - sometimes with little to no advance notice, up to three or more times in a year, and sometimes forced to leave what minimal personal belongings they have behind.

I've found that these foster care facts alone are enough to pull at just about everyone's heart strings - pediatricians, parents and children alike. While not all of us are in a position to become a foster parent, understanding what children in foster care need to survive and thrive makes it possible for each and every one of us to contribute to helping a foster kid, whether that help is in the form of a lemonade stand to raise money or donated clothes, pajamas, shoes, school supplies, toys or dollars.

In the spirit of doing my part for such a worthwhile cause, I consider myself particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with Mattress Firm in supporting the company's year-round efforts to help provide local foster care nonprofit organizations across the country with the support they need.

Adults and Children Alike Should Actively Practice Kindness and Compassion

While I certainly hope you will also share Mattress Firm's commitment to helping foster children who need it most, I want to leave you with an equally important thought: It is my longstanding belief - now firmly reinforced by a large and growing body of research - that children in the foster care system are not the only ones who stand to benefit greatly from our collective commitment to make sure their needs are met. Rather, I suggest to you that by having our own children actively participate and practice kindness and compassion, we have the opportunity to foster our own children's sense of empathy - a skill defined by the ability to understand and share feelings of another that is as foundationally necessary for our children to ultimately live happy, meaningful lives as is the food, water and air they breathe.

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