I’ve heard the first few months of adoptive or foster parenting called “the trenches,” and there is good reason to believe they will not be a walk in the playground. Immature behavior, refusal to accept “no,” and poor school performance are just a few of the problems foster parents struggle with at the onset of their journey. Yet, there is reason to believe you will see those attitudes turn around in a short amount of time if you continue to meet children’s needs in a loving, forgiving way. Here are some reasons NOT to focus on your adopted child’s past or present:

1. It is Not a Reflection of Your Parenting

I remember the early days after I brought my children home. Even though they were school-aged, they would throw toddler-style temper tantrums when they didn’t get their way in public places like the grocery store, and other parents would give me that get-your-kid-under-control look. Most of the time, the children we foster have not been ours since the day they were born, and other caregivers may have been cruel, unfair, or untrustworthy in their discipline. Your child may need a long grace period whereby they learn to see you as an advocate, and your correction as a means for improving them rather than controlling them. As always, feeding them well, rewarding them often, and praising them regularly will go a long way toward building a bridge.

2. It Is Not a Picture of Their Future

Foster children have talents, gifts, and interests that can be nurtured and developed in the right setting. Just like many of us, kids have lots of “false starts” and failures, and helping them forgive themselves means allowing them to start over with a blank coloring book. It is important not to remind kids about behavior they once displayed or hurts they once caused, because they are becoming better people every day, and they each have an important contribution to make to the world.

3. It Is Not Inspiring

Kids may sometimes reminisce about other living situations which they remember with “graduation goggles,” and it is important to give them a chance to fit the scattered pieces of their lives together. Yet, living too much in the past will keep them stuck in wondering what went wrong. Whether or not you are hoping to adopt your foster child, you have an important role to play in shaping his or her future. Focus on their aspirations, dreams, and character, knowing that these things may come to pass one day because of your faith in them.

4. It Will Make You Strong

Teaching your children to put the past behind them and focus on their goals will give them the “grit” necessary to build a fulfilling, productive life. As a foster parent, it will also teach you to forget what lies behind and focus on the selfless, profound difference you are making in the life of a child.