It can be rough forging an emotional connection with foster and adopted children, but it’s an important part of the process to making them feel comfortable. Step one, of course, is to establish who you are and why you’re now in the child’s life. Though you have been preparing your home, family, and mind for the placement of your foster child, remember that to this child, you’re a stranger. Be patient, gentle, and friendly with your foster child. You may not know the extent of the child’s past and history, and you will soon learn what makes your foster child tick. More than anything, be patient.
Especially if the child is young, you’ll be the main source of information regarding what’s going on. Talk with your foster child openly and frankly about how the process works, any history you may or may not know, and what the child’s next steps will be. Don’t patronize or act secretive. Children know when they’re not being told the whole story. Foster children are especially sensitive to false promises and impermanence, so don’t speak in definites if you’re unsure. Maintaining your position as a safe, honest, and always accessible parent will give kids the stability they need.
If your attempts at connection, conversation, and getting to know the child are met with hostility or apathy, keep your cool. Remember that children in this situation have been through a lot. Even under the best circumstances, this child was just taken away from everything that is familiar to them. Under the worst circumstances, there is trauma and abuse that the child might not be able to process. How you handle frustration, anger, and stress is a model for your children to follow. Take a deep breath and show them kindness in all circumstances.
When introducing your foster child to other children, teachers, or your friends, use the child’s name and circumstances, and as much as you can, avoid the term “foster kid,” as its stigmatizing. On online chat boards, children who were once in foster care express that being introduced by their name and circumstances (eg. This is Lucy, and she’ll be living with us for a while) makes them feel like a regular kid, not a charity case.
More than anything, listen to your foster child and pay attention to what makes your child happy, anxious, uncomfortable, or upset. The more time you spend with the child, the more you can plan activities, outings, or bonding exercises that will develop life skills and trust between the two of you. Ask lots of questions, and if you get honest answers, remember them. (If you have a bad memory, keep notes in your phone or carry around a small notebook!) Favorite flavors of candy, favorite colors, favorite movies, and favorite dinners can make a big difference to making a foster child feel at home. Everyone likes it when others pay attention to them, but for foster kids it’s necessary.
Some former foster children on internet discussion boards like Reddit have noted that they need some hands-on instructions and rules so that everyone’s on the same page. As a foster parent, you may have ideas in your head about what behaviors are permissible and which areas of the house are off limits, but express these clearly to the child. Show the child around your house and describe the purpose and permissibility of each room.
You can’t buy your foster child’s approval or erase their perhaps tumultuous past with toys and gadgets. Some foster parents are under the impression that lots of “stuff” will instantly improve the child’s quality of life, but what the children really need is some sense of normalcy, including rules, boundaries, and consequences.
Just remember to have patience, and to keep trying. Don’t give up!