So you have decided to become a foster parent, have you? Congratulations! You’re helping a family – not just a child – in need. Well, that is what you tell yourself when the screaming, the throwing, or the outright hate rears its ugly head. Whether you have children of your own, you’re married, single, or you are just wanting to help out, fostering kids is a special kind of parenting. Not only does it come with a whole new set of rules and regulations passed down from the state for approval and accepting a child, but also a whole child with a set of experiences that don’t always mesh with a healthy life. After all, they don’t put happy, healthy, safe kids in foster care. Though fostering kids does come with a state manual, my wife and I found some simple rules to not only help foster kids, but also help us.
The goal is always going home
You need to constantly keep in mind that the goal is for foster children to go home. No matter what situation foster children had, the primary reason to remove a foster child is the threat of imminent danger whether it is physical, sexual, or neglectful. Since they are removed from the home for an imminent threat, families have to prove that their home is safe for children to return from foster care. It sometimes doesn’t take much, a class here, some drug screens there, and the parent is ready to have them home healthy and safe.
Although some studies say that this can take years, the ultimate goal is always to improve the home environment and reunify the family. This is rough on foster parents because you get attached. How could you not? My wife and I have a hard time with this because our foster children are our children. When tantrums rear and yelling “I want to go home!” starts, my wife and I take a step back mentally and say to ourselves, the goal IS to go home. So we tell our foster children, “We want you happy, healthy, and safe our house or in your momma’s (or daddy’s or family’s).” Take a step back from the argument and keep telling them this. Eventually, they will know that they will be loved no matter where they are.
They have to own their behavior
My foster daughter is a wonderful girl that loves math and playing with her friends. But that doesn’t stop her from acting out in class, at home, or even at her friends. One review supports that foster children show a range of emotional and physical behaviors that relate to their previous home situation and their foster home situation.
Responding to these behaviors is tricky because you want to react to the behavior, but that is exactly what they did in the first place. For example, my foster daughter did not respond well when people told her what to do, especially chores. She kept shouting that we were bossy. So we sat down with her and created rules as a family. Using a series of small rewards and lots of praise, we can talk with her through her behavior saying “Remember that we made these rules together.” This has helped her own behavior improve and the overall climate in our home to shift to one of positive accountability.
Own your behavior
Along with your foster child owning their behavior, you have to own yours. My wife and I love ice cream, but our kids can’t have it for dental reasons resulting from their original home. So, since ice cream is an occasional reward for her, my wife and I don’t eat it very often anymore. Also, remember those rules that you made with them? You have to make double sure that you are following them to because they will call you on it.
One rule that I made with my kids is that I will carry them to bed. This was important to my seven-year-old foster child, so we made it a rule as a form of accepting her behavior, which studies strongly encourage. But she has grown over the last year and carrying her is a pain in the back now. But every night she says it’s a rule, so I do it. Of course, we are revising that rule very soon because I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to carry her across the house. As long as everyone is involved with the rule making, then everyone owns their behaviors.
Schedule! Schedule! Schedule!
This is a rule that my wife and I have taken from our classroom experiences as teachers. Prior to foster children, my wife and I had no children and pretty much moved at our own pace. Overnight, we became parents of two. Following some initial adjustments to our new family, the kids were not comfortable or functional on our laissez-faire schedule. So, my wife made a 15-minute schedule of activities. She planned breakfast, coloring, outside, and more in 15 minute increments. It was maddening for me, but our kids loved it. We saw a dramatic decrease in reaction behaviors and emotional outbursts. Eventually, the schedule moved to 30-minunte activities, and now where have just a general order of events for the day after school and on the weekends.
We all know that kids crave structure both in school and in life. Foster kids need it just as much, if not more. If you are seeing a lot of emotional or behavioral outbursts, try a schedule of activities. It doesn’t have to be 15 minutes activities, but give a schedule a try. After some adjustments to it, kids will love it.
Never argue in front of the kids
According to child psychology (particularly the sociocultural theory for us nerds), children learn and respond to the environment of which they are part. This is why so many foster children have strong emotional reactions; we have taken them out of their environment and thrust them into a new one. They don’t have a reference for norms and expectations. While everything I have said previously helps them adjust, fighting in front of them will threaten their environment and will result in a bad environment for everyone. No matter how old they are or how small the argument, they pick up on it and reflect it as a disruption to their environment. If you want to keep that to a minimum, keep the disagreements in front of them to a minimum.
Ultimately, you love these children as your own no matter what. Although every child pushes the limit, foster kids can sometimes push us even more because we know that their behavior is not entirely their fault. Normal parenting means nine months to prep for a child and then a couple of years to teach the norms and expectations. These guidelines can help shorten the time for your foster children to adjust since you didn’t get any time to prepare. As one foster parent to another, congratulations on the new addition, good luck, and thank you!