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The First Day: How To Help a Foster Child Feel At Home

Sad little boy in black and white

Sad little boy in black and whiteWhen a foster child comes to your home, it’s often a frightening and overwhelming experience for the child. He or she is being dropped off at the house of strangers and is now at your mercy. She doesn’t know if you’re safe and he doesn’t know if you’re going to be a harsh and exacting taskmaster. Everything is new and strange.

Avoid Coerced Actions

Welcome the child to your home with a soft voice and a warm smile, but unless the child initiates it, do not force them to hug you. If he seems comfortable, you can take him by the hand (if he’s little) or touch him lightly on the shoulder (if he’s older). Make sure that everything is done gently. Be aware of body language or other signals from the child regarding physical interactions. He or she may have been abused.

Don’t inform the child that he or she must call you mom or dad, not even further down the road. That’s best left to her discretion. You can offer to let her call you by your first name. Additionally, don’t force the child to unpack immediately.

Take Him on a Tour

Introduce the child to his new surroundings. Show her where she will be sleeping and where she can put her things. Allow him to look in the closet and under the bed of his room. Make sure there’s a nightlight too. All of these things can help to ease the child’s anxiety.

Introduce the child to the rest of the family. If you have other children, they can help with the tour and introductions too. Sometimes, being welcomed by people close to their own age is comforting.

Sit Down & Talk About House Rules

Do this gently. And offer a yummy snack (but don’t force them to eat it). It’s important to talk about house rules at the beginning of their stay so they know what’s expected of them. However, don’t make this too overwhelming with a long list of rules. Talk about the main ones and ask them if they have any questions. The goal is to build trust.

Be aware that certain rules could trigger negative memories for the child. Always try to understand why your child is responding negatively to something. For instance, a child may have trouble eating certain foods (and finishing his plate) because it brings up traumatic memories.

Foster parenting must often be approached differently than regular parenting. It’s a delicate balance. The foster child must be treated like a normal child, but, at the same time, must be treated with consideration for traumatic experiences he or she may have gone through.

Welcoming a child into your home is a big step and it’s important that you get started off on the right foot. Make sure you do your best to build trust from the first moment.


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