Children in the foster system have been through a lot. Their past experiences may make it difficult for the foster parent to bond with them. However, with a little patience and the right strategy, you can form a connection with the child that will help ease the difficulties that being in a foster home can bring on both them and you.
What does it mean to foster a connection with a child?
Children in foster care have been separated from their birth parents for one reason or another. Ideally, for the child, this separation is temporary. While in foster care, the state will work to remedy the situation that resulted in the separation and reunite the family. During their time with you, the child will miss their birth parents and need support, understanding, and love to cope with these feelings. While forming a connection with every child in your care is important, foster children have unique needs and present unique challenges.
How do you connect with foster children?
There are two aspects to forming a bond with a foster child. The first is how you approach your relationship with the child. As you prepare to bring in a foster child, keep these tips in mind:
- Spend time with them – The child has already been taken away from their birth parents. They will be feeling lonely and maybe feel lost and abandoned. It’s important to spend time with them, not to replace the parent, but to substitute the affection they are missing out on.
- Be a good listener – Depending on the child’s age and the circumstances under which they find themselves in foster care, they might not open up very much. But when they try to communicate their feelings with you, you must be a good listener. They are going through a stressful time, and feeling as though they aren’t being heard can make that worse.
- Make eye contact – Making eye contact is an important part of forming a connection with anyone. Eye contact lets the other person know that you are fully engaged in your conversation with them. When forming a new bond with a child in foster care, this is an especially helpful tip to let them know that they are not alone.
- Have patience – Depending on the child’s relationship with their birth parent and the circumstances of their separation, they may be very much opposed to staying in foster care. It can take a child who wants to be with their parents a while to open up and understand the role that foster parents play in reuniting them with their family.
- Be supportive – Positive reinforcement helps to build confidence in all children. While fostering children, it also lets them know that you’re paying attention to what they are doing and care enough to support them in their efforts. Again, this can help with the feelings of loneliness that foster children often experience.
What activities are you going to do to foster a connection between the two of you?
Now that you’ve gotten yourself in the right headspace for fostering a child, it’s time to think about the types of activities you’ll be doing together. Spending time together is one of the most important ways to form a connection, so it’s important to make that time meaningful.
- Cook together – Helping out in the kitchen is something that many kids enjoy doing. Allowing a foster child to have a role in your day-to-day family activities also helps them feel at home.
- Eat at the table – Gathering around the dinner table is a common family activity. Doing this with the foster child allows the two of you to spend time together and helps return the child to some degree of normalcy.
- Share your hobbies – Everyone has unique hobbies and interests. As long as yours are child-friendly, sharing them with your foster child makes for the perfect opportunity for bonding. The excitement and enthusiasm you have for your hobby will help make the experience memorable for the child.
- Read a book – Bedtime stories are a popular activity for parents and children. As the child gets older and is learning to read independently, reading together can help encourage that skill.
- Have a game night – Sometimes, the best way to connect with a foster child is the tried and true favorite that brings all families together. Getting a few of the child’s favorite games and playing them together is a great way to form a bond.
What could you do to help a child maintain connections with his or her birth family and community?
Eventually, the child will be returning to their birth family. As important as it is to make them feel welcome in your home, it’s also important to prepare them for their eventual reunification with their parents.
- Reach out to the birth family as soon as possible – As soon as you can, you should introduce yourself to the birth family. Tell them about yourself, your experience as a foster parent, and about the people with whom their child will be living. Also, take the opportunity to ask about the child and any unique needs or interests they may have.
- Invite them to important events – This isn’t always practical or advisable, so be sure to ask the caseworker first. With caseworker approval, it’s a good idea to invite the birth family to important functions, such as a school play, doctor’s appointments, birthdays, and other special moments in the child’s life.
- Be supportive of the birth parents – Birth parent and child alike may feel as though you are trying to replace them. It’s important that they both know this isn’t the case. They are also likely going through a very difficult time. Words of encouragement and support can help forge a connection with the birth parents.
- Speak positively about them – Although you may have some negative opinions about the birth parents and the circumstances that led to their child being placed in foster care, it’s important never to voice those opinions in front of the child.
Reach Out to Utah Youth Village
Fostering a child is one of the most selfless and caring acts a family can undertake. For whatever reason families are separated, it’s always sad for everyone involved. A good foster family can help ease that difficulty and make the process as painless as possible for the child and birth parents alike. If you have any questions about fostering a child, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.
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