As a foster parent, you play a very important role in a child’s life. Your foster child is relying on you to provide a safe, caring, comfortable and stable environment for them whether it be for a short-term or long-term placement. But it goes much deeper than providing a safe home for them, as you also want to support them and help them to manage the feelings they have. There’s a good chance they are dealing with a whole host of emotions that can be overwhelming and even confusing to them.
If this sounds familiar and you want to be sure you are doing what’s best for your foster child, then here are nine ways in which you can help your foster child manage their feelings. This will be helpful as they settle into your home and move forward as these are useful life lessons.
How You Can Help Your Child Manage Their Feeling
Ensure Their Home Environment is Stable
The first thing you can do is ensure this environment and routine is stable. This will act as the anchor and something they will learn to count on. It’s as simple as providing a comfortable bedroom for them, a daily routine, regular bedtime and daily activities. All the things you may take for granted in a day or consider mundane will be important.
You Need to Stay Calm and Collected at All Times
Your foster child may have moments where they feel stressed, anxious, sad, scared and many other emotions. As the adult in the room and the foster parent, your job is to stay calm, cool and collected so that you are someone they can count on. They won’t have to worry about your reaction or whether or not you’ll be there for you, because they know you are solid.
Be the Sounding Board They Need
Sometimes, managing emotions is all about being able to vent, and you want to be sure your foster child knows they can come to you. Let them know that any concern they have, no matter how small or how big, is never going to bother you and you will listen in a judgement-free manner. Not only will it give them an adult they can vent to, but it will help to build trust in you.
Get Into the Habit of Asking How Their Day Went
Here’s a simple tip that can start to create a new routine that will help in terms of managing their feelings: ask how their day went, and don’t skip a day no matter how mundane it may have seemed. The goal is to open the door to communication and show you care. If they are school age, this is a great time to ask how school went, if they have homework, if any issues have popped up, if anything was interesting, and so forth. It’s also smart to strike up the conversation at the same time each day, again making it a routine. Many families choose dinnertime to discuss everyone’s day since you are all gathered together.
Learn to Recognise Their Signs of Stress
This tip will take a little longer to put into practice, as you need to get to know your foster child first. Over time you want to learn to watch for signs and cues that your foster child is feeling stress so you can jump into action before it can spiral. The earlier you can catch the signs, the easier it will be for the child to manage their emotions. This will give your foster child a chance to self-regulate, which is a very healthy and important lesson.
Never Minimise Their Feelings
A very important tip that will help you build trust and a bond with your foster child is not to minimise their feelings. To you, it may seem like they are overreacting to a situation or an event, but the truth is you have no idea what they are feeling and how past events are now feeding into their current emotions. Always hear them out, validate what they are feeling, show compassion and understanding and don’t make them feel foolish.
Empower Your Foster Child with Control and Choice
Depending on the environment the foster child has come from, they may be struggling with the feeling of danger and a sense of powerlessness. These are very powerful and scary emotions, especially for a child. One way you can help them work through these feelings is by giving them opportunities to make their own choices so they have a sense of control. They will start to feel empowered and learn what it feels like to have a say in their life. Not only can this be empowering but many kids also find it calming. Someone else isn’t in control of their lives — they are.
The choices you offer them don’t even have to be big; you can start small by asking them what they want for dinner, what movie would they like to go see on the weekend, what afterschool sport would they like to join and so forth. You are establishing a new pattern for them. Those choices will still feel big and exciting to them.
Separation Anxiety Can Be Strong
Did you know that kids may also be struggling with a sense of separation anxiety? No matter what their home life was like, they are connected to their biological parents and siblings (if applicable). They can’t sweep that under the rug and ignore it, and most likely it is now coming out as separation anxiety. The best thing you can do in this situation is acknowledge what they are feeling and tell them it’s okay to feel that way and that it’s normal to feel a mixture of things all at once.
It’s never okay for you to talk badly of their biological parents and family. Be prepared that they may also have questions about their family, which you need to answer straightforwardly and truthfully. If you don’t know the answer to their question, let them know. You don’t want to lie. Be sure to also discuss the schedule in terms of when they will see their parents, as this can help quell the feelings of separation anxiety.
Does the Fostering Agency Offer Support?
Most fostering agencies also offer some sort of support tools to foster children. This could be a therapy session or just basic tips that can be found on their website. Be sure to look into and ask about what is offered so you can take full advantage of the tools. Some even take a full-family approach in that you too may qualify for therapy or support tools. The goal is always to ensure a safe, healthy and comfortable home environment for foster children.
The good news is that, as a foster parent, there is so much that you can do to help your foster child better manage their feelings both in the short and long term. You need to hit the ground running when they arrive, making sure you show that you are calm, cool and collected and you are the constant in their life that is there for them no matter what feelings and emotions they are going through.