We’re hosting two boys for about a week as their foster parents go on a trip out of state. Helper turns 13 next week and his little brother Excited is 7. They are very adorable, helpful, and have good manners.
Having Helper and Excited here reminds me of the first days of settling in new foster children. Here’s some of my “Foster Kids Have Just Arrived” activities.
1) Give them a tour of the house. Let them see where they will sleep and point out where they will keep their things. I point out the dining table and tell them we will eat our meals there (helps them know what to expect), show them the kitchen and tell them we all work together in cleaning up after meals, show them the living room with the video games and tell them they can play games later, etc.
2) Offer them food. A small snack can help anxious kids relax a little. They may have not had much to eat recently, either because the social workers took a long time in processing their in-take or because there wasn’t much food in their home. Also, kids generally like to eat. 🙂
3) Let them play video games. Video games are a distraction and can help children take their minds off the major upheaval that has just occurred. While they play, you can do paperwork with the social worker. Your kids can play video games with them, which is a non-threatening way to meet new people (don’t have to look at them, talking is optional, but doing the same thing together). Since I told them earlier that they would be able to play video games and I let them play video games, they begin to learn I am a person who keeps her word. This is a baby step towards developing trust.
4) Run to Target. If the kids arrived with nothing, you’ll need to buy some essentials. If the kids came with their things, you might want to take them to Target so they can choose a toy. This gives them something that they have control over (they decide what to purchase). It also ensures they have a toy they will want to play with in the coming days.
5) Take photos for Mom & Dad. Their parents will be very worried about how their children are doing, so take a few photos of the kids and your house. You can even let the kids take a few photos. Print them out so the kids can take them to their first visit. Later, if you get their email or phone number, you can send updates digitally.
6) Write a note for Mom & Dad. I think it’s good to write a short note saying that you promise to take good care of THEIR children and that you hope they are reunited quickly. This reassures them right off the bat that you are not trying to “steal” their children and that you will help work towards reunification.
7) Walk around the neighborhood. Exercise is always good for little bodies built for running, but it’s a good way for them to learn about where they are living while burning off extra nervous energy. I point out the houses of neighbor kids, the bus stop, the playground, etc.
8) Give them a daily chore. Part of the goal for children in foster care is to learn how to behave in a healthy family setting. If a child is in a fragile emotional state, I might simply have him bring his plate into the kitchen after a meal and then praise him for helping out. Otherwise, the child can continue to help clean up after the meal with my whole family joining in. When everyone helps out together, it demonstrates that helping is a normal family behavior and not a punishment.
9) Find something to compliment. There will be lots of need for corrections over the coming weeks, so it makes sense to fill up their “tank” letting them know when they are doing something right. Also, when you compliment, you are shaping their behavior in a positive direction and minimizing the amount of undesired behavior. It can be as simple as “good job of coming to the dinner table when called” or “nice job in brushing your hair.”
10) Love them just the way they are. It can be tempting to see kids, especially those who have experienced trauma, as in need of fixing. And while they do need to be actively parented and guided, more than anything they need to be loved unconditionally. When humans are loved – faults and all – they feel safer and more confident, knowing they have a safety net of love to fall back on. This safety net of love enables the risk-taking necessary for true healing to occur. And, I guarantee that these kiddos are totally lovable!!!