Today, I would like to talk a little bit about kids coming into care and having new experiences. This will be the case for EVERY.SINGLE.FOSTER.CHILD. No child will come into care and arrive at a foster home that is identical to their biological family’s home.
So there will be many things a child has never encountered in the past. And to help you understand what that means, I’m going to ask that you do a little imagining.
Think about a time in which you went somewhere you’d never been before. And you had to go by yourself. And maybe you didn’t know much (if anything) about the place you were going. How did that make you feel (or if you can’t think of such a time, how do you think it WOULD make you feel)? For me, even thinking about such a thing, makes my heart begin to beat a little bit faster and I start thinking up my “exit strategy,” before I ever even get my foot in the door.
I realize that for some of you out there, it would not bother you in the least to go somewhere new, with virtually zero info ahead of time; so for the purpose of this exercise, try to imagine that it would cause you anxiety. For the rest of you, such as myself, it will not be a stretch to imagine the fear; I can fully admit that I would be very nervous.
So then…how much more anxiety-producing must it be for a child entering care?
Here’s another example for you: we also have new experiences whenever we visit someplace we’ve never been before. If we travel to a new place, there might be different food, cultures, clothing, mannerisms, language or dialect or accent…all sorts of possible different things.
But usually this would be a place of our choosing, right?
So in a similar, but still very contrasting way, when a child comes into a foster home, (and it’s not going to be a place the child chooses, more than likely), there will be something different about it. If we’re honest, there are probably MANY things which are different. It might be the way the home smells, the food you eat, the language you use, the way you treat each other, your rules or expectations, how you use/treat TV or music, or a combination of any or all of the above.
And so much like you, on a trip for example, there has to be a little room for grace to learn the “customs” of this new place; for instance, if you visit a country in which the cars are driven on the other side of the road, hopefully you’ll get a little “beep beep” from a car horn, instead of being run over that first (or even second or third) time you forget to look right twice before crossing the street. In much the same way, you can’t expect a foster child to know everything. Or honestly, anything…how could they, if they are (obviously) a child, traumatized by the removal from their home, and totally new to the scene?
And unlike in traveling, there is no guidebook for the child. They can’t read up on your family ahead of time (or at all) and know what to expect when they arrive.
They are flying completely blind.
And even if they’ve been in foster care before, that doesn’t mean your home is like a previous home. Chances are, it’s going to be somewhat different, because families are different…even ones that seem, on the surface, as though they would be similar.
All that to say, expect there’s going to be a learning curve for the child coming into your home and don’t anticipate they will know all (if any) of the rules right from the beginning.
But not to worry…there are some things you can do to help cue them in without making them feel ostracized. Maybe have a “sign” that gives some of the “household rules.” Or at least the “big” ones.
As you’re giving them a tour of the home, so they obviously know where things are, maybe mention a couple of rules you expect them to follow, but save the “whole list” for a later time. Don’t hit them with everything at once because (a) they’re probably over-stimulated and (b) they’re not going to remember it all, which may simply lead to your (and their) frustration later on.
Another thought is that ideally early on (but probably not on arrival day) have a “family meeting” and discuss expectations of everyone. Things to be discussed would include (but not be limited to) who does the laundry, how often are children expected to shower/bathe, what is bedtime, how much screen time is allowed, etc. And make sure to include snacks at the meeting…food always seems to make meetings better, right? And if you can be open to discussion on what is appropriate for each child, take care to listen to the foster child and treat them as you would any other child in the home.
And finally, as the days/weeks roll along, you might gently (off to the side…not in front of others because there is no need to add embarrassment into the mix) clue the child in on the household expectations…ones they’ve forgotten, or ones you’d failed to mention. Or new ones you realize that you must put in place for the good of everyone in the home.
All that to say: I would encourage you to offer grace, as you can, to a child who is new to your home and still figuring out the rules and expectations. This is a difficult time for all of you, but especially the child, so anything you can do to ease that stress for them will not only improve the overall situation, but also potentially provide opportunity for attachment.