Five Tips for First-Time Foster Parents
We understand that taking a child into your home for the first time can be stressful. Whether it is an emergency placement situation in the middle of the night or a day you have prepared for months, we know that you want to do everything in your power to make your foster child as comfortable as possible. Regardless of your reasoning for fostering, know that you are making a tremendous impact on your child’s life.
Although you may be anxious or worried, it is important to take a deep breath, relax, and greet the child with warmth and love. We have compiled a list of tips to ensure your first night goes as smoothly as possible.
1. Give the child a tour of your home.
Walking through the door of a temporary home can be stressful for a child. Regardless of if this is the child’s first or fifth placement, emotions may be running wild. After introducing yourself to the child, give them a little tour of your home. Make sure to show them where the bathrooms are, where to place their dirty clothes, and what food and snacks they can eat. Emphasize to the children that they are welcome to anything in your home, and if they need help, make sure they are comfortable enough to ask you. The first night may be tense, but you want to ensure your child knows where to access basic necessities. Additionally, if you have any family pets or other children in the house, make sure to introduce your child to them.
2. Allow the child to settle in.
Show the child where they will be sleeping during their stay with you and make sure to provide them enough time to settle in. Allow them to unpack their things and decompress for a while. Emotions may be running wild, and you do not want to overwhelm or overstimulate your child. Your child may be hungry when they arrive, so make sure to offer them a snack or a glass of water. If you are able to find out their favorite food, prepare it for dinner when possible. These small yet subtle actions go very far in making the first few days as enjoyable as possible. It is unnerving for any child coming into an unknown place, so make sure to give them time to breathe. Reiterate to your child over their stay that this space is theirs.
3. Make a basket of essentials.
After being temporarily placed, some children may show up to your door with little possessions of their own. If possible, head to your local store and purchase a few clothing items in your child’s size. A few t-shirts, a pair of pants, and sneakers can feel like Christmas Day for a child who is coming in with little to nothing. If possible, find out some of their interests and grab some toys or clothing accordingly. For example, If your child is a 10-year-old girl, you may want to pick up a nightgown with the face of her favorite Disney princess. If your child is a younger boy, you may want to get him a few toy trucks or a board game that you could play together. Although these gestures may seem small, they can go a long way in ensuring your child is comfortable and feels cared for. After leaving your home, your child will be able to keep these belongings and take these items with them. Additionally, you may want to pick up some self-care essentials. This includes any basic personal hygiene items your child may not have brought with them. Fresh sheets, pillowcases, and blankets will encourage a good night’s rest for your child. A new toothbrush, toothpaste, and a comb are all good options to provide your child with. Another thoughtful tip is to pick up some seasonally appropriate clothing. For example, if you know it’s cold outside, you may want to pick up some thick socks, hats, and gloves. If it is summer, purchase a fun pair of sunglasses, some flip-flops, or a shady hat to accommodate them.
4. Allow them to do “normal kid” things.
Taking a foster child into your home is not something that happens every day. This may be the first time your child is being placed in a foster home, and it is important to make them feel as comfortable at home as possible. This includes allowing the child to partake in normal kid activities, such as watching their favorite television program or playing a game of basketball outside. Make sure to offer your child choices for their leisure so they are fully able to relax. Your home may want to organize a family game night or a hands-on arts and crafts activity. You may ask your child if they want to help you cook dinner. Whatever you choose to provide your child with, your welcoming of them with fun, age-appropriate activities will make all the difference.
5. Make your child feel at home.
It is important to provide all necessary means of comfort in the first few days in your house. These days are formative, and you want to reassure the child that they have personal freedoms in your home. For example, give your child the opportunity to decide for themselves what to call you. They may prefer to use titles such as Mr. or Ms., or they may choose to call you by your first name. If they are younger, they may want to pick their own nickname for you. Remind them that they are able to call you what makes them most comfortable. Allowing a child to choose what they call you can be empowering, and it establishes both comfort and trust in your relationship. As previously mentioned, letting them decide what to have for dinner is a great way to give your child small freedoms. This reassures them that their voice matters and you care about what makes them happy. It is also a good idea to provide the child with a list of small, everyday chores to allow them to contribute to the household. For example, ask them to help you make the grocery list for the week, and allow them to come with you to shop if they choose. Another good example is asking them to help you fold or put away laundry. These are seemingly small tasks, but it reminds the child that they are needed and can be of help. Helping them complete their chores also allows quality time for communication and relationship building. Hang up any report cards, artwork, or school pictures to make them feel like part of the family, and make sure to allow privacy and respect their alone time. Additionally, you may want to provide your child with stuffed animals, a sound machine, or a nightlight for maximum comfort.