Depending on the situation, you may be asked to facilitate or supervise phone calls between your foster child and their bio family. Sometimes, these conversations will be natural and smooth, but you may run into problems. It can be hard to keep a child engaged on a phone call, so here are a few tips to help the conversation run smoothly.
1. Help Guide the Conversation
If the relationship isn’t strong at the moment or the child is on the younger side, being there to probe the conversation by suggesting topics can go a long way. This can kick things off and enable the child and adult to start driving the conversation from there.
Prior to the call, think through some options (their new artwork, what they are learning about in school, what happened at the park today) that could get a conversation started. You can suggest these to the kiddo before you start, write them down on paper for them, or recommend things if the conversation hits a lull.
2. Schedule Joint Activites
Reading a book together or participating in the same craft can be a good way of keeping hands occupied and provide structure to the conversation. It doesn’t have to be compliated or fancy. Even just suggesting they draw or color together can be enough to keep the child from getting restless.
Foster Parent Secret: Giving the bio parent a book they can read with their child or a coloring book they can use on the phone can be a great way to help the calls run smoothly and also show the bio parent that you’re making an effort to build the relationship.
3. Be Aware of Impacts to Bedtime Routines
Calls can bring forward lots of emotions: happiness, anxiety, anger, and everything in between. If calls leading up to bedtime are riling them up or making falling asleep a struggle try moving the time forward. Tears or excitement are not the secret to getting a full night’s sleep.
4. Find a Time that Works for Your Kiddo
Younger kids will struggle to pay attention for an extended period of time even if they are really excited to talk to the other person. Mealtime can be a good period where the child isn’t mobile and has an activity to keep them a little busy. This is great with younger kids but also helps with school-aged kids especially if they don’t a strong relationship with the family member or parent.
5. Be Aware of Your Child’s Needs
If you know your kid will want to get off the call to play games or watch TV try more frequent, shorter calls and set the expectation with the adult that the child will have to go soon. You can work up to longer calls as you go but you won’t be able to get there if the kid starts dreading and fighting the calls.
6. Avoid Making Your Child Wait for a Call
Make sure schedules are set and your kiddo won’t be waiting by the phone for a callback. By sending reminders and using a consistent schedule, you can avoid a disappointment. If callbacks and no answers start becoming the norm ask your social worker for support in changing the arrangement.
Foster Parent Secret- Leverage the call time for yourself: If your foster child has relationships with dependable adults who want to be involved and don’t need you to facilitate or supervise the call, use that time to get tasks done that require your full attention. We’ve scheduled weekly calls for key times that allow us to get housework done before Monday.
7. How to End a Phone Call
Adults may have a hard time ending a conversation without being rude and kids have even less practice in these delicate situations. They will feel even less empowered to do so if they are talking to their bio parents and they don’t want their parents to feel like they’ve replaced and forgotten their mom or dad. Having a plan to help a child get off the phone can be as simple as telling the adult they need to get ready for bed or saying that it is homework or clean-up time.