Moving into a stranger’s house is a very tough adjustment for a kid to process. This might be the first time they have lived with anyone other than their parents or it could be the 8th house they have lived in. You could be complete strangers, or could have a relationship with them through respite with their previous caretakers, or you could be a part of their biological family. Regardless of the situation, foster children can have a really hard time feeling like they belong in your home.
Taking the time to focus on this need can help ease the child into their new living situation and serve as a strong foundation in your relationship. It won’t happen overnight but these practices can help jumpstart that journey.
Kids love doing chores, right? Ok, maybe not… but giving them responsibilities can actually be empowering. It can make them feel like they aren’t just a temporary guest and instead they are a key part of the house. If they can do simple daily tasks with you (maybe they sweep the floor after dinner while you clean the dishes, or they put the silverware away while you empty the rest of the dishwasher) they will feel like they are contributing and make them feel like part of the family.
Adding weekly or regularly scheduled events can also reduce anxiety they feel about what is coming up next or what they are expected to do. Plan movie nights together and let them play a part in picking the movie or theme. Have one meal a week be takeout and rotate who gets to pick the cuisine or restaurant. Have a weekly house activity time that they get to pick in advance (going to a park, playing LEGOs together, having a drawing competition, playing a board game).
Make Time for Them
As mentioned above, foster kids might already feel like a burden on their caretakers so they can feel conflicted about asking to do an activity with you. Take the initiative and ask them to join in activities with you. If they have a hobby (games, collectables, sports) that can be an easy way to get them engaged and be more excited to interact with you. If they do ask you to play with them, be ready to drop what you are doing and join them as this will show they’re important to you.
Especially early on, your foster kids might be more reclusive and want to spend time alone. This is okay, you don’t need to force your time on them but even simple “check-ins” to see how they are doing and letting them know you are there if they need it is helpful for your relationship. Don’t get frustrated by this but find windows of time where the expectation is everyone is together without screens to engage with them.
Learn Their Background
When a teenager moves into your house you don’t get to pick their hobbies and interests so don’t expect them to like the same things you do. Find out what their favorite things are and try out these new things with them.
They will also be used to eating certain foods and can find comfort in those memories. Ask them what they are used to eating and integrate some of their favorites into your day-to-day. Maybe they always had ice-cream instead of cake on birthdays, maybe Sunday dinner was always chicken, maybe they are only used to fast food. Little adjustments to how your family does things will go a long way. Foster kids don’t want to feel like they are starting over, becoming a new person, and forgetting their families; help them keep those sentimental aspects and encourage them to share these traditions.
Every child and every situation is unique, but creating routines, setting aside quality time, and acknowledging their traditions can go a long way in making a child feel at home.
Do you have tips on how you’ve helped a child acclimate to your home? Leave your suggestions below!