You won’t know your foster children’s full story the moment they walk through your door and the norms they are used to could be very different from how your house functions day-to-day. A person’s behavior is a reflection of their environment and you might find your kiddos struggle regulating their emotions, being respectful, opening up, and having a positive self image.
You’ve learned (or will learn) useful practices from your training and trauma informed parenting books to help manage their behaviors and build new habits but you play a very important role as their everyday caretaker by the way you act and process stress in your life.
By embodying these characteristics you’ll demonstrate to your foster child how they should react in a healthy, positive relationship. Some of these behaviors will be very strange to them- I’ll never forget the confused look I received the first time I proactively apologized to one of our elementary aged foster kids and asked them if they forgave me- but over time they will feel more comfortable mirroring what they see in your home.
Routines and predictability are often luxuries foster children have not experienced. Volatility in emotions, living or parental situations, and how others react to stressors can be hard for children to develop measured, calm reactions when they feel threatened. Staying calm at all times (yes, traffic jams included) will help to center a child on what appropriate reactions are to daily situations and start to alleviate the severity and frequency of angry meltdowns.
Be Honest and Avoid Lies
Lying can be a very common behavior for children in foster care. You can’t expect them to change without you committing to telling the truth and being honest about things you can’t discuss with them. There will be times when they ask a question you have to lie about because of the complications with their case or the truth isn’t an appropriate thing for them to know at the moment but those should be rare.
For those middle ground topics, if you aren’t confident how to answer correctly you could also rely on their caseworker. We’ve frequently used the answer “hmm, I’m not sure about that but let’s talk to your caseworker to find out. You are meeting with them next week”.
Asking for Forgiveness and Saying “Sorry”
As mentioned above this can seem foreign to a child that might have trauma being blamed for things or very low self-esteem. Even for small issues (forgetting to charge their phone or not having time to play a game you promised), this can go a long way to show them their feelings matter to you and you care about their happiness. It helps them understand how other people’s actions impact people they care about and makes them more aware of how they impact others.
Show Them Your Mistakes
For children with low self-esteem or anxiety with school work, it is very comforting to know adults aren’t perfect. Especially if they think you are really smart the more you can show them and tell them about a time you messed up the more it can help them understand that mistakes are normal.
Use Positive Self-Talk
Some children might have low self-esteem because they were exposed to adults who had their own self-image problems. While it’s important not to sound like an egomaniacc, celebrating your wins and sharing things you are proud of is important. Your family could implement some tricks like having a ritual to share something you are proud of each night. Lead by example and show them you can celebrate even the smallest victories like not getting any soup on your shirt during lunch.
Nobody is perfect so don’t beat yourself up if you slip up occasionally or feel like there is no hope when your foster child’s behavior doesn’t change. These things take time and reinforcement. Stay with it and highlight the progress you see; positive attention and recognition will help them see the growth in themselves help these behaviors stick.