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“When we bring a new child into our home it feels as if the most special and priceless gift imaginable has been given to our family,” says foster parent Patty Boles, who is founder of Straight From The Heart, Inc., and one of the 2013 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth.
“Our entire family embraced the child, no matter how long they were with us. There was no 'foster' in front of the word child, sister, brother or grandchild,” she said.
In addition to helping her foster child feel loved and wanted, Boles said that having the child do what the other kids were doing, such as the family chores, helped them feel like part of the family.
“It’s important that they are not treated like a guest, but a member of our family,” she said. “Children have wonderful radar detectors built inside them. They know if they are treated differently. They want to belong. They want to feel just like the other kids who live in our home and don’t want to do chores either.”
Meg English, who is a foster mother and contributor to EmpoweringParents.com, says to remember that foster children may not have experienced normal family chores or the consistency it takes to function in a family household and they may use the chore routine as an opportunity to resist.
“Foster children have often had chores or responsibilities such as protecting a mother from an abusive boyfriend or just trying to find clothing and food for themselves on a daily basis,” she says. “What foster parents must remember is that foster children are likely to resist chores or do them in an unsatisfactory way. It is critically important in these instances to remain patient, but persistent.”
Family rules and manners
To keep the household running smoothly, it's also essential to teach the foster child the habit of good manners.
“We teach simple rules for all the members living in our home,” says Boles. “Our family loves and respects each member of the family unconditionally. If we follow this rule the rest falls into place. We try and teach by example that choosing kindness is better than hurting someone, that helping and sharing the workload feels good and that work can be fun when you do it together.”
Teaching the importance of communication
Foster parent Lori Zwermann said that it is vital to teach your foster child to get into the habit of communicating with you.
“For all the talking you might do with your children, one of the bigger issues when taking in an older foster child is making sure the communicate back,” she says. “If they want to attend a function or go out with friends they have to ask permission. This was a bit difficult for our foster son at first. I was up front with him and told him why it was important and we had to repeat the lessons a few times until it stuck.”
Getting into the routine of family activities
English said to encourage your foster child to participate in extracurricular activities or family activities such as church, but don't force participation.
“If your children study at a certain time or participate in church or 4-H activities, it is nice to encourage your foster child to do the same. However, do not expect your child to perform well in the same events or to be interested in the same things that your family is interested in,” she said.
Establish structure – but expect some resistance
English says that doing activities like choosing groceries, preparing meals and taking part in normal family activities are crucial, however many foster children are not accustomed to having that much daily structure and may rebel or resist. "Don’t expect her to thank you, but do insist that she learn the way things are done in your household,” she suggests.
English’s final words on creating a cohesive family unit with your foster child may be worth bookmarking:
“Be kind, patient, forgiving and persistent. Do not give up and do not judge. Expect some unexplained trauma. Foster children find themselves whisked into a new family they did not choose. They are experiencing uncertainly, lack of control and probably varying degrees of emotional grief and loss. All of this is in addition to the normal challenges of growing up. Try not to take her outbursts personally. Rather, offer a chance to do better tomorrow and comfort.”