If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re serving as a foster parent because you’ve got love and warmth to spare. You have something to give. It’s why you’ve opened your home and your heart to a child not your own—a child who has suffered rejection, fear, and loss; a child who feels helpless and abandoned and unprotected. You want, more than anything else, to help this child experience what every child should experience by right: unconditional love, a feeling of belonging, acceptance, hope, and stability. A feeling that he or she is one-of-a-kind in the best possible way.
But the foster child tends to arrive with lots of baggage. There’s more trauma and hurt there than you can pack into a month of Sundays. And the uncertainty and upheaval that child has experienced would turn an adult’s hair white overnight. It’s no wonder your foster child is anxious and fearful or rebellious and angry. This child has been through a lot. Not to mention a foster child who may be a special needs child.
Love is the thing your foster child needs most, the thing that can begin the healing process. In your heart, you know that. And of course, it’s the most difficult thing to convey. With a foster child, you don’t have the luxury of bonding as parent and child from birth and onward. And you may not have a lot of time together.
The two of you are definitely starting at a disadvantage. In fact, your foster child may well spurn your attempts at expressing your love. But you should definitely keep trying.
Because you can make a difference in this child’s life. Read that again. Out loud this time.
Internalize it. Because little by little, slowly but surely, in the time you have together, you can make this child’s life sweeter, richer, and more meaningful. Think back to a teacher you liked. Maybe you remember, to this day, something that teacher said to you that made you feel special, cared about, important. That teacher was in your life for only a short time, but the connection created has lasted a lifetime.
You too, can make a lasting difference in a child’s life, in the life of your foster child. You can do it by going the extra mile in showing this child how he or she is unique and special, and by finding the right words and deeds to make a forever impact. Here then, with no further ado, are ten suggested ways to show your foster child your love:
1) Leave your foster child surprise love notes. Take a small piece of paper and draw a picture of you and your foster child with hearts all around the two of you. Or write, “Thinking of you,” and paste some cute stickers all around the words. Stick it in his lunch box, or in his sock drawer, in the pocket of his coat where his hand will “accidentally” find it. It doesn’t have to be word-heavy or especially poetic or beautiful. The point is you took the time to do that. It shows you care.
2) Buy your foster child a gift with meaning. It doesn’t have to be something expensive, but it does have to be something that shows you’re really paying attention. For instance, you noticed your foster child loves anything grape-flavored. So go to the candy store and buy a bunch of grape-flavored items and stick them in a purple grape-scented envelope with grape stickers on it and put it under your foster child’s pillow. Not exactly that of course—be creative. But show that you see your foster child as a person in his or her own right, by noticing his or her particular likes and dislikes.
3) Use touch to connect. That doesn’t mean you curl up and cuddle with your foster child. Your foster child may not be ready for intense physical contact with you, the foster parent. But you can use touch to connect in other, more subtle ways. When your foster child draws a nice picture, you might put your hand on the child’s hand or shoulder for just a second as you say something you like about the drawing. Touch can serve as validation or reinforcement and can help the two of you to bond. Watch for moments where such touch is appropriate, for instance, when your foster child makes the bed without being asked, or gets a much improved grade on a spelling test.
4) Make time for you and your foster child to just be together. Everyone is busy. That’s the way life is, today. And it’s exactly why, when you make time just to listen and be with your foster child, it shows the child that he or she is worthy of a parent’s time and attention. You can sit together and just be. If your child wants to talk, you can listen and respond. A great way to do this is to go to a park and sit on a bench together and just hang out, smelling the fresh air and pointing out things of interest.
5) Be of service to your foster child. Maybe it’s making a sandwich for your foster child’s lunchbox just the way he or she likes it, with the crusts cut off. Or maybe it’s doing your foster child’s laundry and folding it just so. Just doing these parenting tasks to the best of your ability is showing your foster child how much you care. It shows your foster child that he or she deserves to be cared for and protected, that he or she is at the center of your life with his or her wellbeing a top priority for you as a foster parent.
6) Use your words and say nice things to your foster child. Really look at your foster child, see the positive, and find a way to say it aloud. Just like you remember what your favorite teacher said to you, your foster child will remember the kind words you say to him or her forever. Even if the child must leave you in a month or two or three from now.
Notice things about your foster child. Is the child kind to others, musical, good with his hands, a wonderful chef? Say it in words. For instance, “I watched how you played with your friend and I saw your kindness to him. How you let him use the purple crayon even though you like that one best.” He will get the message: you saw that he is a kind person. He will know you saw him for his best quality. It will mean the world. He will feel loved.
7) Use the virtual world as a tool to connect. If your foster child is old enough to use technology, look for cool websites, funny memes, or music clips you can send along. You are getting to know each other and what you have in common. You’re building a relationship through experiencing these items together. The items you send along will also help the two of you develop a bond by giving you a topic for discussion. Encourage your foster child to share similar items of his or her choosing with you, too.
8) Listen, no matter how painful. Many foster children have sad or even shocking stories to tell. A foster child may really need to talk about his or her feelings. It can hurt to listen, especially if the foster parent is very tender-hearted. But listening is the biggest gift of all. And if you cry while he’s talking to you, so much the better. He (or she) is getting validation that the story of his or her life is bad and painful, that it should not have happened to a child or to anyone at all. You can open your arms and offer a hug, or simply hold out a box of tissues, but most of all, just listen, no matter how long it takes, no matter how often he needs to repeat his very real tale of woe. The fact that you’re listening, lets your foster child know how very much he counts.
9) Play games together. Your foster child may think it’s a dumb idea, or not. But in either case, just pull out a game and do it. Sit down on the floor with a big bag of dominoes and make a long snake of them and then let your foster child knock the whole thing down with the flick of a finger. Even if your foster child is a teenager.
Make incredible structures with Kapla. Play a board game together. You’re creating moments and memories. It’s a wonderful way to build a connection. Your foster child will be thinking: “My foster parent cares about me enough to sit down and spend silly time, fun time together with me? He or she must really love me. I guess I’m worth loving, after all!”
10) Take time to explain things and mentor your foster child. In a perfect world, parents teach their children all kinds of life lessons that will stand them in good stead as they make their way through life. But as we’ve learned at Kars4Kids, even biological parents can use a little help in the mentoring department. It’s a difficult and confusing world, for any child, but especially so for a child in the foster care system. Things adults think are obvious, such as looking both ways before you cross the street, how and when to write a thank-you note, the best way to hold a baseball bat, or how to make friends with a dog, may not be at all obvious to a foster child.
Take the time to explain the wider world to your foster child. It tells your foster child that you care enough to take the time to impart your knowledge to him. It tells your foster child that she’s worthy of your time and attention. It tell her she can ask you anything. Most of all, it tells your foster child there’s no such thing as a dumb question and that may just be the most important lesson of all.
As you can see from these ten examples, showing love for your foster child boils down to really seeing the child for who he or she is as an individual. Watch and listen and seek out clues. Let a picture come to you of this child’s core identity. And then let this knowledge be your guide in showing your foster child your deepest love and respect. After all, it’s why you do what you do.
It’s all about the love.
How have you shown your foster child your love? What has worked well for you?