Looking at me with tears streaming down his face, my teen aged foster son was upset with his birth mother after a recent visitation. My wife and I were planning on taking him to Disney World over the holidays, yet she was standing in the way of it, not giving us permission to take him out of the state for what surely promised to be an incredible opportunity for the young troubled teen. My wife and I did not want him to stay with another foster family while we were away, as we consider all of our children from foster care part of the family. Yet, we had purchased and paid for the tickets long ago, well before he came to live with us. We were simply happy to pay the additional fee for his tickets and accommodations. As the current placement was one that was emotional and physically exhausting for our entire family, we were all looking forward to a little vacation time, especially during the holiday break.
This young teen in particular was most eager to fit into our family, and had informed his birth mother as such numerous times. Perhaps it was because the environment he had come from before living with us. Perhaps it was due to the many sad experiences he had grown up in. Perhaps it was because my wife and I immediately welcomed him into our own family, and treated him as an equal to our own six children, as an important member of the family, and as one who is loved as such.
Like all children, your foster child wants to feel like he not only belongs to your family, but that he plays an important role in your household. If your foster child does not believe that he contributes in a meaningful way in your home, he may seek someplace else to do so. This “someplace else” may not be the place where you want your child to be associated with. Thus, it is vital that you encourage good behavior in your home.
Find your foster child doing something well, and notice him for it. Tell him that you appreciate what he has done, thanking him for it. This can be as simple as cleaning up a room, taking the garbage out, playing quietly in a room, completing homework, hanging up a bath towel, or a number of small details that normally may go unnoticed. No matter how small the action is, it is essential to your foster child’s well being that he feels recognized and that his actions are significant.
When a child is acknowledged for a behavior or action, no matter if it is negative or positive; he will more often than not repeat that same action. Therefore, it is necessary as a foster parent to quickly recognize the positive ones and focus upon it, however brief. Good behavior deserves recognition, in all areas of life. As an adult, you appreciate when someone recognizes the work you do, whether it is at your work, in your church, or in your house. You, too, enjoy it when someone notices all the hard work you put in. It makes you feel good. Your foster child needs this positive encouragement even more than you do. After all, the self esteem of your foster child is most likely at an extremely low point
Probably like you, I have had many children from foster care come through my home who have had very little sense of worth; children who have been abused in many ways, including verbally, and who have been beaten down by words from those who were supposed to love them most. It is part of our role as a foster parent to bring a sense of self worth back to our foster child. We can do this through our words and our actions. May we love our foster children this holiday season, and every day of the year.
Dr. John DeGarmo is a foster and adoptive father. He has been a foster parent for 12 years, with over 40 children coming through his home. He is the author of many books, includingThe Foster Parenting Manual, and the upcoming foster children’s book A Different Home. For more, purchase Dr. DeGarmo’s training book The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe, and Stable Home.