One of the most common concerns when becoming foster parents is how to prepare the children at home for life with new family members. While it can be difficult to anticipate the specific needs and challenges you might encounter when welcoming new children into a household, there are some simple but effective ways to help your children prepare for their new role as foster siblings.
It is essential that biological children feel like part of the decision to foster, as well as a member of the family whose voice is important. Know that wherever you are in the journey, it is never too late to start talking. Talk to them about the reasons why you think fostering will be positive for your household. Share with your child all the qualities they have that will make them a great foster sibling—perhaps it is their incredible compassion, sense of humour, or playfulness. Not only does this reinforce their role in the family with you, but it also helps them see the potential they have to make a positive impact on another child.
Talk to your children about their concerns and questions. The best thing you can do is establish an open line of communication so your child knows that questions are okay, and that you can work together to find answers. Becoming a foster family can be filled with uncertainty so it’s important to establish an open-door policy for concerns.
Get your home ready
Have your children play a role in preparing space for the new family member. Maybe they can select an item to decorate with, such as a photo or toy. Have them write a welcome message or draw a welcome picture for when the new child arrives. One of the most difficult things for foster children is coming into a new space that is empty and sparse. If you are welcoming younger children; toys, a few items of gender neutral clothing, and a few books can go a long way to making a child feel at home. If you are welcoming teens, perhaps some information about your house, your family routine, and again a few items of gender neutral clothing or books can really help.
Have your children play a designated role
Ask your child to think of a way they can be helpful to their new family member. Perhaps they can take the lead giving the tour of the house, introducing the family pets, or showing them the backyard or play space.
Depending on their age, establish routines and schedules to ensure all of the children have an anchor of expectations. Each child can have an age-appropriate chore to do, and the foster child can be brought into that routine when they arrive as well. Routines and schedules don’t have to be all work; maybe you take turns choosing the Friday night movie you watch, or the game you play after Sunday dinner.
Teach your child about privacy
One of the lesser talked about issues in foster care is confidentiality and privacy. Remind your child that your new family member may need some space from time to time. They may need privacy for a phone call home or if they are having a sad or difficult day, they may need to talk to you privately. As well, your children need to be prepared for those moments when they may get a question about their new foster sibling. Help them learn how to say, “that’s not something I can share, but you can ask them or my parents”.
One of the simplest ways you can prepare your children to welcome a foster child is to read books or watch movies on the subject. Not only can they be humorous or informative, they open a door to questions and conversations. Depending on their ages; Despicable Me, Annie, The Blind Side, The Book Thief, Black or White, Lion, Martian Child, Losing Isaiah, Anne of Green Gables, Lilo and Stitch, Meet the Robinsons and the more recent Instant Family all portray various stories (positive and negative) of foster care and adoption.
When becoming foster parents, you are choosing to open your home to uncertainty and challenge in the hopes of helping a young life. As your children navigate the world of fostering with you, they will learn an incredible amount about compassion and love through your guidance. As you lead the way, you are teaching your children about the true capacity of human love. May that guide you on your journey. For more foster care tips and resources follow us on Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.