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How do you establish a relationship with foster kids?
Q: My husband and I are foster parents. Since we don’t already have a relationship with these children, we find it hard to discipline them and set boundaries, especially when they first arrive. Are there steps we can take to help establish a relationship faster and make disciplining more effective?
Kami Dunkirk
A: As a general rule Kami, foster children are a handful at the beginning, and I will explain why. Many foster children have been tossed around from one home to another. In addition, many live with the painful reality that their own parents do not want them. As a result, these children are often guarded and wary about becoming attached to anyone new. They have learned that to love opens them up to a lot of hurt. As a result, many foster children keep themselves at a distance from new foster parents.

Many foster parents expect that the children they take into their home will be grateful and easy to handle. You have to remember that these children are mistrustful because they have gotten off to a terrible start in life.

With all this in mind, here are some tips to build a relationship with new foster children.

First, be patient. It takes time to establish trust. First you may experience a “honeymoon” period, when everything seems nice and normal. Then you will most likely see their anger and poor behaviour. This is the stage when foster children are testing to see if you are for real or if you will dump them like so many other adults.

If you have not made the mistake of getting nasty with them when they’re nasty, they will come to trust you. It takes an awful lot of self-control to live with a child who’s testing you. The trick is to set limits and deal with poor behaviour without rejecting them, losing your temper or becoming verbally abusive.

Remember, when it comes to children, “actions speak louder than words.” You can tell your foster children that you like them or love them, but what counts is having fun with them, enjoying them, nurturing them and helping them with school and friends. It would be a good idea to have one-on-one time with your foster children each week. And make sure you help them find activities they can excel in, which boosts their self-esteem.

As a foster parent, you’re offering children in need a chance to be part of a family. That’s wonderful. Keep up the good work.

Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist