Your decision to become a foster carer is a sign of your desire to support and nurture a child who needs the love, affection and warmth of a loving family. While fostering is a temporary arrangement, it leaves a permanent mark on the psyche and personality of a child, which is why it is important for first-time foster parents to understand what they are getting into and prepare themselves for the experience.
If you’re soon going to be a foster carer for the first time, the following five tips will help you make the most of the experience.
Stock up on patience and perseverance
Every carer wants their foster children to feel comfortable in their new home, but remember that you can’t rush the process and it can take a few weeks before the child opens up to you. Raising children requires tons of patience, but with a foster child, who may have fallen upon rough times in the past, you will need to be even more patient and understanding and learn to calm down and let go when you feel angry or frustrated or disappointed. Therefore, before you apply to become a foster carer, you need to build the mindset needed to help a child feel welcome, supported and loved in their new home.
Fostering is a full-time responsibility so it’s important to prepare yourself and your family mentally and emotionally before you take in a foster child.
Don’t impose your thoughts and beliefs, however well meaning
Even if you know that your beliefs are meant to make it easy for your foster child to adapt to a new environment, refrain from imposing your thoughts and opinions on the child, as it can make them feel they are being pressured to subscribe to your ways of living and thinking, which will only make them more averse to blending in with your family.
Give a new foster child the space and time to explore and accept your way of living so that they’ll do it of their own free will. This way they’ll be more willing to listen to you and understand that you mean well.
Set rules and be firm
Sometimes, in an effort to help a child settle down swiftly, foster carers tend to be overly indulgent and forget to set boundaries and rules. This may seem like just the trick to help a child bond with you faster, but as with biological children, over-pampering eventually backfires in the form of bad behaviour, tantrums and adjustment issues. There is a thin line between being dominating and inculcating discipline in children. Set rules early on and be a loving yet firm parent if you want to help a foster child learn the skills they need to build healthy personal and social relationships.
Be accepting of changes
Educating yourself and learning what you need to know about foster care is an important first step in this enriching journey of nurturing another human being and helping them grow into a happy adult.
Indeed, you may have prepared yourself for the changes in your household and family dynamics that will come along as you add a new member to your family. At the same time, you need to be open and accepting of the other changes that usually accompany a fostering experience.
For instance, when you take in a foster child, you’ll have social workers from the city and the state visiting your home from time to time. New people bring new ideas, and if you’re capable of accepting change with an open mind, you’ll be able to provide greater support to the child.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help
A foster child may have been through a traumatic situation for which they may need the support of a qualified therapist. If you’ve having difficulty in helping the child adjust to their new life in your home or feel that the child needs a special educator or therapist, don’t blame the day-to-day challenges on yourself and contact the foster agency or worker to share your concerns.
In the same vein, don’t get disheartened if you see yourself feeling tired or stressed after a few weeks or months of fostering. It can happen even to experienced and well-prepared foster parents, as the actual experience of caring for a child in need can be more challenging than it seemed at first.
Don’t stop yourself from sharing your feelings with a close friend and don’t shy away from seeking professional counselling if needed.