In my last blog entry, I asked you to imagine welcoming your new ten-year-old foster son. He certainly feels alone and scared and may express that by acting cocksure, or more likely quiet and reserved at first. From a psychologist who was also a foster parent, here are a few hints on how you might respond.
First of all, relax. Take your time to get to know him. He comes with life experiences that shape the way he views the world. That includes you.
You and your new foster son will spend the first few weeks checking out one another. Problem behavior need not be tolerated, but you can correct unacceptable behavior without demeaning his person. Remember, he may already have the idea that he is bad. When correcting him, statements like “I feel bad when…” and “we don’t do that here” are a better way to communicate.
Beginning your complaint with “you…” followed with a statement that assigns personal blame may only reinforce an already poor self-image. Focusing on stopping the problem behavior is a wiser approach than making a judgment about your new young man.
Be careful of overdoing verbal love and praise. He may not understand your intentions and may even become angry. Let your caring and love show by providing food, shelter, and a consistent home life. At the same time, comment when he does something worthwhile.
Start keeping a daily journal. Take a few minutes to jot down incidents of interest. This will be useful in case conferences, in court, and in later preparing a “Life Book” if you wish. This can also help you evaluate your own parenting by taking note of what works and what doesn’t.
Give your son some household task to do. Something simple, like making his bed, picking up his room, caring for a pet, or some other basic chore. Put your expectations on a chart or in writing. Be appreciative but don’t accept poor workmanship.
Finally, while eating, sleeping, living, and playing together, set a good example. Keep your word. Be on time. Don’t use language that he shouldn’t use.
Adjusting to a new family member is always difficult, for both sides. Be patient with him. And with yourself.