Here are just a few of the many different things you can do to help bond with your foster children. In fact, all these ideas and techniques can be used to strengthen your relationships with any of your children. Also note that not all children respond the same, so only do the activities that work for you and your child.
10 Activities To Bond With Your Foster Children
These simple practices can help your child feel welcomed and loved.
Shortly after a new child comes to your home, hang pictures of them around the house with the other family photos. You can even have the child help you choose which photos to use. Help your child to create a special sign or picture for them to put on their bedroom door. This is important to make the child feel like they are part of the family and that this is their home as well. Also try to use the words “our home," instead of saying, “my house” or “this house."
If pictures of their biological family are available, ask the child if they would like to have them up in their room as well. This should allow the child to build trust with you and recognize that it’s okay to talk about their family.
Reading books together is a great way to bond with your child, no matter their age. Reading together allows the child the one-on-one attention they crave with the additional benefits of learning. If the child is older, have them read to you. One of my favorite memories as a child was laying down and reading out loud to my mom. I don’t remember what books I read, but I do remember that I felt special having her attention and that she enjoyed my reading to her.
Since you are probably already reading together, choose specific books that can help with bonding and attachment. Read books that talk about love and families. There are also some good books about foster care that may be helpful to read to your child, such as “Maybe Days” by Jennifer Wilgocki and Marcia Kahn or “Murphy’s Three Homes: A Story for Children in Foster Care” by Jan Levinson Gilman. These books can help children deal with big emotions and help them understand more of what is going on, as well as showing them that this is a safe place to discuss their feelings.
A therapist had also encouraged us to talk about different families we saw, whether they were in person or in books. Talking about the families we saw helped our foster child to see that not all families look the same, families take care of each other, and our role as his foster parents was to help him and keep him safe. We didn’t always have deep conversations - sometimes it was as simple as saying, “Look at the mama hippo keeping her baby safe”.
Spending time talking through these things can help the child feel safe and start to trust and open up to their foster family.
It is difficult to always remember to make eye contact with your children, but it is important to help build attachment and bonds. One of the easiest times to have eye contact with babies is when you are feeding them a bottle. While they are in your arms it’s only natural to look them in the eye and talk to them. My two-year-old even loves to be held like a baby and rocked sometimes so that’s a great opportunity for me to look into his eyes and tell him how much he is loved and wanted.
With toddlers and older children that don’t sit still for long and won’t look at you, sometimes you need to be more creative. It’s best to get down to the same level with the child when trying to make eye contact, and you can give them a gentle cue to “look,” and even move your hand or an object toward your face.
Also make sure you are making eye contact when you are praising them and not just when you are disciplining them. You want the child to associate eye contact with positive experiences.
For children who find it difficult to make eye contact, they may be more comfortable looking at you in the mirror. You can try this when you are brushing teeth or doing hair together in the bathroom, for example. If your child will let you, give them a hug while you are in front of the mirror. Physically seeing you hug them in the mirror is a great image for them to see and remember.
Obviously, it’s difficult to get to know each other and bond if you never spend any time together. It’s also important the quality of time rather than just the quantity. In foster care training, we learned about a program called CARE (Child-Adult Relationship Enhancement) that is designed to enhance bonding with your children. You can find more information on CARE at www.cincinnatichildrens.org/TTTC. There is training and specific guidelines to follow but the main idea is to spend 5 minutes of uninterrupted time with your child every day. Even if you are a stay-at-home parent and spend all day with your children, it is still good to have this 5 minutes of special play time. For the special play time, choose a few age-appropriate activities and allow the child to pick which one they want to do. It’s best to choose an activity that has no specific rules and allows for more creative or open-ended play. For our child, some appropriate activities would be coloring, play dough, or legos. During this play time, follow the child’s lead and talk with them but try not to ask questions, don’t tell them what to do, and don’t say no. Most children love this positive attention and will look forward to this time with you daily.
Cooking together is another great way to bond, as well as teach your children important life skills. This activity is easier with older kids, but even children as young as two years old can help in the kitchen with proper supervision. Start by having them help carry the napkins or plastic dishes to the table, or helping stir, for example. As the child gets older you can even let them help plan the menu. Planning and preparing meals together can be fun, increase communication, give your child confidence, and show them that their opinions and help is valued.
I believe it’s important for families to have at least one meal together every day as a family. I know schedules are busy, but the benefits of sitting down together is worth the effort. Take advantage of the time that everyone is at the table to get to know each other better, talk about your day, and make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak. You may want to go around the table and have each person share one positive and one negative thing that happened that day or at least one thing they are thankful for.
It’s important for you and your spouse to have date nights together to reconnect and strengthen your relationship, but having “dates” with your children is also important to strengthen the bond with them. The frequency of the dates may differ depending on busy schedules and number of children in the home but each child should get to have a date night separately with each adult at some point. These outings don’t have to be elaborate and could involve going out for ice cream or some other activity the child enjoys. Having your undivided attention will help them feel important, valued, and loved.
Date nights with the children may not be easy to work into the schedule for various reasons including finances, lack of available babysitters, and already full calendars. Another way you can provide your children with extra quality time together is having a set night each week or month where one child can stay up past their bedtime. When it’s their turn to stay up late, allow the child to choose the activity such as a board game, craft, baking, doing each other’s hair or nails, or whatever their interests are. Have a calendar posted in the house with each child’s special day marked so they know when to anticipate their night to stay up late with you.
Sometimes we just need additional help to bond with our children, and therapy can help. There are a lot of great therapists that specialize in foster care and children who have experienced trauma. If you feel you are struggling to bond with your child, don’t be afraid to seek help. You can contact your social worker to help you find a therapist in your area. Also talk to other families in similar situations to see if they have any other recommendations.
In the comments please share your favorite ways to bond with your children. What activities have worked for your family?
Sherri Eppley is a Storyteller for adoption.com. She is a registered nurse and currently a full-time stay at home mom. Her and her husband have adopted their son and have been foster parents since 2014. She is on the steering team for her local MOPS group, attends Crossroads Church and just loves helping people anyway she can.
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