The first night your new foster child is with you can go smoothly, or it can be very stressful for you both. I would like to discuss what goes through the child’s mind as you go through your nightly routine and what you can do to help qualm those fears.

First, children need routine, and your foster child(ren) probably haven’t had that. Bedtime is usually where the problem starts. Keep in mind that before placement, the child was not fed at regular intervals, put to bed at set times, or given any supervision. This is all going to be very new to him. Ask the child if he knows what to do for bed. Write down a schedule of everything that needs to be done. Be sure to include a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing his teeth, and reading a book. Let the child help you decide what should be done (he may want you to sing, etc.)

Baths can be traumatic for your child. Who knows if he has ever had one, or what may have happened to him if he did? The best thing to do is just take a step at a time. Ask him if he is ready for his bath. Even if the answer is no, ask him to follow you to the bathroom to help get the tub ready. You start to run the water and let him pour in the Mr. Bubbles. Teach him how to test the water temperature (after you have checked it). Show him the toys you have that are just for the tub (Have some boats and squirt toys handy.) Always talking about what you are doing will give a sense of security (He knows what you are doing and why, and he knows he can trust you, at least a little bit.)

He may be frightened when you wet his hair. Have him hold a dry washcloth over his eyes if it makes him feel better. Explain, “We have to get your hair wet so we can make lots of bubbles and make your hair stand up!” Sound enthusiastic and try to keep as low a stress level as possible. Let him know that we all have to take a bath. Be as quick as possible, unless he likes it and wants to play. I suggest setting a time limit, such as ten minutes, then he has to get out of the tub.

When it’s time to dry off, ask him if he wants to do it by himself or if he wants some help. Hand him his clothes and help him get dressed if he needs you to. After, comb his hair, or let him do it.

Try not to be shocked if he doesn’t know how to brush his teeth. Take his brush and put some toothpaste on it– tell him what you are doing so he can learn. You might even want to prepare your own toothbrush and brush your teeth with him so he can see what to do with it. Let him know it’s okay that he doesn’t know such things because he is young and still has a lot to learn.

Walk together to his bedroom and talk about how he has such a cozy bed waiting for him. When you get there, have him pick out a book and let him lay down. Tuck him in and ask if he has any questions he wants to ask. Answer honestly, and only tell as much as he asks. He is probably wondering why he is at your house instead of home with his “family.” It helps to let him get his feelings out. Ask if he would like to say a prayer for his mommy and daddy, and if he would like a hug. Turn on the nightlight and ask if he wants the door shut all the way or cracked open a little bit. Tell him where you are going to be in the house in case he needs you. Last, but certainly not least, tell him you love him. You brought this child into your home out of the goodness of your heart, and the child needs to hear it.