Foster care and adoption is a miracle! It is one family welcoming a child/youth into their home and making them a part of their family. The biggest challenge to welcoming a new child into your home is the first few days, weeks, months getting to know that child. With a biological child, you have the benefit of knowing that child from day one. However, with a foster/adopted child, you need to catch up on years. You don’t have the luxury of time. Here are the barriers:
Why ask questions?
Attachment. If a foster child can attach to one adult, they can learn to attach to many adults. Attachment is important because attachment to their primary caregiver lays the foundation for every attachment after that. These children may have had loose attachments or no attachments at all with their birth parents. Asking a child to trust you, as their primary caregiver, when their previous caregiver let them down, is a tall order to ask of any child or youth. They may just be saying in their mind, “My real dad left me. It’s just a matter of time ’till you leave me also.” Or, “I couldn’t trust my birth mom, why should I trust you?” Learning to trust and attach will take time. Asking the right questions at the right time helps to build that trust.
Trauma. Foster and adopted children have seen many things that would make a grown man cry. If they are in foster care, they may have been abused or neglected. If they were adopted, they have been abandoned or experienced the death of a parent. They may have experienced war, poverty, the loss of a home, or may have been persecuted for their faith. They may have a story that they cannot express in words because of the trauma of the event. To pelt the child with lots of questions may cause them to withdraw or to become hypervigilant or to become depressed because of their situation. Even though they are safe and have their basic needs met, they still miss their family, their home, and their culture. Gratitude is not the first thing on their mind. Therefore, asking questions needs to be done with care.
For your benefit and your child’s. The more you get to know your new child, the better you can serve him. It opens up doors of communication and doesn’t assume that you are on the same page with your child. It shows respect and patience. Once your child sees this, it breaks down barriers and makes everything else easier later. The alternative is basically saying to the child, “You’re in my home now, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” You may not be saying verbally, but, in effect, that is the message you are sending. Get to know your child. Ask questions. Listen for the answer.
FILL IN THE BLANK
The first day a foster or adopted child comes into your home may be the most awkward. You may have seen a photo or read a file, but when a child is in front of you, in your home, things are certainly different for you as well as for the child. From a parent’s point of view, this is an answer to prayer, this is the fulfillment of a goal. But from the child’s perspective, he is scared! The sights, sounds, and language may be significantly different from what he is used to. You need to proceed with caution upon the first day or first evening with your new child. Rather than peppering him with questions, perhaps you should start off with “Fill in the blanks questions.” Here are the top 10 you could ask.
1. My favorite toy/stuffed animal is… The most difficult time of any first day with a new child is bedtime. Whatever routine they had in their previous home, whether good or bad, it was still a routine. It is tempting to be judgmental, but don’t underestimate a good stuffed animal. The smell and feel of the fabric may remind the child of home and may spark memories. Even though you may be tempted to wash it or to buy a new one.
2. My favorite food is… Feeding is always a major issue with any foster or adoptive child. The dinner table is usually a battlefield. So, pick your battles. Ask your child what their favorite food is and then prepare it. Of course, you will not be able to prepare it like his mom or grandma, but perhaps your child can assist. In the morning, give the child a choice between two cereals. This gives the child a sense of empowerment and reduces the power struggle. They may also need a cup to bring with them to bed. And don’t be surprised if there is a bit of food hoarding. Remember, in their previous home, they may not have known where their next meal was coming from.
3. My favorite movie/TV show is… Don’t be surprised if the answer to this is Deadpool. Many of these children have gone unsupervised for much of their lives. Proper judgment was the least of the parents’ worries. Re-educating a child as to what is appropriate for a 10-year-old to watch on TV and what is not may take some time.
4. My favorite holiday is… There is a number of things you need to be sensitive to, with this question. First, if they are of a different culture, the answer may be very different from what you may be used to. The answers may include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Cinco de Mayo, Yom Kippur, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah. Second, your child’s family may not have celebrated any holidays at all. They may be celebrating Christmas or Easter at your home for the first time! How exciting!
5. If I could change anything in the world it would be… The answers could vary such as, “I wish refrigerators would never go empty,” or “That every day is Christmas!” or “I wish my mom and dad would get better.” For young children, they cannot fully comprehend why they have been separated from their parents. Perhaps they are simply told, “Your mommy and daddy are sick.” In a sense, that is true, but how do you tell a 4 or 5-year-old that their folks are addicted to methamphetamines? That is a tall order, indeed.
6. One thing that makes me scared is… Answers could vary such as, “Pennywise,” “The Boogeyman,” or “The cops.” These children may have seen their parents get arrested or know that their parents are in jail. They may not look to the police as a source of safety but as a source of fear.
7. One thing that makes me cry is… Answers may be “getting hurt,” or “watching a sad movie,” or it could be, “hearing my mom cry.” One thing is for certain. All of these children, whether foster or adopted may have come from families in crisis. Whether it is abuse, neglect, or being displaced by a natural disaster, there is a significant event or series of events that has caused there to be a separation of the family. Whether it was in the parent’s control or not is insignificant. The fact of the matter is that the trauma is significant and must be addressed.
8. One thing that makes me mad/angry is… This could be anything such as, “When someone steals my things,” or “When someone is mean to my sister.” Sometimes these kids don’t know why they are angry. Or sometimes they have displaced anger—anger aimed at someone else. For example, they may be angry at their birth mother, but their birth mother is not there, so they take their anger out on their foster parents.
9. One thing I miss about my mom/dad is… Many times, foster/adopted children are not able to express their feelings in words. Their feelings are expressed in their behavior. That’s where foster/adopt parents come in. You can help fill in the blanks and help to express in words what they are feeling.
10. If I could tell my birth parents anything it would be… You may be very surprised at the answers. It could be anything from, “I’m sorry I couldn’t keep the family secrets,” or “I hate you for what you did,” or “I miss you,” or “I wish I could come home.”
WOULD YOU RATHER…
This is a great game that spurs the imagination of foster youth. There may be an iPhone app that can assist you. Use these questions to ask when your foster/adopt youth has withdrawn or shut down. There is no right or wrong answer and these may help the child with the art of decision-making by weighing the pros and cons. It is also a great way to reconnect.
Super strength or ability to fly? This a great way to start the game because it spurs the imagination. Having either enhanced ability is great. Strength is great because it can defend against bullies. The other is great because it is a great time-saver!
Batman or Superman? These two men are great because they were both orphans who turned into superheroes! They were also both adopted, both ended up fighting evil, and both helped those weaker than them.
Disney or Six Flags every year? Many of these children have never been to the local county fair, let alone a theme park such as these! This is a dream come true for many of these kids. As a matter of fact, there are many nonprofit organizations around the country who try to make these dreams come true for many foster or adopted children.
Rich or famous? Many, if not all of these children are neither. For the first time in their lives, they do not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. And with the advent of social media, now everyone can be famous!
Lifetime supply of pizza or lifetime supply of movie tickets? Food is a significant issue for many of these kids. On the other hand, many of these kids have never had family activities like going to the movies on a monthly basis.
Ability to heal or ability to bring world peace? Lastly, both options here hit deep at the heart of a foster/adopted youth. Both are great causes. And they may have been affected by both hurt and chaos in their own lives. They may ask, isn’t it possible to have both?
OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS TO ASK
There are close-ended questions you can ask, an example may be, do you like spinach? They do not inspire imagination, but rather they put the child in a position to give you an answer to simply please you. So, the child may say yes, but then leave the spinach on their plate for last during dinner. That then puts you in a position to say, “I thought you said you liked spinach? Why aren’t you eating it?” In effect, you are calling them a liar. You have also taken the power out of their hands. Instead, ask, “What are some of your favorite foods?” There is no right/wrong answer there.
Transitions are tough for foster kids.
Rather than saying, how was your day? Say, what was the best thing that happened today? What was the worst thing that happened today? What was the funniest thing that happened today? What was something that made you smile? What was something you learned today?
Rather than saying, did you like living with your parents? Ask, what was one thing you loved doing with your folks?
WAIT FOR IT…
I love those videos or GIFs on social media that say, “Wait for it…” I am always guaranteed that, though there is no action at the beginning, something funny or exciting is coming at the end. That’s the same thing with foster/adopted kids. Sometimes it’s not a question you ask, but a question they ask you. Let them ask any question they want of you. As long as it is appropriate, it’s a good way to connect. Have fun with it!
Remember, you are not asking questions simply for the sake of asking questions. You are connecting with your child. You are getting to know them. They are getting to know you. And it does not have to be in a formal session, like a counselor. You can ask it in the car, at the breakfast table or before going to bed. Make it a game, not a chore! It may be rough at the beginning, but after a while, they may come to love it and will be able to connect and attach to you!
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.