What To Do The First Day With A New Foster Child

Smile, get down on their level and offer your hand.

Kelly Meldrum February 28, 2017

The impending arrival of a new foster child can bring chaos. You may get the call only a short time before the child is set to arrive and the hours or minutes become a race to ready your family, yourself and your home for a new family member. You may have spent the past hour making phone calls, gathering clothes, tidying a room or cleaning all the toilets in the house.

You may be anxious or stressed or feel sick to your stomach, but when you meet your child for the first time, it’s time to take a deep breath, put all of the day’s worries aside and greet him or her like you are overjoyed to make their acquaintance (even if you’re not). Smile, get down on their level and offer your hand. If they come in for a hug, reciprocate with warmth.

Here are some other pointers on what to do the first day.

1. Introductions

Be sure to introduce everyone in the family immediately, including the pets. A child cannot integrate into a new environment if there are people or animals there that they do not know. If someone isn’t home when the child arrives, show the child a picture of that person (if possible) and be sure to introduce that individual when they return.

2. Bathroom

The first place to show a child is the bathroom. Let them know that they can use it at any time without asking (unless they need help). Ask younger children if they have to go right then. Little ones may be afraid to go to the bathroom right away, so be on the lookout for signs that they have to go and ask them repeatedly (and privately) if necessary.

3. Food

When children arrive at a new home, they are often hungry. It helps to have child-friendly meals and snacks on hand for arrival. Have the food ready to go if it is near mealtime. Offer them a couple of choices, but not so many that it becomes overwhelming. Most foster parents find that there are few children who will turn down pizza, chicken, spaghetti or chicken tenders even if they are hungry. Be sure to offer both food and drink because some children won’t ask, even if they are parched or starving.

4. Tour

The tour may come before or after the meal/snack, depending on the child. An older kid may need to get his bearings before sitting down to eat, while a younger child may want the comfort of food in a scary situation. Gauge your child’s reaction, ask if they would like to sit down and eat or have tour of the house first. Be sure to show the child every room and tell him where he can and cannot be without supervision, as well as any possible safety issues.

5. Control

Keep in the forefront of your mind what your foster child has been through in the past days or hours. Regardless of the transition, they are likely coming from situation they know to a situation that is unknown. What they are craving more than anything is control and security. It is your job to give that to them to the best of your ability.

Giving the child age-appropriate control of themselves and their belongings is a good start. Allow them to keep their coat and shoes on or take them off. Allow them to hold onto their things, leave them by the door or put them in their room. You can also give the child choices when it comes to what they want to eat, where they want to sit, what they want to do or what they want to wear. Think of other ways you can restore control to your child in a circumstance that is completely out of their control.

6. Comfort

The first day with a child is all about comfort. Do everything in your power to provide him or her with a sense of comfort and stability. Think about what you would want to do, feel, eat, see or hear on your first day in a new home. How would you like to be treated? What would put you at ease? Along with control, providing a child with comfort can go a long way in making a child feel secure and at ease.

7. Levity

Try to distract your child from the heaviness of the day. See if he or she wants to sit down and watch TV, play a video game, do a craft, play in the yard or help you make dinner. Offer a few options to bring some levity to your home and allow him or her to relax.

9. Privacy

Give your child as much age-appropriate privacy and space as possible. Don’t accompany him or her to the bathroom unless he or she asks you to. Allow the child to change by himself or herself with the door shut unless he or she asks for or needs your help. Be sure to knock on a closed door before entering and respect your child’s privacy when bathing or showering. Even offer your child some time alone in his or her room if it is safe and appropriate.

Inform & Ask
10. Inform & Ask

Throughout the entire first day, keep your child informed of what will happen next. Knowing a plan can help give some children a sense of security. Keep your plans simple and don’t make any promises you can’t deliver 100%.

Whenever possible, give your child some say in whether something will happen or the order in which it occurs. For instance, you may ask them, “do you want to take a bath tonight before bed?” Or, if they need a bath, you might say, “You need to take a bath before bedtime. Would you like to watch TV for an hour and then take a bath or take a bath and then watch TV?” This approach accomplishes what needs to be done, but allows the child some control over how it happens.

11. Rules

At some point during the day, be sure to go over the most basic rules in the house to keep everyone safe. Stick to general and important rules on the first day. It’s not the time to go over mealtime behavior, screen-time allotments or homework expectations.

Be sure to ask older children if they have any questions about the rules and give thoughtful answers (you should know these answers ahead of time). They live in your home and they are expected to follow your rules, but they should also be given the opportunity to understand why you have them.

12. Bedtime

Sleeping in another person’s home can be frightening for a child of any age. Do your best to make bedtime as comfortable as possible. Offer stuffed animals, to leave lights on, to read multiple stories or stay in the room until your child is asleep. Consider allowing older children the freedom to choose when they go to sleep. They can read, listen to music, color/doodle, do a puzzle or play with a fidget (have a couple on hand just in case) in their room until they are ready to sleep.

Prepare yourself for a long night and put yourself in your child’s shoes over and over again to keep perspective. The first night only happens once and it has the potential to be a healthy seed for a blossoming relationship.

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Kelly Meldrum

Kelly Meldrum is a writer and advocate for foster care and mental health. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or at kellymeldrumwriter.com.

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