If you’re struggling to bond and create that emotional connection with them – try not to worry. It’s likely your new addition to the family has been through a lot in their past – and may take a while to warm up to you. However, there are many things you can do to help build up that connection. Learn our top 10 ways of communicating with children that can help your foster child feel like one of the family and establish trust.
Wondering how to connect with a child in your foster family? A child or young person may feel nervous or unable to communicate with you in the way you’d like at first. This is normal – and it’s all about creating foster relationships between your family and the foster child as well as establishing trust. Learn how to emotionally connect with your foster child with our 10 simple tips:
1. Make time for them
Arguably the most important tip to building your foster relationship – make time for them. And this doesn’t just mean being around when they’re home from school or having your dinner together. It’s important to allocate time for quality bonding – this may be as simple as watching a movie together or venturing out to do an activity. Creating time for them (maybe at the same time each week to establish routine) is a great way to connect with a child and build up your foster relationship.
2. Listen to them
Effective communication with children isn’t just one-sided – ultimately, your foster child will need to communicate with you too, and that can come from listening to them when they want to talk. It may be hard to hear what’s going on in their mind, and the troubles they have encountered before entering your family – but it’s important as a foster parent to listen and respond in the appropriate way. You want them to feel like they can confide in you and that you’re always there to listen to them.
3. Build trust
One of the most important aspects you’ll need to achieve to establish a great foster relationship is trust. This doesn’t come quickly – especially if a child or young person has had a hard past and struggle with trust issues. Trust takes time – but there are some things you can do to try and gain their trust. Telling them something personal about you can help them to feel like they are trusted – but try not to tell them something they can use against you at a difficult time. You could also give them your trust by letting them do certain things e.g. use the computer on their own, walk the dog around the block. These small things will allow them to realise they are trusted, and then hopefully in turn, trust you too.
4. Physical contact
Establishing your emotional connection with your foster child can be enhanced from touch. Children and Young People will have had different experiences so this is something that your Social Worker will support you with. If appropriate, don’t be afraid to give them hugs and hold their hand – letting them know you’re there with physical contact is a way they will in time feel secure with you and let you in. They may have had different experiences of physical contact in the past – and it may take them time to be comfortable; again, always involve your social worker. But letting them know you’re there when they’re ready is important to building up their trust. Just be aware they may not be willing to accept contact straight away – you could possibly start small such as a touch on the hand, or a hand on the shoulder and gauge how they receive it.
Praise, praise, and more praise! Of course, there can be challenging behaviour that should not be positively reinforced; more attempted to be understood. But when they do demonstrate positive behaviour, this should be rewarded. That way, they’ll not only learn how best to control their behaviour, but also see that you are willing to praise them for good behaviour – and your relationship will hopefully improve. Even the smallest achievements should be praised as this will have a great impact on their confidence and self-worth.
Whether it’s their favourite dish, a large chocolate cake for the whole family to devour or quirky experimental cooking to see what you can conjure up, cooking together is a great bonding activity. It gives the foster child a sense of responsibility; the structure of following instructions from the recipe; and gives you a chance to spend time together with a relaxed activity. Children can also feel more willing to communicate in an environment where they are to the side of you as opposed to face to face – as it may be easier for them to talk.
Depending on the age of the foster child, you can read to them –or get them to read to you. This not only enhances their reading skills and improve their literature, but also can be a great bonding exercise. Why not read a series of books, such as Harry Potter? That way, this will be an activity they can enjoy and something you can share together until you’ve finished the entire series of books.
8. Share a hobby
This is a great way to communicate with your foster child. Share something each week, or once a month, that you can both enjoy. Really try to understand what they would like to do– this could be something as simple as painting or drawing, or maybe something a little more adventurous like rock-climbing or ice skating. This would depend on the age of your foster child – it’s easier to share a hobby with a teenager or young adult, so this would be a create way to connect with a teenage foster daughter or son.
Exercising is a great way to not only get them moving, but also connect with your foster child. Again, this is dependent on age – if you have a young child, walks in the park, football in the garden or taking them swimming would be a great way to bond and get them active. If your foster child is a teenager or young adult, you could do yoga, running, countryside walks or attend gym classes such as Zumba or body conditioning classes if they’re interested in fitness.
10. Play games together
Whether it’s throwing a ball around the garden, sitting down with a board game or imaginative play, this is a great way to bond with your foster child. Here you’re not only building on your relationship, but you’re also creating memories that they can hold onto and cherish when they look back on their childhood.
Now you’ve learnt how to communicate with children in a foster family, perhaps you’re wondering, “how can I help a foster child”? If you’re interested in fostering a child, get in touch with a member of our expert team at Capstone Foster Care.