If you don’t foster children yourself, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to interact with foster children and even their foster families. Maybe you once loved to visit your brother’s house, spending the evenings unwinding with family, but now he has invited a new child into his home, and you’re nervous about what this new dynamic will do to the old one. Maybe your best friend has decided to become a foster parent, but you’ve never seen yourself having children or hanging out with children at all for that matter. Perhaps you have children of your own but can’t shake the feeling of nervousness when you visit your friend’s foster home.
Don’t worry. It’s a new situation for everyone, and you’re probably not the only person feeling a little nervous. You don’t want to say the wrong thing or make the wrong move, but you also don’t want to stand stoically next to the front door like a member of the Queen’s Guard. To help you feel a bit more comfortable spending time in your friend or family member’s foster home, we’ve put together a list of things you should never say to a foster child. We really don’t expect you to write this list on the inside of your arm to make sure you don’t say anything unfortunate. Just keep the following in mind when interacting with a foster child.
Don’t Say These Things to a Foster Child
“Why are you in foster care?”
You may be tempted to ask your friend’s foster child this simply as a means of making conversation, but it’s just not a good idea. The child may have experienced neglect, abuse, or another significant trauma or may only know fragments of the story him or herself. Besides these reasons, consider the question itself. To us, it sounds a little bit too much like “What are you in for?” The child likely didn’t do anything wrong, so why ask a question that implies the opposite?
“I could have never been a foster child.”
We understand the temptation of making this particular comment. To the speaker, this is a compliment; it means, “Wow, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am,” but will it mean the same thing to the foster child you’re talking to? Probably not. To a foster child, this comment implies that his or her situation is somehow wrong or that being in foster care should be difficult or unpleasant. How confusing for the child who may be experiencing his or her first ever stable home environment.
“I understand how you feel.”
Even if you were in foster care yourself, never assume that you understand what a foster child is feeling. Everyone’s experiences are different. Just because you remember a time when you felt neglected or unwanted as a child doesn’t mean sharing this will somehow make a child in foster care “feel better.” In fact, comparing your life to the life of a foster child can have the negative consequence of making him or her feel as if you’re devaluing his or her own experiences.
“Your parents must….”
Making any sort of assumption about a foster child’s biological parents is a bad idea. The child may hold resentment following long-term abuse, or his or her parent may simply suffer from a debilitating mood disorder, not a lack of love. Circumstances are rarely black and white, so avoid treating them that way. If the foster child wants to talk about his or her parents, he or she will bring that up without needing to be coaxed. That being said, leave it up to the child.
We hope this blog makes interacting with the foster children of your friends and family much less nerve-wracking. Just remember, a child in foster care is still a child who only needs one thing from you. Yeah, it’s your love.
Contact us to learn more about foster care in PA.