What makes a good foster dad? … a reader asks

August 2, 2011 at 2:08 am 45 comments

Recently,  a newer reader to my blog, James, asked this question regarding Foster Dads.   I thought this was a great question, and since I have written one on What Makes a Good Foster Mom (click), I was surprised that I never did this.  But as James commented, perhaps because my relationships with men have been so hurtful, I have neglected this area.  But, it is very important and thus, I thought about this and came up with my list.  It was harder for me than writing the What makes a Good Foster Mom blog, because it was harder for me to recall “GOOD” foster dads.  As I have written in the past, many were either hurtful or distant… but there were a couple that GOT IT.

This list reflects ideas that worked well for me, a child who was abused in a myriad of ways.  Since my experience in foster care was that biofathers/stepfathers/boyfriends were the main abusers, I think it would be appropriate for many children.  Many of the ideas from the MOM post are important, so this is an addition to those!  I am NOT a therapist, so don’t send me hurtful comments telling me I don’t know what I am talking about… I am just sharing things that I felt were helpful and created more connection between the couple Foster Dads that GOT IT and those that did not care..

So, not in any particular order, because they are ALL important….

1) Code Words

There is nothing more scary or un-nerving to an abused child or a child with PTSD than when someone comes up behind them or comes into “their space” with no notice.  To this day, I jump when a male enters an area and I am not aware.  

Since many abused children are very hypervigilant and on the edge, using a Code Word to announce your presence when coming into a room or into “the child’s space” can be VERY helpful and VERY safe.

What this basically involves is using a word or a phrase before you enter a room, so that the child knows you are coming.  The foster parents and the children can decide on the Code Word together, so that everyone understands it and is involved in the decision.  It might sound ridiculous, but it offers a sense of  safety to the child, because no-one can come up behind or sneak in the room.  When I lived with the Hippies, initially everyone used “stoplight” when entering a room.  This was a word that was not commonly used, so there would be no confusion about what it meant.   As time elapsed, and I got more comfortable in the home, the Code Word was only used for bedrooms or small areas, where I felt confined and at greater risk.  I think this is extremely important for Foster Dads, because it is usually males behaviors that have caused the fear.

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2)  Keep your Hands Off

Keep your hands off the child unless you ask permission to touch or hug, or the child approaches you.   For many children, touch from men has been hurtful, confusing, and overwhelming.  Alot of touch was not wanted.  Respect the boundaries and allow the child control of who touches them!  Remember that even touch that may be “normal” can be scary for an abused child… holding hands might have led to being taken to the bedroom, stroking hair is “grooming” behavior,  adjusting clothing might imply that it is going to be taken off, etc.  Ask first — “Can I give you a hug.”   or  “Can I hold your hand.”  — If the child says no, use your voice and empathy to connect.  Not all children want to be touched.   If the child says yes, tell them that you are doing it — “I am going to take your hand now.”    Then ask if it is ok.

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3) Don’t Always Be the Disciplinarian and Reparent

In the foster child’s world, the male figure that was in their lives was usually “the punisher.”  As a Foster Dad, don’t become that role, even if you feel that the discipline is “normal.”   I strongly advocate that both foster parents be involved in the discipline of children and that it be done as a team, so that neither foster parent takes on the “punisher role.”

Abused children may automatically assume that the Foster Dad wants certain things, as punishment or as a way to get out of punishment.  When these “almost automatic” behaviors occur, it is a time to GENTLY reparent, redirect the  behaviors, and explain that “dad’s should not want those things.”  Anytime a child attempts to please a male, they are doing what they have learned to do OR what they have learned to do to reduce the hurt to themselves.  Punishment does not help in these situations, because the child is already confused enough.  Be clear that the behavior is not expected, that it was wrong to happen in the past, and that “normal” punishment consists of X, Y, Z.  Abused children can be very confused about appropriate behavior.  It is not their fault…. it is the fault of past people who used the child and mixed abuse with love and words of punishment.

If situations arise where you need to punish, be creative (See my MOM post for more about creativity).

4) Get Down on the Floor

Get on the floor and play.  Get on the swings and swing.  Get at the table and sit.  Get down to the child’s level to relate.  Big men standing over children can be scary.  Bend down, so kids are not looking up all the time.  My relationship with “fathers” is fucked up, so I do not know if it is common-place for fathers to “play” with their daughters.  But do it.  I honestly can’t remember any “father” just playing with me for the sake of playing.   Play is one of the best ways to encourage creativity, sponateonity, freedom,  and fun.  Become the super-hero, the power-puff girl, or sit at a tea party.  Play cars or barbie or whatever the child whats to play.  Go outside and play.  Run around pretending you are animals, or superheros, or charlies’ angels.  Play.  Appropriately.

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5)  Share Your Knowledge About “Male” Things

How do I change a tire?  I don’t know.  How do I throw a football?  I don’t know.  How do I check the oil?  I don’t know.  How do I fix a toilet that keeps running?  No clue.  Get my drift, guys?   Share what you know because it can both bring you closer together, but also help when the child becomes an adult!   Yes, I can read how to do these things, but what a gift it would be to say “Oh, my Foster Dad taught me how to find a stud in the wall.”

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6) Go Out of the Way to Show MOM Some Love

Don’t bite my head off on this one… 

Many foster or abused children are coming from backgrounds where domestic violence exists, along with child abuse.  No appropriate “love,” “caring,” or “gentle touch” from a man is shown to anyone.  Children remember their mom with a black eye or sore side for along time.  Don’t be afraid to model appropriate touch to your partner; give them a hug, hold their hand, massage the shoulders.  Things that are SAFE and should be a part of a healthy relationship.   Remember my story about watching the Hippies dance when I came home from school and “seeing LOVE for the first time.”  That moment impacted me greatly, because there was so much caring and gentility between a man and a woman.. Even now, I watch the interaction between Jessie and Mark, who hold hands, hug, and touch freely.  Children learn from what they are taught.  And children are always watching…. What a GREAT chance to create some positive memories of appropriate adult touch.

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7)  Put on the Apron

Many children come from homes where the father was the authoritarian figure and the mother the slave.  SO, help change that…cook dinner, clean the table, do the dishes, clean the house, put out the trash, etc, etc. — “traditional” female jobs.  In many cases, if the work was not done correctly, things would get thrown, people got hit, yelling, screaming, etc.  There was no teamwork or helping each other out.   My message here dads is …. don’t be afraid to do the dishes… with the child at times!  Alter the roles children saw before

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8)  TRIGGERS

You will at multiple times trigger a child.  Dr. Val still triggers me, because it is impossible to know all the triggers a child/person has unless you are together for years.  Triggers can be words, smells, touch, the sight of something, a noise, … and everyone’s triggers are different.  So just because you are learning the triggers of one child, does not mean you will know the triggers of another child!  When you a trigger a child, they may freeze, run,  regress, or dissociate.  I mean FREEZE, like an opossum, breathing swallow, quiet.   “If I don’t move, you can’t see me.  If you can’t see me, you can’t get me.”    If a child RUNS, they are most likely going to look for a hiding place… closets, garages, basement, under porches, in corners, under beds..  “small places where you can’t find me.”  If a child REGRESSES, several things could happen.  I have regressed and curled up in a ball, sobbing.  I have regressed and climbed under desks all the way to the back, covering my face.  I have regressed and hidden behind chairs.   If a child DISSOCIATES, look for confusion, changes in pupil size in the eye, a “stupid” look on the face, or a calm look on the face, day dreaming, silence, and slow motion.  Dissociation does NOT mean a child has “switched” to another part…. it means the child is leaving the “danger” by altering the mind…NOT necessarily becoming another part.

DO NOT touch the child.  If a person touches me when I am triggered, it makes things worse and I will freak out!   With a calm, soothing, gentle voice tell the child she/he is safe and where they are.  Describe who you are.  Then describe the room, making note of things that the child can relate to.  “LT, you are safe in the kitchen.  In front of you is your chocolate chip cookies that you were eating and a glass of milk.  You are sitting in the chair at the table….yadda yadda yadda.”   Slow, gentle and soothing.  Talk about breathing.  “LT, feel your breath in your lungs.  Breathe in and out.  Feel your feet on the ground.”  The child may not respond at first, but keep talking.

Once you have learned a trigger, keep a list so you don’t purposely trigger a child again.  Over time, some of the triggers lose their power.  Some will always be there.  But helping the child through it, will help reduce the power.

9)  Short Thoughts…

a)  Stay out of the bedroom.  Allow the child her SAFE space.

b)   If a child has been sexually abused by a male, stay out of the bathroom.

c) DO NOT make negative comments on a foster child’s appearance, even if you think it is appropriate.  For example, if your teen foster daughter is dressing emo, don’t tell her to put on a dress, look like a girl, put on make-up, etc.  Keep all comments positive or say nothing.  Girls that have been abused have already been called all kinds of things… don’t go there.

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This was more difficult for me to write than the Mom blog.  Perhaps readers can add their thoughts and ideas as well.  Of course children who were not abused may not have many of these issues and the relationship with them might be “easier.”  Hope this helps…thanks for the good question!

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Foster kids don’t belong in glorified fucking taxis teach your foster children …

45 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Krista  |  August 2, 2011 at 2:33 am

    May I suggest that depending on the child’s level of fear, a foster dad should try to have someone else in the room with him and the child if possible? Even another child in the room would be enough…I’m thinking specifically of abuse situations where a male would get a child off alone to abuse them.

    As far as playing goes, my dad did play with us kids — throwing a frisbee in the back yard, taking us to the public pool, riding our bikes as a family through our neighborhood. Reading to kids is always a good idea too!

    Reply
  • 2. KimB  |  August 2, 2011 at 2:41 am

    LT, thank you for this. I can imagine it was hard for you to write, but it is filled with tons of valuable information. There is NO information like this anywhere!! I love the Code Word idea.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  • 3. michelle v  |  August 2, 2011 at 2:45 am

    good ideas. i’m sure this will be helpful for the foster dads. 🙂
    you do good work, LT

    ♥ michelle

    Reply
  • 4. dimple  |  August 2, 2011 at 3:09 am

    really good post, lt!

    Reply
  • 5. Loreley  |  August 2, 2011 at 4:49 am

    Thank you for writing this. It is a great post.

    I might want to add that foster fathers have to be patient, until the foster child warms up to them. It might take months until the foster child lets them even near them. Don’t force it, but don’t give up either: wait patiently until the foster child is able to trust you.

    Reply
  • 6. AnnMarie Johnson  |  August 2, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Awesome post!!!!

    Reply
  • 7. Beth  |  August 2, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I’m giving this to my husband to read tonight. There really is not any good information like this anywhere else! I love all of these ideas, especially what to do if a trigger happens. I would have never known what to do and probably would have made it worse. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! You are such a blessing in my life.

    Reply
  • 8. April  |  August 2, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Great post, LT.

    Reply
  • 9. butterflysblog  |  August 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Sweet LT – what a wonderful post!!! I never would have thought of a code word, and it is such a fantastic idea. I have learned so much from you, and I thank you deeply for it. I also want to thank you for allowing us into your life through this blog; you have added beauty and richness to my life.
    – Butterfly

    Reply
  • 10. Andrew R.  |  August 2, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Hello LT. I am a regular reader, but a new commenter. I am a foster father. My wife and I both read this blog post and feel that this should be required reading by all foster fathers.
    Very few training classes focus specifically on the “father-child” relationship, especially when abuse is present. It can be such a major issue and most new (and some old) foster fathers do not know how to respond and act. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    Reply
  • 11. megan  |  August 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Really helpful post, LT. Last year my husband and I were visiting a family in Ukraine who’s life’s mission is to get kids OUT of orphanages and INTO a family setting. They had a new sibling set (boy and girl) living with them. The little girl wouldn’t really interact with the foster dad and they’d been living there a month. He said he didn’t want to force anything because he suspected she’d been really abused by men in her life. We were celebrating her birthday and the foster dad gently asked for a birthday hug. It was the sweetest moment….unforced and genuine and in the presence of several people (so not secretive/alone). Your tips and advice are really great, LT. Foster care could be so much more successful and you are helping a lot!

    Reply
  • 12. Jen  |  August 2, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I am sure it wasn’t easy but your kind words or wisdom will surely help thousands out there. You really need to write a book.

    Reply
  • 13. Melissa  |  August 2, 2011 at 11:41 am

    This is very informative and well written. I’m sure it will help a lot of people!

    Reply
  • 14. Crumble  |  August 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

    What an amazing post – so insightful. There are so many useful ideas that are practical and EASY to do. I really, really wish that every foster parent could – at the very least- see your posts for foster Moms and foster Dads.

    Thanks, LT!

    Reply
  • 15. Derika @ TheStrawBerryRoom  |  August 2, 2011 at 11:52 am

    This post is very insightful and informative. You’re really going to help foster fathers figure out the best way to care for their children. How awesome! Keep up the good work, LT.

    Reply
  • 16. Joe  |  August 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    LT, I can only imagine the fear and trepidation you must feel even breaching a subject such as this, exposing yourself to blog trolls and criticism. Not to mention the raw difficulty in having to sift through so many bad memories and experiences to weed out the good ones in order to compile them here. That must have been a trying experience, and I admire your courage and bravery to risk all that personal discomfort in order to try to make foster care better for the little ones out there who are enduring it. Props to you, LT!! Thanks so much!

    Although, I didn’t much care for #7.

    (Just kidding. I do most of those things pretty regularly. But then again, I was taught that from early on, so… That’s just a tough one for some guys and I imagine there would be some push back on that. But I’m sure the ladies appreciate you including that one! Hopefully the guys will rise to the challenge!)

    One follow up question, though:

    Suppose a foster kid initiates touch? (Appropriate touch, I mean…) Like, if they move in for a hug, you probably don’t want to avoid it and reject them?

    Reply
    • 17. Alicia Ramirez  |  November 25, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Rejecting a hug or any form of physical contact from a child whose reaching out for love is not the way to go. I’ve had this happen to me as a young foster child. I have to say it is devastating. I kept reaching out in several homes and finally gave up.

      Reply
  • 18. bob  |  August 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    this is one I will share with all the foster parents that i know . Thank you LT

    Reply
  • 19. MamatoMany  |  August 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    This should be required reading for foster parent training.

    Awesome post!

    Reply
  • 20. James  |  August 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you LT. You truly are a blessing! Your wisdom in these matters is unmatched and I for one am greatful. I have shared your blog with our case worker and hopefully she will pass it on to current and future foster parents as you have shared so much valuable information with us. As the days draw nearer for my family and I to accept new children in our home I will read your blog over again in preparation for what may come and to avoid any future complications.
    My daughter, who is 12, would like to know how her role would best be defined. She will be the oldest at all times as we’ve been counseled not to bring in anyone older than her. So for starters my wife and I would like to bring in a girl close in age to my daughter (they will share a room-bunk beds) and a boy(preferably her brother) of school age (6-11). She is worried she might say something wrong. How can we help her to make the transition as smooth as possible? What are your feelings regarding the kids you met while in the different foster homes? Were they helpful? Did they treat you well? My daughter would like to be an elementary school teacher and we think having foster syblings would make for an invaluable experience for her in the future when dealing with special needs children.

    Reply
    • 21. RW  |  August 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm

      James, I do NOT recommend having a foster child share a bedroom with your daughter. Our local foster care agency requires a separate bedroom for a foster child.

      Coming to your house for a foster child is like being a houseguest but without the ability to go home. Or it’s like being an animal separated from its pack and forced to live in another pack’s territory in order to survive. Moving into somebody else’s room, who has arranged it to their liking, is much harder than two people moving into a new room together, as with college roommates. The foster child will be aware that your daughter has made space for her, and may anticipate being resented for that, or may resent feeling obliged to be grateful. Your daughter’s taste and possessions will dominate the room, simply because she was there first, and because foster children bring few possessions with them.

      Giving a foster child their own room where they can be private and in control of the space is very important for them to feel safe. If they are already bonded with a sibling, then sharing the space with that child would usually be fine (with the children; the agency probably doesn’t allow cross-gender room sharing). I believe LT wrote earlier about what a huge impact in feeling at home it made on her to be taken shopping for her own bedding and other items for her room at a new foster home.

      It may also become very stressful for your daughter to share her bedroom, as she may feel at times as if the foster sister has taken over her house and her parents, and she has nowhere to get away from her. She may feel that all her efforts to share and to be welcoming have been unappreciated. It will be important for her too to have her own space to be alone and in control.

      It will help a foster kid feel at home if they have other spaces designated specially for them around the house, like a specific spot at the dinner table, a place to display schoolwork, a storage space somewhere downstairs, and perhaps a playhouse in the family room (could be a cardboard box or a tent made of old sheets) where they can retreat while still being able to listen to the family.

      I believe there is not much information out there on relationships between foster-siblings. I would ask your caseworker to put you in touch with other families with experience integrating them. Or else look for foster parents online for advice. However there is a lot of literature available about integrating step-siblings into a blended family, and much of that will be applicable to a foster-sibling situation.

      I would have your daughter read “The Great Gilly Hopkins” by Katherine Paterson to get an idea of what being a foster child can be like (obviously different kids will have very different life stories). “Pinballs” by Betsy Byers is pretty good too, and it depicts the perspectives of 3 kids with 3 very different experiences of foster care.

      This book for teachers, which focuses on children’s books, seems like a good resource for your whole family to get a feel for being welcoming to a foster child:
      http://www.amazon.com/Family-Matters-Adoption-Childrens-Literature/dp/product-description/1591587824

      Reply
      • 22. James  |  August 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

        Wow, once again some great insight RW. Of course it makes perfect sense ensuring that our foster children have their own space and thus we will make it a priority. Hopefully we can be placed with two brothers or sisters who will be given the largest bedroom in the house to share. They can choose whether they want single beds or bunkbeds either way you’ve brought up such an excellent point as LT has stated in a previous post, our foster kids should have a voice! I will be giving this much more thought over the coming months before our placement occurs. Thank you as well for all of the suggested reading, I will look into these asap.

        BTW, a big shout out to LT for establishing such a wonderful community of like minded people who want to help make the foster care system a better/safer place for kids to call home. Without your inspiration LT I would have to look all over the internet to find the answers to many of my questions alas most of what I need is conveniently right here.

        Reply
  • 23. RW  |  August 3, 2011 at 12:03 am

    a few more ideas:

    – Singing is a nice hands-off way to show affection, especially lullabies. If a child can’t tolerate a foster dad being in their bedroom, maybe they would like it if he sang from out in the hallway. Singing can also be a fun activity to do together. I suppose you would have to be careful to avoid songs whose lyrics are romantic or sexualized or otherwise triggering.

    – Telling stories about when you were a kid could help a foster kid relate to you and not just see you as a big scary male, but as somebody who understands what it’s like to be small and vulnerable.

    – Try to amuse by acting goofy, even stupid. Even if the kid rolls their eyes, you’ve demonstrated that (1.) you want them to like you and (2.) you’re willing to sacrifice your dignity for it, which shows that you’re not the type of person who needs to be dominant over everyone else.

    – There is a great book called “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence Cohen (there’s a different book with the same title by somebody else, so make sure you get the right one), which has some great ideas for improving parent-child relationships through play. He makes sure to include examples of times when he didn’t know what to do or he messed up with a kid, and what he did about those situations. The book has its own website: http://www.playfulparenting.com/

    – This article says a lot of the same things as LT about being a child who has survived sexual abuse, but it goes into more detail and has a lot of advice about how to talk to the child: http://parentsupportforchildsexualabuse.com/parenthelp.aspx

    Reply
    • 24. James  |  August 3, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Thanks RW, great ideas and suggested reading. Every little bit helps.

      Reply
  • 25. Kay  |  August 3, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Great post LT. It’s going in my bookmarks in case it’s needed in the future. 🙂

    Reply
  • 26. Foster Mom in Training  |  August 5, 2011 at 6:16 am

    I’m going to forward this post to my husband. Thank you for sharing, LT. 🙂

    Reply
  • 27. Sarah Beth  |  August 5, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for such an informative post. My husband and I are in the process of adopting out of the foster care system. He was really appreciative of the things that you mentioned that he had not yet thought of to be aware of whenever we do have a child placed in our home. Thanks LT!

    Reply
  • 28. Sarah  |  August 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I live with my aunt and uncle and I was abused by my father, so my uncle’s relationship is very important to me. He does all these things. And he also does so with his own children. He recently encouraged me to join cross country. All my life my father had told me I can’t run, I can’t join sports, I can’t I can’t I can’t. But coming here, and being encouraged to try something new, and hearing that he is so proud of me and loves me. Now when I come home he calls me a jock and asks me about my day, and tells me he is proud. and He is there at the meets to show that he cares. He does this for his other children, my cousins, so I think it has always been natural for him to treat his children like this. I love to see him cook and help with dinner, and give my aunt little pecks or tease or hug her. But he always has a positive attitude.

    When I first came here, I was driving my aunt nuts trying to adjust and figure out what was expected of me. My cousins were misbehaving, and my aunt was really upset, so he sat down with us to tell us to knock it off and do our part because we were driving our mother/aunt nuts. This only confused me and scared me, and he asked me questions directly that i couldn’t answer because I shut down. He didn’t realize that he triggered it with his anger, and was more frustrated when I shut down and wasn’t answering.

    recently, I was triggered by the thought of having to take pills, because that was part of my abuse and difficult past. He made a comment teasing me that he’s shove the pills down my throat. But that triggered me… because that is exactly what my father did to me and my mom. And he didn’t know that.
    So I know how important all these tips are. Thank you for writing this 🙂 It is very important for a father to not react angrily when a child dissociates. Stay calm as much as possible. Show the child and other’s respect. Prove to the child that you care and they can respect you, just as you would your own child, piece by piece as they grow up. It might take longer.

    Reply
  • 29. Bob  |  August 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    I have been a foster many, many years and now teaching F/P.
    I would love to use your list of items in my trainging as it comes from one who has been through the system. Thank you, Bob

    Reply
  • 30. Julie  |  August 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I know that this was probably hard for you to write especially considering your experiences in the past. I myself was never in the foster care system but I did live my biological dad and a stepmom. My stepmom never loved me or my brother or sister, only the children she had before she met my dad and with my dad. Your post on how to be a good foster mom reminded me of my childhood. When you said that the punishments for children should be inclusive it reminded me of how I longed for punishments like that when I was a child because then at least I could be with the rest of the family and feel like I was loved, wanted and included. I know abuse of any kind is hard to talk about and hard to put into words that other people can understand. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and the things you have learned from them, I’m sure that by doing this you are helping others out there whether they are child or parent. I have always thought of becoming a foster parent and while searching for information I came across your blog. How to be a good foster mom and dad will be very useful for me and my fiance if we do decided to go ahead and become foster parents. I want to be able to make a difference and good impact in other peoples’ lives and I know there are so many unwanted and unloved kids out there and I want to be able to make them feel loved and wanted and worthwhile. I do have to say that if anyone is really serious about being a foster parent to really help the kids that they should take some parenting/child development classes and look up and find out how to properly handle the issues that foster children may have. No one can prepare for every situation but knowledge is powerful and the more you know the easier it will be to properly improvise if you aren’t prepared. Having someone who has gone through the system themselves and sharing their experience is really helpful to me because they know first hand what it is like to be that child while everyone else can really only guess and empathize, this type of information is the most valuable and useful type. Oh and one last thing I think is important for foster parents, like I said before do your research but make sure you include how you can fight back against the system if need be so that way you can protect your child if the system isn’t helping them properly or if it is hurting them.

    Reply
  • 31. Marcia Johnson  |  March 3, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Hi, I am a prospective foster parent. I am taking a course through DHR on foster care and adoption. I would like to share this article and the “What Makes a Good Foster Mom?” with my instructors and classmates. I hope it will be okay to share. Awesome article. This is exactly what we’ve been discussing. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  • 32. Mark  |  December 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    This may not work for all kids, but these really helped with my 2 foster daughters who were hit etc. I redefined the abuse terms for them. When my youngest, then 6, got into trouble after the honeymoon period (first month) right at bed time, and needed a good talking to. She reacted by turning her head such that I could tell she expected to get hit. I said to her “you are going to get a good smack, ready?” she nodded and clenched up. I gave her a big kiss on the cheek (a smack as it were). Her face lit up that that was her smack. I then said “If your not good you will get another one, in fact if you are good you will get another one. I love you, now be good and go to bed” She gave me a huge hug enthusiastically nodded yes and ran up to bed. To her sister one day a month or so later, when she was trying to push my buttons as we were walking out the door, I said she was “to be beaten with a stick” and I picked up the flimsiest dried stem from a leaf you can imagine, if I blew hard on it it would break. I tapped/touched her on the shoulder (and it broke) them exclaimed, “Now you are in real trouble you broke my stick etc.”

    I may have the only 2 foster kids who want to get “smacked” and “beaten with sticks”, heck they asked for it after that. The older one, before the stick incident got “grounded”, she asked what I meant by that and I told her, “you are grounded, you can not leave the ground. Also no flying” this of course led to her jumping and sitting on chairs with feet off the floor etc.proudly proclaiming she left the ground. We also had talks about swimming since that isn’t on “ground” either. If I now say “you two need a good beating” they know that means get a deck of cards out, as I will attempt to beat them at crazy 8’s. Of course when I loose they have beaten me, and I hear about it too.

    We (my wife and I) find pets are great for our kids in many ways. We have them involved in 4-H. They care for, and show animals. They get real satisfaction from both the animals (very therapeutic) and showing the animals and doing well (builds self-esteem by earning it). The animals also give them things to learn and do.

    I also get them involved in volunteer work. Helping others makes them feel better about themselves and lets them understand others have it tough too, they are not alone. Self is a black hole that can never be filled, helping others is very satisfactory, gets their minds off themselves, focus on others, and gives us opportunities to work together.

    Watch your kids and see what might or might not work. We also have a 17 yo that we are the legal guardians of. She requires different techniques than the younger two. Besides the 3, we also have 2 that were born to us.

    When the kids talk about birth kids vs foster or adoption, I explain to the foster girls that birth parents don’t get to choose the kids they get, They get what they get, but we got to choose to have them stay, because we love them etc.

    Every kid is different, and the situations they have come from too. The best things are show them they are valuable, they are loved and they matter. Talk with them and spend time with them. Include them in activities and allow them to make some choices and have some control of their life. Explain things so they know what is happening and why. Don’t blind side them more than the system will do on its own.

    For those who are thinking of being Foster parents, I can honestly say I do it for the kids, but I get a lot out of it myself.

    Reply
    • 33. Newbies  |  December 4, 2013 at 12:11 am

      Mark, that is a fantastic idea re volunteering. Will put that in my toolbox for when we become qualified to foster. Thanks!!!

      Reply
    • 34. Jai  |  March 11, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Mark, I know that there has been a span of time here but I wanted to say that there are many ways to express something and you have shown those girls that! I always marvel at children when they at first freeze when my husband and I “play fight” or I tell my boys that I’ll cut them up and feed them to the fishes-only to start a play “sword fight” (to which I usually win). I have found that it helps children realize that people can wrestle and fight and joke around and still love each other. If one of us gets knocked a little too hard, there is always comforting, seeing if the other is okay, then playing some more. When I was in foster care, there was no playfulness. It was as if everyone was cold between them which was not normal for me as my birth family did a lot of things together. It’s great to see that you’re “being normal” because there are kids out there that need that! Thank you!

      Reply
  • 35. Cynthia Stower  |  January 9, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Wow, this is amazing information! We, my husband and I, are in the process of becoming foster parents. We went through nine training sessions (three hours each) on how to foster, but we never heard these things! Thank you SO much.
    We will be working with an agency that works very hard at re-unifying families. And if re-unification cannot take place, then the children will not be moved to a short term home, they will stay with us and only be moved if they become long-term and we feel we cannot look after the children until they are 18 years old. I feel it’s a good program and am looking forward to getting started. So, I am reading every one of your posts, but felt I must comment here. Keep up the GOOD work.
    Cindy

    Reply
  • 36. Carol Christine  |  June 22, 2014 at 3:38 am

    invaluable

    Reply
  • 37. Michael H.  |  July 17, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    LT,

    My wife and I are foster adopting a 13 year old girl. We are both a little nervous, but want to make the absolute best of this opportunity to add to our small family. We found your blog and read it often.

    Your experiences and insights have made you uniquely able to touch on the needs of a foster child and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from your willingness to share your life and thoughts.

    I believe that what I’ve read from your blog will help me be a better dad for my new daughter. I cant thank you enough for the unique parenting skills I can try to employ and the insight you’ve given me into the needs of a foster child.
    You’re a blessing.

    Mike

    Reply
  • 38. Raychel  |  October 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I can relate about wondering what normal dads are supposed to do with daughters. I watch dads I see out and about with their daughters…and I am watching them thinking ‘what are they doing that for?’

    Reply
  • 39. Lee  |  November 16, 2014 at 2:16 am

    I do agree with most of this blog but there are some things that i disagree with. Of course we all know that a foster parent is a foster parent whether they are single, married or of different sexual orientation but placement gender does not matter. Think about it, is it right to treat all men the same because of what others may have done. Women are totally different in a lot of peoples eyes. They don’t have to worry about any labels. We all know that there are a lot of women that do the same bad things as some men do. Give a single father a chance to show how good of a human being, and father he can be. A parent will know what to do and how to treat a child if they are good parents, if not proven right about that person then move on. It’s only one person that done bad not every men. I’m just going on and on about my feelings about this, it’s true but not what i meant to post. What i meant to post was this is useful being that because of this day and age. I will become a foster parent in the near future, and know now that i have many challenges i may have to go through to get to my goal, but it will all be worth it.

    Reply
  • 40. Becky Jackson  |  June 11, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    I’d love to share this also…Thanks so much

    Reply
  • 41. Melonee  |  July 15, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Hi LT!
    I’ve read several of your posts and am so glad I came across your Blog. You have so many insightful things to say and a great way of saying it, too!
    My husband and I recently served as “Grandparents” at Royal Family Kids Camp for foster children and are going to start volunteering at a group home in our town. The information you’re providing will be very helpful. Wish you would think seriously about writing a book! ❤️

    Reply
  • 42. Anne  |  August 16, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I think it’d be better if the majority of the items on this list were part of a general “how to be a good foster PARENT” guide. or, “how to parent a foster child when you share similarities to their abuser”. Any gender is capable of abuse. although we generally think of men when we think of abuse, statistically men and women abuse at a near 50-50 rate. you’re just as likely to get a child that was abused by a mother, older sister, aunt, etc. these are important tips to keep in mind for both parents, not just the father.

    Reply
    • 43. JC  |  November 10, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      I respect your post but I think having two lists is on the money , because children see a difference , especially foster kids. My son has definate ideas about gender roles , that were dictated by his background . He struggles with my “working at home ” and not doing a labor intensive job . He says I dont have a real job . I have to explain to him that I make more money and have more time for him and his activities and interests , by working this way , and if I went and worked outside the home , we might have less money and less time for those things . I let him work with me when he is home with the sniffles or on break and take him on client calls so that he understands how I work and how I earn our living . You are right on your points but my son sees a definate difference and never had a dad at home til now .

      Reply
  • 44. JC  |  November 10, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    First thank you so much for the blog and helping me and others see through our childrens eyes . I am a single dad who recently adopted a 12 year old boy who I fostered for the year prior . I would like to add a possible tip for your Dad list . For boys , allow them to speak to you matter a factly about anything they dont know and dont understand , even if its sexual and in slang or street terms . Dont react to slang terms about body parts , but rather after giving them an simple straight forward honest answer, reparent it with information about the official terms in just a matter of fact way in order to teach them without shaming them . For example , as we are an all male household , my little boy will say something about his ” balls ” and I dont react or scold , I just listen respond to the subject if I should and then gently suggest something like ” its okay to say balls at home to me , but the doctor , school nurse , and Grandma is going to want to hear testicle instead of balls ” They mean the same thing but its just kinda works out better to use that word in those situations . ” this seems to work out better and helps teach those proper terms without , shame or embarrassment .
    Also , I NEVER go in the bathroom or in the room when he changes . My son is modest and I respect that . But I do try to ask questions regarding his personal health and maintenance , going out of my way to expain why I am asking , in order to make sure he is healthy and well cared for. This has helped him feel comfortable coming to me and telling me when he is concerned or afraid of something about his body . Example – ” One evening he ran in and said ” Chuck , what does it mean when your pee is white ?” I just calmly ask ” white like milk or white like clear water ” he said ” clear water ” and I said ” well that means your finally hydrated and healthy there , yellow isnt the best color lol ” he then ask ” what other colors are there ?/\” and it opened up a conversation about dehydration , or blood in the urine and what we needed to do when that happens . My son was ignored and treated like a piece of furniture and never given the concept of anything . What he learned was from an older , mentally challenged sibing or off the street . I think its the most damaging of all the neglective ways he suffered from as it continues to plague him until we discover what he was not taught . Thanks again , I love this blog and its helped me understand and see and feel the way my precious son does .
    I am reposting your list and crediting you on a private foster parent support group that is very well done here in our local area in Texas , this list is so helpful .

    Reply
  • 45. Wilian Arantes  |  July 23, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Excellent written, is very informative easy language. I’m sure it will help a lot of people!

    Reply

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