How to Help Permanent and Foster Kids Build Relationships
Promoting Positive Relationships Between Nontraditional Siblings
In honor of National Siblings Day, we want to honor the unique relationship between foster children and children who are permanently living in a home. It can be a beautiful relationship — but it doesn’t always come without its challenges.
Looking for help? Here are some ways to help the children in your home — whether foster children or permanent children — establish bonds with each other:
Prepare Them Ahead of Time
Ideally, you’ll have time to get your children ready to welcome a new foster sibling into the home. It can take some kids a while to adjust to the idea and to feel ready to be a sibling to someone new.
Sometimes time isn’t a luxury you have, especially in sudden kinship or emergency placements. However, whenever possible, take plenty of time to talk with your children about bringing a new child into your home — guage their feelings on the matter, read books about foster care together and talk about what life might be like for your family.
If you can, talk to your future foster child about your children, too. Give them an understanding of your family dynamics, so they know what to expect and where they’ll fit as a new sibling.
Being a sibling is exciting and it’s also a big responsibility! Express this to your children, and help them prepare.
Spend Parent Time With Each Child Separately
No child wants to feel as if they have to compete with their siblings for their parents’ attention. Remind them that there are no “favorites.”
Make sure you regularly spend some undivided one-on-one time with each of your children doing the things that they like to do. You’ll probably need to get out of the house to make sure that you have some time to yourselves for a bit. Talk to them about their day, and make sure you do most of the listening!
Set aside an afternoon for a special activity with each of your children, and make sure they feel equally loved and heard. The invisible lines between “permanent” and “temporary” children will feel so much less important. This is a perfect opportunity to remind each of your children that you love them and that they are unique in your eyes.
Work as a Team
Your entire family unit is a team, existing in the world. Within every family are smaller teams — help your children strengthen their Sibling Team by giving them opportunities to help each other and succeed.
When you’re cleaning up after mealtimes, give each of your children an assigned job that helps you get the task completed. One child can rinse dishes, another can dry, and another can put the dishes away. Apply it to helping out with laundry, groceries or other simple household tasks.
But it doesn’t have to only work with chores! When you play games together, let the kids play against the parents. Start lighthearted family competitions that pair the kids together, so that they can create together, make some inside jokes and have fun collaborating.
Never Take Sides
All siblings argue, but when disputes arise between foster children and children who are living permanently in your home, things can be additionally tense. Even if the matter seems small, never make assumptions when one child makes allegations against another.
You already know and trust the children you’ve been raising, so be cautious not to automatically side with them. This can inadvertently give the signal that you’ll always side with “your” children, and that your foster child is still not a fully fledged sibling.
Instead of taking sides, try to discourage the arguments altogether rather than punishing the wrongdoer (whether perceived or actual). Try to help your children talk through the feelings within the argument rather than trying to get to the bottom of “who did what.”
Bring Out Their Nurturing Selves
Kids, just like adults, have an instinct for caretaking. Whether it’s a doll, a garden, pet or a baby sibling, children can be surprisingly nurturing when given opportunity, responsibility and encouragement.
Find ways to encourage your children to take care of one another. Even little siblings can find ways to help the older children — they can use their unique talents and strengths to help their siblings. Give out a little responsibility where you feel is appropriate.
For big siblings: “Hold your little sister's hand and help her cross the street on the way to the park, then help her climb up with you on the equipment.”
For little siblings: “Help your big brother apply glue for his school project.”
Instead of helping your children every time they ask for your assistance, encourage them to help and care for one another when possible. Whether it’s pouring a cup of milk for their sibling or sharing a favorite toy, small acts of care can mean a lot.
If you’re having trouble blending your foster children with the children who have been living in your home, reach out to your social worker for advice. It’s always best to work through small issues before larger sibling disputes arise.