1. Be Patient
I really cannot stress this enough. Patience is key. Breathe deeply and have a kind heart. Do not expect the child to be comfortable, respectful, or even happy right away. Most likely they won't be (and nor would you in their situation). Be patient. Your patience and ability to overlook their bad times is going to make them appreciate you so so much. So as hard as it may be to take a breath and love them through the tough times- do it. Patience is a virtue. And a wonderful one indeed.
2. Give Respect Before You Expect Respect
If there is one thing I know about kids, it's that they are much smarter than we give them credit for. If we don't give them respect, they most certainly are not going to return it. And that's why it's important to respect your child. Respect their privacy, their stuff, their space, their feelings, and most of all their opinions. When you start to say, "I absolutely respect your opinion. I may disagree, but I respect it." that opens up an entirely new perspective for them. And when you respect them, over time they will respect you too.
3. Encourage More Than You Discipline
I'm a bit outspoken on this opinion. But I don't believe in disciplining. I don't believe in scolding or yelling or demanding better behavior. Now, this doesn't mean I don't say 'no'. It doesn't mean I don't have rules. And it doesn't mean that I have my bad days where I get mad and raise my voice. But it means I think before I act. If a child is misbehaving, is yelling at them really going to fix the problem? Not usually, and with a child who is already sensitive from the past- I don't find it the right way to handle things. So instead I encourage. I ask them nicely. I explain to them that they've hurt my feelings by not listening. I explain to them in clear terms why I don't want them doing something (they'll get hurt, break something, etc). I show them a different activity that could replace the one they're doing. Instead of getting mad and scolding them, I take a deep breath and figure out a way to encourage them to behave better. If they persist to misbehave discourage them from doing so by threatening to take away an activity- no video games, limited computer time, or having to miss out on a shopping trip with their friends. Physical punishment (even not direct contact like absence of food or standing in the corner) is never okay.
4. Don't Replace Their Parent
This is a common... mistake? Many people take in a foster child with the intentions of being their 'mom' or 'dad'. But the truth is, you are NOT their mom or dad. You are their guardian and their caretaker. You love them dearly (even consider them a child of your own), but in that child's heart they have a parent. If they ever decide that you are their mother/father- that is wonderful! But that should be their decision. Not yours. So don't be 'mom' or 'dad'. Be yourself and never expect to replace their parent.
5. Be A Best Friend
This kind of goes along with the one above. Honestly, this child has gone through more than you could possibly imagine. One thing they REALLY need in your house is a best friend. So be one. Listen to what they have to say. When they come to you with a problem, never get mad- feel happy that they trust you. Treat them with the most respect and always have faith in them.
6. Trust Them
I realize that not every foster child makes the best decisions. Often times they are dealing with things and don't react properly to bad situations. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't trust them. Have clear rules, and consequences for when they break them. But don't feel like you need to monitor their every move. Don't be constantly checking up. Take a deep breath and realize they will make mistakes (all kids do). But if you trust them, honestly, they will take that into regard. Let them know you trust them, and I bet you a million dollars they will strive not to break that trust.
7. Ask Questions
You know the quickest way to start a meaningful relationship? With a nonchalant question. Ask them about their hobbies, favorite colors, dreams, hopes, aspirations. Ask them everything and anything. And try remember everything they say. Do they love basketball? Guess who's going to basketball camp this summer! Did they mention that they really wanted to see that one movie? Well, we do have a few spare hours this weekend to waste. And what about their favorite color? Perfect, now you know what sweater to buy them for their birthday.
8. Be Involved
Be involved in everything your kid does. Check up on their school work- a lot. Go to their sports events. Know their friends- host lots of sleepovers. Sit down for dinner each night. Attempt to play their favorite video game (even if they just laugh and make fun of you the whole time). Play sports against them. BE INVOLVED! As a parent, it's your job.
9. Support Them
Give high fives until your hand goes numb. When they get an A or B on a report card praise the heck out of them. Did they just score a field goal? You better be that crazy person in the crowd cheering your butt off. Applaud them for big things and give them high fives for small one. Even if all they did was get a good behavior sticker in school, smile really big and tell them how proud you are of them. Many kids in foster care have a lot of doubts about the future, so make sure that they know they are absolutely worth every future minute they'll be alive. They are a great human being and it's your job to let them know it every chance you get.
10. Be A Good Role Model
Monkey see, monkey do. Child see, child do. If your kid hears you curse, and yet you tell them not to curse- that's contradictory. Be the person you want your kid to be. Respect others, smile and laugh often, attempt to be organized, work hard, and enjoy life (even through the ups and downs).
11. Breathe Deep, Don't React Right Away
Kids say hurtful things. Sometimes they do stupid things. And more often than not they'll be rude. Do not- I repeat, do not- react right away. Go to your room. Breathe deep. Settle down. Then return to the situation when you can react rationally. It will prevent that absolutely horrible outburst of anger that can so quickly ruin a relationship.
12. Choose Your Arguments and Your Anger
Kids will be kids. They'll make mistakes. So choose your arguments carefully. Decide whether or not it's worth arguing over. Is it really necessary to get angry that the kids won't leave grandma's house on time? Or is it best to just buckle down and muddle through. Most of the time being mad won't help the situation. So choose your anger very wisely.
13. Have Fun
Go on vacation. Take a trip to the zoo. Eat ice cream for dinner. Have a picnic. Build a blanket fort in your living room. The quickest way to make a child happy, healthy, and full of life- is to have fun with them. Do everything in your power to make sure your kid has plenty of fun while their with you. Give them lots of memories and lots of new experiences. Honestly, it's more rewarding for you than it is for the kid. And I promise every happy second spent will be worth the huge smile that comes onto your kids face.
14. Teach Responsibility, But Don't Enforce Chores
I don't teach kids to do their chores by making them do them. I give them a choice. When they do the chores they are rewarded. If they aren't there is something taken away. I do believe in paying the kids for a job well done- good grades and finished chores. And I also believe in taking away the xBox when the job isn't done- F's on the report card and dirty dishes. I don't make them clean dishes (although I do try to make them do their homework), I give them a choice. And over time they learn that if they give, they get. Responsibility being taught through trial and error not verbal explanation.
15. Celebrate The Heck Out Of Holidays
I'm a holiday nut. Birthdays are a HUGE deal in my house. Cakes, decorations, and presents galore. Every kid deserves to be celebrated at least one day out of the year. So celebrate them! Christmas is another huge day (belief in magic is such an amazing thing). Thanksgiving is avidly enjoyed. Even small holidays like July 4th and Valentine's Day are big deals in my house. And they should be. Every kid should be subject to adoration during the holidays. It gives me a chance to appreciate them, and them a chance to enjoy simply having a day to enjoy.
16. Say Yes
I say 'Yes' a lot... maybe too much. But it's a word that not a lot of kids here. 'Can I go to the mall with my friends?' Yes, but you need to be home by dinner or else you can't go next time. 'Can I get a bike?' Yes, if you do your chores for an entire month to earn it. 'Can we go to Red Lobster for dinner tonight?' Yes. Just because. Yes is a great word and I throw it around freely. And when kid's hear it often, they become more apt to actually listen when you do say 'no'.
17. Be Proud
I am proud of every kid in my life. So proud. I brag about them to everyone. When they get an A on a test, everyone in the town knows about it. I post pictures of their arts and crafts on my facebook page way too often. I let them know how great they are, and how proud I am to have them in my life. Because there is no better way to instill confidence, than to be ridiculously proud of a kid that deserves your pride.
18. Be Happy
This isn't always easy. But a happy household isn't created with an unhappy parent. The ONLY way to have a cheerful home, is to be smiling yourself. So start every day with a GOOD morning and end every evening with a GOOD night. A good mood can go a long way.
19. Appreciate Them
Every kid should know they are appreciated. Say 'thank you' every single time they help out. Give them gratitude for every kind word they say. Appreciate them when they make an effort to appreciate you. Appreciation can often go farther than good praise.
20. Love Unconditionally
They may not be your birth child or your legal child. But that doesn't mean that they don't have to be your child in your heart. Love them so deeply. It makes everything else easier. Every bad moment seems a bit better when you love the kid that's causing it. Every bad day gets a little better when a kid you love is a part of it. Every struggle is much easier to overcome when there's kid you love relying on your strength. So love them- more than they will ever know. That love will take you everywhere you want to go.