What To Do When Your Foster Child Is Cutting or Self-Harming

Finding out that your child is cutting or causing some other kind of self-harm to themselves is a traumatic and difficult experience for any parent. But foster parents face the difficulty of maybe not being as close to their foster child as birth parents are. Which means we often find ourselves with the added stress of not truly knowing what to do. But by following a few of these simple steps- you'll make the transition to a healthier life easier on both of you.
Do not get mad: Whatever you do, I cannot stress this enough, do not get mad! If your child feels the need to hurt themselves, they are most likely facing a lot of ridicule in school or from some other outward source. So when you discover that your child has hurt themselves, do not get mad at them about it. Keep your calm. Right now, what they need more than anything else is love. Hate is only going to fuel their inner self-doubt that is making them be cruel to themselves.
Talk your Social Worker: Self-harm should not go unspoken of. Talk to your social worker, case worker, any therapists in the child's life, and the school counselor. All of these people can not only help your child- but help you. It's important to bring awareness to the subject. Do not simply push it under the rug. But also ask them to keep this private- and let the child come to them when they are ready. OR let your child know you need to let their case worker know. Keep the trust flowing, by keeping your child informed on what you are doing.
Talk to them about it: Ask meaningful questions. "When did you begin cutting?", "Why did you start?", "Why are you still self-mutilating?". These questions open up the opportunity to discuss issues your child may be facing in your home, with their birth family, or at school.
Listen to what they have to say: DO NOT interrupt them. Do not give advice. For the time being, simply listen to what they have to say. Let them know you understand and you care- and that you're going to help them get through this. But make sure your mouth is closed when theirs is open. And your ears and heart are ready to digest everything they have to say.
Offer your support and love: Let them know that you will both get through this struggle TOGETHER. This is not something they need to deal with alone. Be as understanding as possible. Let them know you love them, that you're worried about them, and that you know they're worth more than the actions they're doing right now.
Ask to take their 'tools': If your child comes to you with this issue- then they're asking for help. If you find out about it on your own, they may not be as willing to accept your help. But nevertheless you need to make an effort to take away their 'tools'. If your child is cutting, take away their razor. This can be applied to all kinds of self-mutilation. BUT prior to taking away the tools- ask if you can. Explain that you are worried and you want to help them, but the first step to healing is to take away the weapon. If they refuse to let you take it- discuss this with your social worker. Right now, causing more conflict is likely to cause your child to continue hurting themselves. So rather than causing an argument- have your case worker deal with this issue for you.
Offer up alternative ways of dealing with hurt: If your child is hurting themselves physically, it's a sign that they are hurting mentally- and they need to learn better ways of dealing with sadness, anger, and discontentment. Try offering these alternative methods to your child, to slowly create better habits.
  • Color with red pen or marker: If your child cuts, take away their razor and give them a red pen or marker. Tell them every time they think of cutting, to 'cut themselves' with these markers. They may not cause physical pain, but they give the illusion of blood. They're a good transitioning tool, to quitting cutting entirely- by replacing it with something similar. As time goes on, take away the red pen or marker when they are ready.
  • Paint angrily: Art is so healing. I promise! Let your child express themselves through painting or drawing or sculpting. Allow them to use curse words and make things that are angry or sad. Although you may not approve of their images- you're enlightening them to a better way of dealing with bad emotions- by putting their energy into something creative.
  • Write notes back and forth: Create a 'talk through it diary', where your child can write to you at any time they need to talk about ANYTHING. Tell them no judgment comes from the diary. You'll give advice only when they ask for it. But writing will give your child a way to work through emotions by figuring them out through vocalizing them.
Attend therapy and support groups: There are many free support groups for people dealing with self-mutilation. Make a point to attend these WITH your child. Go together. And go in with an open mind. It's a beautiful way to show your child they are not alone in their struggle- and to promote a healthy discussion from them.
Offer to always listen: No matter what, let your child know you are ALWAYS there and you ALWAYS will be. When they need someone to talk to, to cry on, or to figure things out with- you are there and ready with an open heart and mind.

How To Welcome A Foster Child Into Your Home

Last week I wrote an article detailing how I welcome teenage foster children into my home. But what do I do for younger kids? I do have a different way of welcoming smaller children into my home. Obviously the age difference does account for the fact I treat younger and older kids different. Both get the same love and respect- but younger kids are usually a lot more confused, but also tend to be a bit more eager to get to know their new surroundings. Just as with the teens, I recommend you follow your instinct. Do what works for you and the child. This is just a simple 'schedule' that I usually stick by with younger kids.

Bend Down, Smile, and Introduce Myself: I always bend down, or get on my knees (especially when dealing with toddlers and kids up to 7 or 8 years old. Why do I do this? It makes me appear smaller and much less threatening than a big scary adult. I smile really wide (usually out of my own excitement) and then introduce myself and tell the child my name.

Set Their Stuff In Their Room: When they first get dropped off, I try to set their stuff in their room (or have the case worker or person who brought the child, drop the stuff off for me). This gives the child a sense of security knowing their stuff is safe.

Show Them Around The House: And the first thing I always do (with any aged child) is to show them around the house. I give them a quick tour of every room. With younger kids I make a point to show them snacks they can eat in the kitchen, the kid's movies and DVD player in the livingroom, the library of children's books, and where our toy box (for everyone to share) is at.

Have A Snack: Once we're finished with the house tour, I'll offer them a snack. We'll sit down and talk for a while. I'll ask them questions to get to know them like "What is your favorite color?" and "What do you like to do for fun?". And I also make sure to ask if they have any questions for me. I also take a minute to try to explain to them, age-appropriately why they are in my home, and what we will do while they stay with me.

Do A Small Get-To-Know-Eachother Activity: Then I invite the kids to do a small activity with me. Often we'll make a snack- muffins or fruit salad or something kid-friendly and easy. Or we'll do a craft together. Just something to lighten the mood and make sure they know they'll have fun while they stay here.

Help Them Unpack: Later in the day, we'll take a while to unpack their stuff. I'll have them help me pick out places for where they want things to go. What drawers their shirts, pants, underwear, and socks should go in. Where to put any toys or little items they brought with. I also give them a 'Welcome Basket' with a few little items just for them to help welcome them into their new bedroom. To read more about welcome baskets visit __________

Let Them Know Your Plan For The Week: Around dinner time I will also sit them down and talk about what we'll do for the next week. I'll let them know if we're going to a doctor, or enrolling them in school, or going shopping for clothes and other things they need. I just give them a basic idea of what the next few days will entail. And each evening I make a point to remind them what they will be doing tomorrow- just to keep a semi-organized idea in their mind about what we will be doing. It also helps ease a bit of the stress about the 'unknown'.

Foster Child Welcome Basket Ideas (For Kids Ages 3 to 12)

I give a welcome basket to each child that comes into my home. I have them prepared ahead of time and ready to be handed out within the first day. For teens the baskets usually entail necessities such as deoderant, feminine products, and shaving cream. But for younger kids- they also need a few necessities. And I like to let them know that in my house they will have their own things (that they don't need to share) just to give them a sense of self-worth. So for each child that comes into my home, they recieve a little basket with a few knick-knacks. I have different baskets for toddlers, girls, and boys.

Toddler Foster Child Welcome Basket
Kid soap, shampoo, and conditioner
A kid's towel and wash cloth
A kid's tooth brush and tooth paste
A stuffed toy
A coloring book and crayons

Girl Foster Child Welcome Basket
Girl's soap, shampoo, and conditioner (fruity ones, or girl cartoon themed)
A new towel and wash cloth
A new girly tooth brush and tooth paste
A new hair brush and comb
Hair ties, hair clips, and headbands
A new stuffed toy
An art set
A piggy bank

Boy Foster Child Welcome Basket
Boy's soap, shampoo, and conditioner (cartoon themed or blue/green in color)
A new towel and wash cloth
A new boyish tooth brush and tooth paste
A new hair comb
A new stuffed toy
An art set
A piggy bank

August Foster Parent Bucket List

Attend A Local Fair or Carnival: State and county fairs are so much fun. They offer up an array of games and rides and a semi-affordable price. So let your kid run around and have a good time. It's a great way to just have fun together.

Go Camping: Whether you pitch a tent in your backyard, or rent a camper at a local park- camping is a fun family activity that allows you to teach fun survival skills- like cooking on a fire and gathering kindling.

Go School-Supplies Shopping: A lot of parents find school-supplies shopping to hectic to bring their kids along. But I feel like going shopping together allows your child to get excited about school. Let them pick out personalized notebooks and folders and other items. It's a great way to get them encouraged to do well this upcoming school year.

Visit A Local Farm or Petting Zoo: Petting zoos and farms allow your child to learn about where their food comes from. Dairy products and eggs and meat are staples in many households- but not all kids realize where these things are from. Educating your kid on farming practices opens a lot of doors for your kid. And letting them meet the animals that feed them is a great way to teach them how to be thankful for their food.

Attend A Craft Fair: Many small cities host craft fairs, and even small towns occassionally have a church or organization that puts one on. Taking the time to attend one with your child can teach them about small-business opportunities and allows them to see how creative endeavors can make great business ideas!