“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” – Sarah Dessen
Since the first day our children were placed with us we’ve tried to make them feel at home, and not just at any home, but their home. When they arrived we had their names and pictures up in their rooms. We had new sheets and comforters on their beds. We wanted to create an environment where they not only felt accepted, but where they felt comfortable.
Early on during our foster care journey we were continually reminded of the uncertainty children in foster care face. One story that comes to mind happened during the first 90 days that our children were placed with us. Our 9-year-old foster son came around the corner from the kitchen and said, “Mr. Keith, I fixed your trash bag.” He was referring to fixing the bag in the trash can. He started to walk away and then I called his name and said, “hey buddy, you didn’t fix my trash bag, you fixed your trash bag, because this is your home too.”
It sounds so simple, but we think it was impactful. It reminded him and his siblings that for that season they were a part of our family and this was their home. They may not have readily accepted it, but we were not responsible for their response. We were responsible for being proactive to help them feel at ease and at home.
With so much uncertainty in a foster child’s life, it is up to the foster parent to create an environment that allows the child to feel safe, comfortable and accepted. Here are 12 ways we tried to do that for our children while we were fostering them.
- Create a space that is their own. Easiest place is probably their bedroom. Allow them to hang up pictures, pick out paint colors, etc.
- Hang up pictures of your foster children around the home. Our extended family (grandparents) even chose to do this!
- Hang up their art work, report cards, and other items that might be important to them. “Refrigerator recognition” makes most children feel valued.
- Help them unpack and hang up their clothes (if they will let you).
- Plan meals around food items they like.
- Have them help you shop and cook.
- Take them on ALL family trips that your own children would go on.
- Ask them how they want you to refer to them in public.
- Make sure they have their own things and that they understand those items will always be their items.
- Give them chores around the home, so that they feel a part of the family.
- Allow them to pick out family activities. Empower them to have a voice, just like all family members should.
- Allow them to decide what they will call you. It empowers them and allows them a comfort level with you. Three of our four kids in our home now prefer mom and dad. The fourth one is still comfortable with Mr. Keith and Mrs. Staci, even though we have now finalized the adoption. Both are okay with us!
As we did these things, it was our hope that the things we did would be, “but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that they can take with them for their entire lives, wherever they may go.”
A home was created, but not just any home. Their home.
Keith & Staci Howard are the fearless leaders of Howard Party of 8. For their day jobs Staci is a stay-at-home mom and Keith oversees Circle of Care's foster care program throughout Oklahoma. Learn more about them on our foster bloggers bio page.