How To Build Trust With Your Foster and Adoptive Children
Building Trust With Your Foster Children
12 ideas to build trust with your kids.
All parents, including adoptive parents and foster parents, need to have a good level of trust with their children. Establishing trust is an ongoing process, whether it is your biological, foster, or adopted child. It requires a dedication to understanding their behaviors and meeting their needs. This process will require even more patience, consistency, and communication for children in the foster care system to establish yourself as a safe and stable adult in their life. Some essential tips for building trust with your foster child are:
- Follow through with what you say
- Communicate about everything
- Get to know your child
- Lower Your Expectations
- Routine and Consistency
Following through with what you say communicates to your foster child that they can count on you. Like picking up the food they requested from the grocery store or taking them to the park when you promised. Simple things can communicate that you listen to them and prioritize their needs.
Communication can never be underestimated. Explaining your reasoning for a consequence, talking the child through a challenging experience, and really listening to what they are trying to say sends the message that their voice matters. It also provides them the opportunity to develop their emotional intelligence. Attentive, interpersonal communication shows your child that you care about what they have to say.
It's essential to take the time to get to know your child. Learning their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and passions sends the message that you are genuinely invested in them. As you get to know their preferences, you can tend to their unique needs and interests. This further communicates your investment in them as a whole person and your commitment to making them feel valued and comfortable in your home.
Lowering your expectations allows you to accept your child just as they are without imposing expectations on their behavior. This allows your child to receive acceptance for their full range of positive and negative emotions and dispositions. When a child feels genuinely accepted, they can begin to build trusting relationships. Especially after the honeymoon phase, their messier, less contained self will start to peak through. While this may seem like a regression, it more often means they feel safe enough to let their guard down. This is a critical time to remain calm and maintain acceptance, attunement, and patience with them. They can begin to let their armor down when they see that you accept them no matter what.
Routine and consistency establish a secure environment for the child. Foster children usually come from chaotic and inconsistent backgrounds that were established with their birth parents. They will often struggle with anxiety, the inability to remain calm, lack of focus, and lack of trust. Creating a peaceful, structured, stable, and safe environment signals to their nervous system that they are in a safe place and can know what to expect.
Finally, patience allows the child to progress at their own pace. They will know they will not be met with reactivity, hostility, or disappointment when they slip up. Remaining regulated when faced with their dysregulation and staying calm when faced with their chaos sends the message that you are in control, you can handle things, and they do not need to worry.
Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child and creator of trust-based relational intervention (TBRI), lists six simple strategies for building trust with your child.
- Meet needs. The best way to find out what your child needs is to ask them and do your best to meet those needs.
- Say Yes. Say yes to your child more than you say no. Every yes builds trust. She recommends saying 7 “yeses” to every 1 “no.”
- Make Eye contact. When you look your child in the eyes and encourage them to do the same, you can communicate with them on a level deeper than words. Eye contact builds connections.
- Touch. Frequent affectionate touch communicates safety. However, it is essential to note whether a child feels comfortable being touched. If they resist, Dr. Purvis recommends “symbolic touch,” such as simply reaching out to them without making physical contact. Also, asking permission before you touch is a good rule of thumb.
- Mirror Behavior. Mirroring your child’s behavior, such as laughing when they laugh, smiling when they smile, and joining in their play builds attunement between the child and the caregiver.
- Follow. Allow your child to take the lead in play activities and join them with your undivided attention. Allow them to pick the activity and follow along with them for a set period of time. This opportunity to lead in play helps the child develop their power and voice and creates trust and attachment between the child and caregiver.
More than anything else, adopted children and children in foster care need a family they can trust. While the road to trust-building can be long, incorporating these tips and strategies can create significant and lasting gains for both child, caregiver, and family members.