Getting Closer: Developing a Nurturing Relationship with Your Older Foster Child

“Don’t hug me!” says your 14 year old foster daughter.  “I don’t feel like talking”, huffs your 16 year old foster son.  What is a foster parent to do?

Chances are, when you became a foster parent, you were looking forward to being able to comfort and nurture any foster child placed with you.  But if you’re caring for a teen, things may suddenly seem not that simple.

Many teens in foster care haven’t experienced a consistently nurturing relationship with a caring adult.  As a foster parent, your job is to try to do that, despite the challenges.  In doing this, you will change your foster child’s life forever. The physical care, cuddling and holding through which babies and young children are nurtured aren’t appropriate for older children. So you have to find other ways to nurture your foster child.

One tool you can use is food.  Food is a reliable source of comfort and nurture. Providing regular mealtimes that include opportunities to eat together as a family can help a foster child feel nurtured. Making an effort to serve the child’s favorite foods can help him feel accepted by your family.

If you can get your foster teen involved with the food preparation, even better! This gives you a great opportunity to work closely with your foster child while also teaching him important life skills. Maybe eventually you can take it a step further and pair up with him to plan, shop for, cook and serve a meal together.

Teaching your older child how to do something useful is also a powerful tool.  Everyone likes to feel competent – even needed – so lessons like these can be a real gift.  Add to it that the teaching itself provides natural opportunities for warm interactions, and it’s clear that this is a tool worth trying.

With an older child it’s important to take advantage of opportunities for nurturing which occur as part of the routines of daily life.  And most teens want to look good.  So consider clothes shopping together or going with your foster child for a haircut This can give you special time alone with your foster child and help her feel cared for by you. Opportunities for nurturing occur also when a child is ill. An older child with a bad cold may literally “eat up” your homemade chicken soup and the caring that goes with it.

Nurturing an older foster child can be challenging, so you have to be creative. But the truth is, a lot of opportunities come up in daily life.  Stay open to the possibilities, and they will arise.

Words from a Plummer Youth in Foster Care

boyI had a rough life growing up.  My biological mom was addicted to heroin and my dad was in jail most of the time. With four sisters and incapable parents, I was left with the burden of being the man of the family at a young age.  I was my family’s caregiver throughout my childhood, scrounging for food for my sisters and me, picking out the clothes we were going to wear to school the next day, or worrying that my mom was not going to pay the bills.

But I was one of the lucky ones in these situations – lucky because God answered my prayers and Plummer Foster Care found a great mom and dad to take me in.  I’m blessed that my [foster] mom has a kind heart and does not judge a troubled kid by his past.

Unfortunately, there are more kids out there who aren’t as lucky.  Many are not seen for their potential, as people who can go somewhere in life.  I am blessed to have a [foster] dad who treats me like a son and who gives me the advice I need to become a man.  He teaches me things my biological dad did not, could not.  I will be the first person in my family to graduate high school and pursue college to become a social worker because of these opportunities.

Agencies like Plummer Foster Care can help more children to have what I never had as a child.  An opportunity like the one I was given is what we are missing in our communities!  We are missing the love and compassion that my foster parents showed me, even as a total stranger.  Many kids who don’t have that turn to gangs, drugs, and even suicide. Truthfully, a lot of people could have seen me as just another kid from the ghetto throwing his life away.

I am writing to tell you that these kids out on the streets are more than that!  They want to be children, too. They want to be able to live normal lives, but they can’t because they feel like they’re the only ones to take care of their brothers and sisters.

That’s why Plummer Foster Care is so important.  Plummer can help get troubled kids off the streets by finding foster families who can care for them the way my mom and dad care for me.

This blog post is from a youth in a Plummer foster family.  To learn more about foster parenting, contact Plummer Foster Care at 978-935-9555 or visit PLUMMERHOME.ORG.