“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.