While actions certainly speak louder than words, I say these things to our foster kids often (especially in the first month) to help these phrases become mantras in their mind. My hope is that after hearing them a few dozen times, they begin to see truth in them (which is where actions come into play) and can say them with no prompts from me.
1. You are safe. When they worry, I want them to remember they don't have to right now. They are safe. I try to explain exactly how they are safe to by adding "this house is safe, I will make sure no one hurts you here, we have enough food, and we will make sure you have a safe place to sleep".
2. You are so loved. While I tell them I love them too (yes, even before I actually really feel all the lovey feelings, because I love them as a human), I talk to them about all the people who love them. As is appropriate, bio parents, former foster parents, siblings, and then our family and extended family (like grandparents, aunts and uncles). I want them to know that love surrounds them.
3. I'm here to take care of you. In addition to #1, I add this so they can recognize who I am. Not a mean person who took them away from their bios. Not a stranger any more. Kids shouldn't have to worry about who is taking care of them, but unfortunately, kids in foster care have often learned that it's not a given. Telling them that is your goal will help them find ease. When you have to give them direction or discipline, you can remind them of this, i.e. "I'm here to take care of you, and I can't let you do this because it's not safe"
4. I'm sorry this is so hard for you. Let's face it, becoming a foster kid really means switching families. Even as adults, we'd find that hard and yet we often expect kids to do it and not struggle. Hearing that you see this as a difficult situation may help them know that their feelings about it are real and okay.
5. Do you miss... [bio parent/former foster parents/siblings]. You may hope that not talking about bios families may help them move on. But nope, they are feeling the loss and some kids, especially young ones, don't even know what the feelings are. Giving them these words will help them identify and communicate their feelings.
6. It's okay to be sad or mad (and as needed, "but it's not okay to hurt people"). This is especially helpful to say when you see anger boiling up. Again, they may not know these feelings and maybe all they know to do is share their pain by hurting others. Give them the words so that they know how to communicate them without the hitting, kicking, biting and yelling.
7. Let's practice taking deep breaths. During calm times, get them to practice taking deep breaths. Practice often during calm times so that when they are having big feelings or otherwise are dysregulated, you can remind them to take a deep breath and it's like second nature.
8. What are some things that make you happy? While a question, find some safe things that may them happy so that you can use them when they are feeling big feelings OR that you can name them when they need something happy to think about. It's also just a great way to get to know your foster kid.
What's so cool is that time and again, after a few weeks/months of saying these things often (the timeline depends on the kid and their developmental age -- but I have seen it happen in as soon as 2 weeks), I hear them start to say these things to themselves or to those around the house. I hear them use words like "I'm mad" instead of hitting. I see them take a deep breath with they're getting upset or dysregulated without me having to say a word.
What are some things you say to your foster kids regularly?
I'm a foster mom, bio mom, working mom, special needs mom, busy mom. I'm also married to my high school sweetheart, I'm a proud 23-year childhood cancer survivor, and I'm passionate about serving my community.
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