So, you’ve decided to foster a child what now? Now is the time to start imagining the kind of family environment you want to create. One essential part of thinking this through and setting your family up for success as you welcome in a new member is to determine house rules. While setting appropriate house rules depends on factors like the age of the child you are welcoming into your family, here are five guidelines to help you get started:
1. Ease into the rules
Welcoming a child in foster care into your home requires having an understanding that his or her world has just been significantly altered. Entering a new home with people you’re not familiar with and immediately being handed a list of rules can be intimidating and unwelcoming. Be patient and try to put yourself in a child’s shoes. Start by picking a few simple rules that are important to you and are easy to understand, then have a conversation about those rules. Keep in mind that all rules will not always work for all children.
For example, you may be inclined to set a rule that your child should always speak to you with respect. While of course you want your child to be respectful, it’s possible that your child previously lived in a household where that was not an expectation. What seems like a simple request to you may turn out to be something your child has never learned how to do or seen practiced in their previous household. If this is the case, you now have the perfect opportunity to share a teaching moment with them.
2. Create a routine
Children thrive in a structured environment. While giving a child the freedom to make some of their own choices is important, they feel comforted by knowing what to expect. It’s possible that the child in your care has moved around from home to home and hasn’t had an opportunity to feel like they truly belong somewhere. Creating a routine will help your child get familiar with what their new life looks like. Start with something as simple as setting a designated bedtime and forming habits that you stick to every night. Maybe they get to pick two short books before bed to have you read to them, or they want you to sing them a sleepy time song to help them drift off to sleep. Whatever it is, do it every night.
3. Set clear expectations
When having a conversation with your child about the rules you’ve established, make sure that you also are clear about the consequences of not following the rules. Help them understand that if they do A, then B will be their consequence. For example, if you hit your friend, then you will have to write him or her a note to say you’re sorry; if you don’t do your homework, then you won’t be able to take a TV break when you get home from school. It may be helpful to let your child assist you in determining his or her consequences. Ask them, “What do you think should happen if you break this rule?” Allowing them to be a part of this process will make them feel like they have some control over their environment. It will also let them know that you are listening, which in turn strengthens your relationship with them.
Above all else, make sure to be patient when they inevitably break one of the house rules. Nobody’s perfect, and your child will take comfort in knowing that making a mistake will not jeopardize their relationship with you.
4. Work together
We all have chores around the house that must be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis. Make tedious tasks, like cleaning up a messy room, more fun by working on them together. Although they may be young, children can accomplish great things! Children benefit from spending time with you and will build confidence when they are trusted to help you. Chances are high that they played at least a small role in helping create the mess, so teach them responsibility by showing them how to help clean it up.
For extra fun and maximum bonding, turn the chore into a game. For example, if your child left their brightly colored alphabet letters all over the floor, use the mess as an opportunity to play “I Spy.” Call out a color or a letter that you “spy” and encourage them to find the one you’re looking for and put it back in the container. While this may make the chore take a little longer, you are accomplishing much more than crossing tasks off your list; you are spending valuable time together and reinforcing learning by practicing their colors and alphabet letters.
5. Appreciate a job well done
Who doesn’t love to be appreciated? Giving your child praise for a job well done will show them that you are paying attention to them, which will make them feel good. When a child feels good about what they’ve accomplished, they’re likely to want to help even more. Praise can range from a kind word of recognition to a special treat. Be mindful of giving too much praise, though. A delicate balance exists between being the right level of appreciative and being so overly appreciative that children think they deserve a reward every time they take care of a responsibility.
There are a variety of factors to consider when trying to decide which house rules might work best for you and your family. Connecting with other foster parents in your community can be a helpful way to brainstorm and gather ideas. What are some of the rules you’ve established for children in your household? Let us know below in the comments!
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can begin your own foster journey, fill out our Foster Inquiry Form at Upbring.org/FosterInfo, and one of our outstanding team members will reach out to you.