By Carol Jones
You may think that getting everyone bathed and dressed for church is the hard part. Actually, we need to remember that every new setting is a new challenge for the foster child, a child that may not do well in transition much less a brand new setting with all new faces; many of those faces eager to meet and welcome him. It’s SCARY for a child to be confronted with all this!
If you can control some of the chaos of this situation, do so! Some suggestions include:
- Going to church a little later or right before the service starts, cutting out a lot of the unstructured time when people visit as they go to their seats.
- Taking something for the child to eat. Many kids will suck on a sugar-free mint or caramel and this can help with the fidgets.
- Remember that your child may not be able to process information as fast as other children so you might need to help him have conversations at first by repeating the question his has been asked or giving him a few choices to choose from. If nothing works, role model for him the way to greet people appropriately. Answering for him should be temporary since the goal would be to get him to be able to interact with adults or other children himself.
- If there is children’s church, plan to go with the child the first few times to let him get accustomed to the schedule and the teachers in the class.
- Depending on his comfort level you might want to offer to teach a children’s church class. It is good to have someone help you since you may have to take a lot of time with the foster child at first.
- Any activities at church that are unstructured or chaotic should be practiced with the child ahead of time. An Easter egg hunt can be a disaster if you just throw a foster child into the mix. Don’t be surprised if your foster child fights over eggs or does the opposite and curls up under a bush to get away from the chaos. It helps to talk through what is going to happen and show him what to do to participate.
- You may have to help the child find eggs. Make sure his basket is easy to hold-plastic buckets that are deep are good.
- Any activity can be SCARY for your foster child. A church picnic can be difficult for some children. Help him play with other children by interpreting for your child what is happening and tell the other children how to best play with your child. Explaining to other children is easy, just say things like “Johnny does not like to be touched on the back but he does like to follow someone up the slide”. “Can you help him with that?”
- If anyone asks what is wrong with your foster child it is always OK to say that Johnny was made a little differently, but he enjoys a lot of the same things every child enjoys. He likes chips and candy and orange juice, etc. etc. He likes to slide or swing or run fast like the wind. Talk about the things he can do, not the things he can’t do. It is OK to share explanations about his behavior. If Johnny waves his hands to the music, explain that this is how he enjoys himself. If Johnny hollers and falls on the floor explain that he gets overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do. Your goal would be to get him to come to you if he is stressed or show you in another way.
DO NOT EVER SHARE JOHNNY’S HISTORY WITH ANYONE. It is not yours to share. Explaining his behavior is sometimes necessary, but it is not necessary to share who his parents are or what happened to him before you got him.