How to help a Foster Child Feel Safe and Build Trust

fearfull girlFearful children focus completely on Survival Issues, such as: safety, hunger, thirst, fatigue, being in control, escaping scary situations, and making hurts stop.  

Fear is seated in the primitive brain’s involuntary ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response.  A child experiencing fear can therefore spontaneously run away and hide, get angry or cry, lash out, stonewall & become unresponsive, or try to control the situation. When a child is controlled by fear, they lose their ability to understand logic, complex reasoning, puzzle solving and abstract concepts. Fear will bully a child into misbehavior and tantrums!

Foster parents can make huge strides toward eliminating this poor behavior by providing an atmosphere where their child can feel and experience safety for themselves.  By rearranging the environment at home and adjusting their own behavior, their foster child can be made to feel a profound and basic sense that they are truly safe in their home and with the foster parents. Until a child experiences safety for himself trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress.

Tips on building trust:

  • Offer consistent care so that the child gets the message that ‘safe adults’ will take care of and protect him.
  • Offer warm interaction so that the child gets the message “I don’t have to be afraid of this adult. I am a person of value to him/her.”
  • Be responsive so that the child gets the message that “this adult understands what I feel. I am safe here.”

Tips on earning a child’s trust:

  • Consistently show emotional warmth and affection
  • Offer positive emotional responses and praise often
  • Respond attentively and kindly to the child’s words and actions
  • Interact playfully (lighthearted) with the child
  • Physically match or mirror the child’s voice and behavior (not during misbehavior)
  • Be sensitive to the child’s tolerance for sounds, touch, and personal distance.  Prevent sensory overload: – At home reduce visual clutter (use simple decorations), minimize noises, and avoid strongly scented products; Be cautions about amusement parks and activity centers that are full of raucous sounds, frenzied visual activities, etc.
  • Use simple words or language they understand. Use short stock phrases and repeat yourself
  • Give the child advance notice of upcoming changes and activities
  • Give appropriate simple choices to share control, without relinquishing parental control
  • Be an effective leader by following through on promises, being calm & patient, giving clear instructions, and asking simple questions
  • Never put a traumatized child in a position where he feels cornered or  threatened. Be mindful of physical boundaries and unexpected touch
  • Handle food issues gently, without any form of scolding
  • Support and help the child to meet new challenges (such as walking home from school)
  • Be approachable and do not withdraw from them (children need our love the most, when their behavior deserve it the least)
  • Honor their emotions – avoid shaming statements even when their emotions appear insignificant of even funny, a healing parent show respect and doesn’t judge
  • Respect their own life story – simply give neutral information about a child’s background so that he can work out the past for himself

Emergency Tips to help a child relax:

  • Physically get down to the child’s level, by kneeling or sitting
  • Speak softly and gently in a warm voice
  • Offer a stress ball or a fidget toy that he can press and squeeze
  • Offer a piece of bubble gum. (Chewing is calming)
  • Offer a sucking candy or lollipop. (Sucking is calming)
  • Offer to sit or stand farther away from her
  • Encourage him to take deep, slow breaths

Feelings of safety and healing can’t be rushed.  Deeply encoded involuntary fear responses take time to ease, but eventually situations that were once scary and threatening become less so.  Be patient and do everything in your power to communicate to the child that he is safe and welcome in his new home.  Foster parents have the unique opportunity to help the healing process progress dramatically by giving their foster child the gift of safety. 

“The Connected Child” – by Dr. Karyn B. Purvis and Dr. David R. Cross

Compacted extract from free resources: Chapter 4


About Helouise Steenkamp

I'm a 45 plus, Devoted Wife and Mother. Adonai has blessed us with two Amazingly Wonderful Sons. We have had the privilege of being Place of Safety parents for 1 1/2 years and there after foster parents to a Darling Princess for 5 years. She was reconciled with her biological parents in Dec'14. Our hearts are still aching from the loss, but we know that as we trust Adonai with our salvation, so we can trust Him with her future. We welcomed our new 4 year old foster child on 05JUN'15.
This entry was posted in Behavioral Issues, Creating Lasting Memories, Foster Care Advice, Helping to bring Healing. Bookmark the permalink.

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