Parenting teenagers is a hallmark of our society. It is the cause of lots of crazy stories, frustrations and some really funny moments. Hormones are changing, identities are being formed and you’re just trying to do the right thing for your kid’s growth and development. Being a foster parent for a teenager is the same as raising any other teenager in many ways.
Fostering parenting teenagers can seem a very daunting task, but it is possible to do a good job and it can be very rewarding. Some foster parents even find they have a special knack for raising teens! To help you out, we’ve outlined some tips that in addition to support from your social worker, can lead you in how to best parent a teen in foster care.
1. Food is a Big Deal
Food holds a lot of feelings and memories for people. You can help your foster teen feel more at home and comfortable by simply asking what they like to eat and taking them shopping for their favorite snacks. It will give them a sense of familiarity in a new place like your home.
2. Make it Homey
If your other children have full size beds and tv’s in their room, your foster child should have those things too. It’s an avoidable degree of separation your foster child could perceive. Another good tip is to always have a fan in the room in case your foster child needs it to sleep.
Don’t feel the need to give the grand tour of your home. Tell them the basics like where bathrooms and snack cupboard are and any alarms they should be aware of. Have night lights to show where important things are in the dark as they won’t be used to the layout of your home.
3. Get to Know Who They Are
Children in foster care have probably had to take on responsibilities they normally wouldn’t at their young age due to traumatic circumstances. One of the best things you can do as their foster parent is to provide a safe space where they can explore who they are and what their interests are.
This doesn’t mean drilling them with 20 questions, just casually talk to them. It’s best to do it during an activity like driving in the car so the questions don’t feel like an interview. You can also frame questions with “I wonder”. If they offer a bit of information say, “tell me more about that”. This will help them feel less pressured to come up with an answer and build trust.
4. Learn Their Interests
When you learn a bit about what your foster teen enjoys you can find ways to support them in it. Would they like a library card to check out books? Is there an instrument they play? What sports do they enjoy that they could use equipment for or what teams can they join?
Just finding resources, driving them to events, or speaking with them about what interest they have can go a long way.
There is a lot going on in the teenage body during puberty which starts as early as 12 years old for today’s kids. With the hormones increasing, bodily changes and mood swings it’s no wonder your teenager may seem like a different person day to day.
Unfortunately, all of this is amplified by any trauma they’ve experienced. Fortunately, this creates an opportunity for you to model healthy coping skills and empathy.
You don’t need to pursue your foster teen. Giving them space to be alone and process the changes until they are willing to come to you is often more helpful than a conversation. Patience, compassion and calmness in the face of their chaos will show them you are a trustworthy and consistent support they can rely on. And that’s what any teenager needs.
6. Be Authentic
Teens, especially foster teens, can tell when you are being “fake”. That’s how they describe it too. They want to be themselves around you so be yourself around them. Modeling vulnerability and authenticity is a great way to build trust.
If you can, share some of your stories with them. But you should never use your foster teen as a stand in therapist. This is about letting them know you can relate to their experience or to share tools that helped you overcome a challenge similar to what they may be facing.
7. Love Them Where They Are At
Your foster teen has complex emotions, hopes, and an identity of their own shaped by life experience. That should be understood and respected when they come to your home.
They may have habits that are familiar and make them feel comfortable that don’t fit with the normal day to day of your home. Take change slowly. They will be seeking normalcy in a time where a lot has changed.
If they watch TV a lot, let them watch TV. After a while of building a new routine work towards reducing the time spent watching it. They probably didn’t sit down to meals with their family at home, so sitting at your family’s dinner table for meals will most likely feel really weird to them. If they eat alone for a while that’s okay, you can work up to eating together in the same space.
8. The Ultimate Tip
Talk to your foster teen. All of the tips we have mentioned are good baselines and trusted opinions of former foster youth and foster parents, but nothing substitutes connection and being present with one another.
Maybe they are extroverted and want human connection, maybe they have interests in common with your other children or even you. But you won’t know unless you ask! Even if they don’t open up right away, keep trying.
We love our foster families, kids and teens. There is so much good that comes from being a foster parent and changing a child’s life. We are here to help you every step of the way from your very first questions through the time you are a foster parent.
If you have questions about foster care and want to learn more, you can download our eBook below or reach out to our offices. We’d love to speak with you.