How to Help Your Adopted/Foster Child Feel Welcome in Your Home

Have you brought a child home through foster care or adoption?

Or are you just beginning the foster/adopt journey and want to make sure kiddos feel welcome in your home?

On The Whole House Podcast episode 77, How to Help Your Adopted/Foster Child Feel Welcome in Your Home, Kathleen and Kristin share some quotes from crowd-sourcing and some from experience.

What are some things you do to make your adopted/foster child feel at home?

“Top of it:Schedules.

Their own stuffed animal bought by us the day they arrive.

A light on at night.

An anthem.” – Paige Bowser

I asked Paige to explain the anthem, and she said, “A song. Let the older child pick a song that expresses what he feels. This becomes their anthem.”

“I’m not sure how to answer this. We have only had a couple of placements and they have been babies. We give hugs and talk softly. We give them a new blanket. We try to get to know them as soon as we can by watching carefully so they have a chance to teach us who they are, and then we meet them there.” – Rachel Eubank

“ I agree with Rachel. We first have to see how traumatized a child is. Comfort comes from different things for each child. I think the first thing we give each one is Space enough to catch their breath. An overwhelmed child can’t make healthy trusting connections. Honestly, You have to trickle your love and comfort Into their lives. They gradually begin to trust You. The second thing is a smile and words of comfort.” – Bob Eubank

Smiling is super important because kids will mirror you. Everyone feels stress when a kid is first coming into your home. Don’t let it show on your face. Smile.

Some things to consider when welcoming a child:

  • Toys. Some kiddos (mine included) have none when they come “home.”
  • Ownership. Having their own stuff when they come to your home is big deal.
  • A comfortable bed. Some kiddos have never had their own bed.
  • A backpack. We got L.L.Bean backpacks embroidered with the kids’ names when they came home through adoption.
  • Words of reassurance. We need to give words of reassurance such as, “So-and-so loved you so much that they bought you this gift.”

Consider the perspective of the child. Older kids are more aware of what is going on in the adoption/foster care arena, so they may be able to communicate their thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. Either way, it’s important to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. Consider what they need and do it for them instead of for yourself.

Ten Practices to help your adopted/foster Kiddo feel welcome:

1. Calm fears. If kids don’t feel safe, they will act out in survival mode. Be aware of their past, and keep an eye out for triggers. You’re not always going to know why a child is afraid, but they almost always have a reason.

We all have fears, and even as adults, we sometimes can’t figure out where they came from. One of my fears is riding in the back of a car. It took me a long time to trace the fear back to after my parents’ divorce, when my dad would come to pick us up, load us into the back seat of his car, and start driving without giving us any information about where we were going.

2. Adjust the surroundings. You may have to adjust your surroundings for a season to help your new kiddos feel more comfortable. To them, you are weird, and your house is weird.

Even if a child was removed from an unsafe home, that doesn’t mean his home of origin didn’t feel normal to him. He’s still connected to it. Be more flexible than you are used to being. It will be chaotic for a while, and that’s ok. Helping your child achieve felt safety is worth it.

3. Be aware the child may have never been alone. My college roommate adopted a sibling group of three who had never been alone. For the first few years, they refused to sleep in their own rooms, opting instead to all share the same bed.

In cases of neglect, on the other hand, a child may be a little too used to being alone. It’s important to be aware of this and gently coax them into family time together.

4. Be prepared to adjust your menu. When we brought our four home, the youngest had a cleft palate. Getting nutrients into him became my second career. He was underweight, and because of his limited food choices in the orphanage, he wasn’t interested in eating anything new. I bought a food processor and pureed a variety of foods to meet his nutritional needs. It was a challenge.

After his cleft-palate surgery, he lost the ground we had gained in eating new foods after his month of liquids. One day at lunch, I stayed at the table with him, trying to get him to eat. All the other kids had left the table. I was so frustrated, I cried. I called a friend for prayer. Her husband answered the phone, listened, and prayed with me. Food challenges are real.

Yours might not be that extreme, but you still have to be flexible. You may find out your new kiddos refuse to anything spicy or that they hate peanut butter sandwiches or something else that’s a staple in your house.

5. Your child may miss friends (as well as family, which is a given). Be sensitive to that. Let them talk, and don’t take it personally. Missing their bio family, their old friends, and other parts of their past is natural. It’s not a comment on your abilities or value as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s not even necessarily a reflection of their thoughts or feelings about you.

6. Make sure your kiddos have plenty of snacks they can get to. In the orphanage, my kids didn’t always have the food they needed when they needed it. Kids from neglectful homes may have had a similar experience. You can alleviate the fear by having a snack basket within easy reach that they can access whenever they want.

7. Be sensitive to the clothing needs and the types of clothes your kids want/need. My kids had never owned a pair of jeans, so jeans were the item they wanted first.

8. Understand that their belongings have meaning, but they may not understand the value of things. Our kid came with nothing. Some kids come with a blanket or stuffed animal. Those belongings are important to them, even if they seem insignificant to you.

Keep in mind that kids who have never owned anything may not know how to take care of things. They may let something float downstream because they lack cause-and-effect thinking and don’t think about the fact that the item cost money.

Also, understand that if you put a high value on things, that will be tested by these kiddos. Remind yourself: “People are more important than things.” I reminded myself of this aloud so much that my kids repeated it to back me when something got broken.

9. Remember that your kiddos may need extra supervision, online and otherwise. In The Case of the Missing Person (more on that below), Sera is messaging people without her parents’ supervision or permission. All kids need supervision, but kids from hard places can get into trouble quickly and have trouble spotting dangerous situations.

One of my kids, for instance, started a forest fire out of a simple lack of understanding that lighting a fire in the woods is dangerous. The orphanage didn’t give them much practical experience with the great outdoors.

10. Schedules are security. They let kids know what will happen next, which is especially important to kids who find themselves suddenly in unfamiliar surroundings with complete strangers, as foster kids do.

If you’re not a schedule type of person, don’t worry! You don’t have to break your day into inflexible half-hour increments with every second account for. Instead, you can implement a general “first this, then that” routine. For instance, “after breakfast, we do chores” or “after lunch, we take a nap.”

The video below is an advertisement but paints a realistic picture of what happens when foster children come into your home.

Remember the weird things you had to tell your kids?

If you had biological children before you fostered or adopted, then you know you have to tell kids things you never thought you would have to say — like “Don’t lick the bathroom floor” or “Don’t lick your sister.”

Remember that, and apply it to foster kids. You don’t know what they have been taught about hygiene or whether they know the stove is hot. They may have been taught things that are not acceptable in your family culture. Don’t blame and shame the child for where they came from. Grace. We all have our perceptions of good and bad.

Assume that they know nothing — not as though they are stupid, but in the sense that they weren’t raised in your family culture. The first few times they do something “wrong,” assume they really didn’t know any better. Don’t assume they are being intentionally defiant or trying to push your buttons. They may just not know that something is annoying, generally frowned upon, “gross,” or “bad.”

Also, be specific in your instruction. Remember that it’s easier for kids to process positive instructions (“Do this”) than negative ones (“Don’t do that”). Instead of saying what you don’t want them to do, take some of the guesswork out and let them know that they should do. For example, you could say, “Use your inside voice” instead of “Don’t yell!”

Excerpts From The Case of the Missing Person

In the podcast, we mentioned The Case of the Missing Person — a book I wrote about a girl named Sera who is adopted through the Colombian hosting program (more info about that program here). The following scene describes her thoughts on coming “home.”


“Let me show you your room, Sera,” Clare said. I mean Mom. I couldn’t get used to that. I had spent my first eleven years in Colombia without a mother. I had come to the Craven family as part of the Colombian hosting program. Through that program, I had stayed with the  Cravens for three weeks. The Cravens had decided to adopt me. I was glad. Most of the time.

Right now, I was scared out of my wits. There was no going back to Colombia now. It wasn’t perfect there, but it was all I had ever known. Now I was here in the U.S. in a home I would be in forever. FOREVER.

The house was nice. Clare liked white. A lot. White walls. White cabinets. White furniture. There were a few colors in pictures on the walls. Totally different from the bright colors in the orphanage. Sunshiny yellows. Oranges. Terracotta tile floors. My room was white too. White bunk beds. Those were new.

“What do you think?” Clare, I mean Mom, asked.

“It’s very white,” I said quietly.”


You can listen to the first chapter of The Case of the Missing Person below:

A Few Responses to some Flack we received on What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

Kristin and I take a few random moments in this week’s podcast episode and respond to some of the criticism we recieved about this article. One theme was that we shouldn’t see our adopted/foster kiddos as a ministry. Our response?

Whatever we put our hands to is a ministry.

We aren’t running around John 3:16 ing everyone. I didn’t  to adopt to have a ministry. I love my kids. They are a priority to me. I’m very protective of them. I don’t share their stories. Those are there own.

Another theme was – all parents need support to an extent.

All parents need support to an extent. Fostering is different. It’s harder. You can’t plan a vacation. You can’t take them to get a haircut. There is so much added stress. The visitation is planned according to the the availbility of bio family, not foster family or the child. Saturday-

Another theme was -Reunification should be the goal.

Culturally, that is not always a good goal anymore. Drugs, alcohol abuse is prevalent and our culture has changed.  There has been a moral downward shift in our culture

It is not always in the best interest of the child to be reunified. Keep children in mind first.

Creating a Peaceful Atmosphere in Your Home and Lessons From a Home Remodel

Do you love your home but have a few things you would like to update?

Want to add some color and comfort to your home but don’t know where to start?

Are you afraid of colors and tones?

Not sure what your overall style is?

Then this is for you!

This week on the podcast, Kathleen and special guest, Brandi Panson talk about having a peaceful atmosphere and lessons learned from a remodel. Below are just a few of the points discussed on the podcast, which you can listen here.

Once you start one project, it’s a domino effect.

Brandi started her home remodel with the intention of “just” redoing the floors. That led to a whole house remodel. One house project almost always leads to another, and once you start, it’s a domino effect. That’s part of why every project takes four times the amount of time you think it will.

There will always be trends.

It’s important to find out what your style is before you move forward with any project. Joanna Gaines ushered in a farmhouse style, but she is also quick to point out that there are many other styles. Trends will come and go, but style lasts forever. Just because something is on-trend doesn’t mean you need to have it in your house.

Figure out what your style is first. Then you will be able to pick out items for your home.

When you find something, you will know immediately whether it will fit in with your style or not.

For more info, check out Joanna Gaine’s book, Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave.

“Gaines sets out six core design styles — farmhouse, modern, rustic, industrial, traditional and boho — then delivers detailed definitions and keywords to help you hone in on the one that best represents you.” – housechronicle.com

Keep true to you! Your home should reflect you and not an HGTV celebrity.

Think with the end in mind.

If you don’t think with the end in mind, you will just end up with chaos. Don’t go on Pinterest until already have a pretty firm idea of what you want. Otherwise, you will begin to experience decision fatigue. If you have the end idea in mind and your style all set, then these decisions will fall into place. It will still take energy, but not as much as it would if you had no end goal.

That’s what Brandi was doing for four or five years — just buying a new couch or picture and contributing to the chaos.

And remember that just because you built it that way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

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Brandi’s before and after

It’s okay to ask for help!

Find someone who is good at design.

Brandi found Karen Jobe, who paints cabinets and has a flair for design. She helped Brandi find her style.

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Brandi’s recycled chair

Be okay with thinking outside the box.

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s okay to recycle and reuse something old to have a new look.
  • Kathleen painted her old oak floors with Annie Sloan Chalk paint and polyacrylic on top (read more here).
  • If your budget is tight, you can do some projects at home.
  • Go to vintage shops, antique stores, flea markets, and yard sales. Keep your style and end in mind while you shop.
  • Make home decor yourself. If you are afraid to go it alone, find a friend and do them together.

Color Tones matter

I say on the podcast that some friends ask me for advice on colors. We’ve all been in those homes that had different color tones in every room. That used to be me. Even though I laugh about it now, tones were something that scared me. I played around with color a lot. It was bright in my home and not light bright. I messed up a lot, but that’s okay — I learned.

Hundreds of gallons of paint later, I have a feel for what works (most of the time). I’m not the only one who felt this way.

“When Chip and I started taking on projects around Waco, I was new to the world of interior design. At the time choosing the right paint colors seemed to be the scariest decision of an entire renovation.” – Joanna Gaines

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Brandi’s cute cat on cute chair

“Understanding how colors interact is crucial when you set out to decorate your home. How colors interact, or color harmony will make any room look like it’s posing for a magazine. No matter how tolerant we are, some colors are just not meant to be used together, and they will literally feel like an eye-sore. On the other hand, there are groups of colors that make particularly appealing combinations, and luckily, there are some strict rules governing their selection. It all boils down to a color wheel and the basic color theory.” – visualhunt.com

The right tones create an atmosphere of peace. When your kids have more peace, you’ve hit the mark. We want our home to be beautiful and feel homey at the same time. Paint is a good — and relatively inexpensive — expensive place to start. You may not be able to do a remodel, but you can do something that makes you feel as if you have put your style into your home.

If you need a place to start – Declutter!

Clutter makes me feel anxious. How about you? Fortunately, decluttering is free! It brings peace with only a little sweat equity.

Sometimes we don’t need to do an extensive remodel or even paint. Some days we just need to find the floor. Decluttering is the least expensive (although still labor-intensive) fix. Some of us find that our home becomes beautiful, welcoming, and homey after we simply declutter!


Podcast Guest:

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I am Brandi Panson, 40-year-old wife to Paul, Mom to Luke and Maggie, business owner, chaos coordinator, animal lover, aerial enthusiast, and farmhouse fanatic!!

The best way to wrap all those titles up in a fancy bow? I am Brandi Panson… Mom-preneur.  Being a mom is my most valued position and comes first in everything I do. 😉

We live in Morgantown, West Virginia in our newly renovated twelve-year-old home.  Although we are incredibly busy, we still try to enjoy every moment as much as possible. You can follow me on several platforms:

Https://www.facebook.com/brandi.panson

Instagram @BrandiPanson

Https://www.snapchat.com/add/bpanson

www.Brandipanson.com

 

Strengthen Your Child’s Memories: Why Retell and Read Aloud

When my four of my children came “home” through adoption, we began to build memories together. Actually when we lived in the orphanage for a month, we began the memory building then. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time scientifically. I just practiced what I had done with the original three Guires which was lots of retelling. LOTS. I suppose it was a practice instituted by my mother who didn’t accept monosyllable answers to questions and read aloud to us (even as teens) on long road trips. I can’t take credit for what she did or that I carried it on to my children. It was part of my nurture. If someone in the family asked how the day went, she/he expected an answer with lots of words. Turns out, my parents were building my memory and emotional intelligence.

What is retelling?

Some call it narration. It’s when a child tells back to you either something they read or something that happened. This helps the child process the event or portion read and helps solidify the information in their brain. A young child or toddler may need lots of prompting or reassurances in the retelling. It’s also an opportunity to help the child put the event or story in place in their mind.

“You fell. That was scary. Are you okay now? Do you have a band-aid on now?”

“The car stopped pretty fast. You are right. It felt super scary.”

“Tell me what happened in the story. What happened to _____? Do you think he was happy or sad?”

 

” …children whose parents talk with them about their experiences tend to have better access to memories of those experiences. Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully.- The Whole-Brain Child

I naturally carried out the practice to the point where my children sometimes acted out their retelling and demanded I watch. Audrey once fell down some concrete stairs at the library after story-time and reenacted the fall for me as she told me how she fell. She was four years old. Audrey is a word lover, admittedly, probably due to her nurture and nature.

I quickly found out that my newbies, “home” from Poland, needed lots of extra help and cues in retelling and had difficulty remembering many of their experiences before becoming Guires. Part of the issue was obviously the language barrier. I began reading aloud to the new Guires in the orphanage before I grasped the science behind it.

We learn the language from hearing the language.

Our new four year old didn’t speak English and the Guire family spoke some rudimentary phrases in Polish with a great deal of assistance from our interpreter. She was being introduced to English one letter at a time and through listening to the read aloud. In the evenings, we did round two of read alouds with all the children. Gregory’s favorite was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we listened to it over until he began to repeat phrases.

Reading aloud is a great way to learn a new language, but it is also how we learn our native language. We learn a turn of a phrase, context, vocabulary and all through hearing the written word.  Reading aloud activates the brain.

 

“Children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home showed significantly greater activation of brain areas in a region of the left hemisphere called the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex. This brain area is “a watershed region, all about multisensory integration, integrating sound and then visual stimulation,” said the lead author, Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.” –www.blackenterprise.com

The brain is being activated in the left hemisphere, it is logical, literal (it likes words), and linear (it puts things in sequence and order) ( Read The Whole-Brain Child for more info on this).

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When a child hears more sophisticated language than he can speak, it stimulates the left hemisphere of the brain. His vocabulary grows. The more he hears, the more he knows.

“Since children acquire language primarily through the ear, the words they hear are central to their ability to understand and use words in speech and create meaning from words in print. If children don’t regularly hear new words in new contexts, they will not be able to add them to their mental storehouse of words. Moreover, children will be limited in their abilities to read and write based on the number of words and language structures they have in their minds (Orr 2000). “-www.education.com

Why read aloud? To grow the left hemisphere of the brain, increases vocabulary,  inables one to learn words in context, broadens verbal abilities and most of all,  helps you connect with your child (which also grows the brain, but that’s another post). So, grab a book, a comfy spot and read! Why allow or encourage kiddos to retell an event one hundred times? You are helping your child build memories and gain emotional intelligence.

Adoption and Valentine’s Day

Adoption. It used to be just a word to me. I had no idea what it meant. This Valentine’s Day, I think a post on adoption fits. Adoption is a pure form of love instituted before the world began.

 

What compelled me to board a plane, fly to a foreign country and adopt strangers?

God in His wisdom built the foundation of society on the family: Adam, Eve, a beautiful perfect home, and the command to be fruitful and multiply. Adam and Eve ate the only forbidden fruit and sin entered the world–the great divorce of heaven and earth. The first family was torn apart.  Adam and Eve were ripped from the garden and from the connection with their heavenly Father.

I huddled beside Anne under the gray metal desk, licking icing from sticky fingers. Cold fear seized me, wrapping its tenacious tendrils around my heart and setting up residence. Sweet donuts heightened my fear, supercharging my blood sugar.  

It was a frosty October evening in 1969. My father’s objection to the expulsion of fourteen black football players from Wyoming State University immersed my family in a bitter battle. My father hid us in his office to avoid the tumult on campus.

My parents’ lifestyle in the turbulent sixties and seventies had us on the run from one university town to another.  I toddled around with a sense of evil foreboding usually reserved for veterans of Vietnam.  My dad ranted and raved about the evils of our society with the stench of alcohol on his breath. We marched for Civil Rights and Dad campaigned for McCarthy. Watergate news coverage blared on the TV while Peter, Paul and Mary played on the stereo.  My childhood innocence and sense of wonder was lost.  Every anxious day, a new catastrophe loomed on the horizon. My father spent his days off sleeping off hangovers or nursing them with even more liquor. Although the record turntable sang “We Shall Overcome,” my family lived in an oppressive pit.

Then one day, my father burst out of the house like an angry hornet.  He jumped in the teal Suburban and sped down the lane. I sat on the back porch , staring at my new red sneakers. My brother ran after him yelling, “Dad, don’t leave!” Tears dripped down his dusty, sweaty cheeks.

My father was gone.  

This was my first exposure to the reality of the great divorce of heaven and earth. I was banished from the only Eden I had ever known, flawed as it was.  I was a hurt child, reaping the consequences of someone else’s life choices just as children all over the world– children who are  victims of circumstances, hunger, rejection, alcohol addiction, depression, rage, fear, punishments, loss of temper, war, famine, prostitution, and drugs.  The pit is the same in any language: Deep, dark, and putrid.  No matter what the cause of the rejection or abandonment, the feelings are the same. The devastation parallels Adam and Eve’s separation from the Heavenly Father.

All adoption is preceded by sin.  Just as my adoption as God’s child was prefaced by my sinful nature, all adoption is foreshadowed by the original sin.  The Father knew man would fall, iniquity would enter the world, satan would have dominion, families would fall apart, children would suffer.  What was His predetermined response to this?

“Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in

Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set

apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love.

For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed)

as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will

[because it pleased Him and was His kind intent].” -Ephesians 1:4-5, AMP

He sent His only beloved Son to restore the breach the great divorce had caused and then adopted us as His own children. I came to know the joy of that adoption for myself and had a heart for lost children, whether lost spiritually or physically. There is a big step, however, from having a desire to leaping into action.

Fast forward 25 Years

On chilly January day, I took our biological children, Audrey, Amerey, and Hunter (at the time, they were 11, 7, and four) out to lunch at the local Ponderosa Steakhouse that my husband managed. In the middle of the meal Jerry was summoned to his office to take a phone call. He returned with a Cheshire cat grin and a question that would change our lives forever.

“What is it?” I asked, immediately able to tell that something was up.

“Remember the adoption information we requested from Tracy?  She wants to know when we are going to complete the paperwork and if we would adopt a sibling group of three.  I told her I would have to ask my wife.”

“Well,” I stuttered, “Can we pray about it?”

In my heart I already knew we should adopt three.  What were my thoughts when I had watched that first international adoption video?  How could I just adopt one?  My mind raced. The January sun glaring through the window suddenly seemed tortuous.

My intellect bellowed, I cannot handle three more children!

My emotions answered, If three children need me to be their mommy I can’t say no.

“We believe Jesus in heavenly things- our adoption in Christ; so we follow Him in earthly things- the adoption of children. Without the theological aspects, the emphasis on adoption too easily is seen as mere charity. Without the missional aspect, the doctrine of adoption too easily is seen as a metaphor.”

– Russell Moore, Adopted for Life

What does adoption theology have to do with my reality? I already believed certain things about adoption that I’d studied in the Word and prayed about, but theology isn’t mine unless I put it into practice. It is just something inspiring I read on a blog or in a book. It was time to live my theology.

The rest is history. Jerry and I did adopt a sibling group of four. You can read the book, linked below or listen to a bit of our story on The Whole House Podcast, Episode 3, The Guire Adoption Story.

On this Valentines Day, I want to give a shout out to foster and adoptive parents everywhere! You rock! Really, you do. You are the living example of love lived out. Unconditionally. If I could buy every one of you a giant box of your favorite chocolates, I would! Thank you for living out the theology of adoption every day! Please comment if you have adopted children or you are a foster parent. Tell us a little of your story in a sentence or two!

 

*Most of this is an excerpt from my book A Positive Adoption Story: The Door from Theology to Reality. It’s a reprint of my first book with an added study guide in the back for personal study or for use with a support group. Email me – Positiveadoption@gmail.com if you have a support group and are interested in the book and study guide.

A Positive Adoption Story (4)