Written by Washington Foster Team
Routines are vital for alleviating stress and anxiety. It’s a lesson many of us learned this past year, with the pandemic upending long-standing routines and prompting us to create new ones to fit our new reality. So, it should come as no surprise that one of the keys to success when caring for foster children is to establish good routines that bring comfort and stability to their lives.
Giving structure to the days and weeks help foster children adjust to their new environment and create a sense of predictability. While every child is different and a tailored approach to routine-building is best, here are a few general tips to follow to set routines that will help your foster child thrive while in your care.
Write It Out.
With school, work, after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, and errands, the days can fill up quickly. It can be easy for meetings with social workers, visits with a foster child’s family, or any number of other events to creep up on you or, worse, fall through the cracks. Writing out a weekly or monthly schedule ensures nothing gets missed.
Try To Time Things Consistently.
Many foster children come from a chaotic environment. Even regular meals may not have been a guarantee. So foster kids tend to gravitate to consistent timing. As an example, always try to have breakfast at 8 a.m. or set dinnertime for 6:30 p.m. every evening. And make sure to establish a standard bedtime.
Get Into A Weekly Rhythm.
Just as days should have the same general cadence, so too should weeks. That holds true for weekdays — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings could be reserved for showers or bath time, for example — as well as weekends.
One foster parent, Robin, says that in her household, Saturdays are for cleaning and chores. Then Sundays are spent visiting with her parents and having fun playing out in the yard. If the chores don’t get done, though, their Sunday Funday doesn’t happen either.
Communicate Any Changes.
You don’t want to catch your foster children off-guard. Schedules not only create a sense of normalcy and predictability, but they also give children a sense of control over their days — something that likely would have been lacking from their life previously. So, make sure to communicate any necessary changes ahead of time.
Perhaps even give them a say in how to handle the scheduling shift. If a visit with their parents needs to be rescheduled, for instance, ask them how else they would like to spend that time.
Think About Your Own Routine.
Don’t forget about what you need — that is, your life may revolve around taking care of your foster children, but you’re hardly in a position to care for anyone if your needs aren’t met.
Do you have an evening gym class you carve out time for? Or do you like to start your day with a cup of coffee and some quiet time with nature? Find a way to work those into your days. You may even find that your foster child will want to join in and share those moments with you.
Be Ready For A Little Pushback.
Your foster kids will likely try to test the boundaries, especially if they’ve come from a very turbulent environment or have had multiple placements. They may be so used to the chaos, and structure may be so foreign, that they act out and try to create that familiar chaos in a new environment.
In those cases, it’s of the utmost importance to get the child settled and clear on the household routines, according to veteran foster mom, Cindy. And when there’s pushback, it’s equally important to stay calm and not engage. Let the rage, the tantrums, and the rebellion run their course.
For everyone — children and adults alike — routines help create order from chaos. They give individuals a sense of control and security, which, in turn, decreases stress. But it’s important to keep in mind that things may not always go according to plan.
And that’s OK.
The only constant is change. When changes happen, whether it affects one day, one week, or the foreseeable future — such as if an appointment switches from Mondays to Wednesdays or goes from one day a week to two — you’ll want to model good behaviors for pivoting and adjusting to that change.
Foster children, after all, are looking to you to set an example. A structured routine may be good, but it’s also valuable to learn how to deal with unexpected bumps in the road. So treat those as the learning opportunities they are and move forward together.
Take the first step towards exploring whether foster parenting is right for you. Enroll in our new eight-part webinar course on foster parenting, which covers everything from how you become a licensed foster parent to the complexities and everyday joys you will encounter while parenting. Click here to register now.