Transitions are difficult for any child. A change in sleep schedule and routine can throw any child off. For foster children anxiety increases dramatically when they don’t know what to expect. Not knowing what’s next in their plan for the day has the potential to send them directly into survival mode. Giving them a clear, short outline of what is coming up for them can reduce anxiety and allow them to focus better at school.
Start mentioning the schedule change weeks out. Let your child know what time he will be getting up, or start having him get up at that time. Inform him of how he will be getting to school. Tell him about his teachers and what he will be learning. Make a plan for what he can do or who he can talk to if they are lost or confused. If at all possible, visit the school and each classroom he may be spending time in. As soon as it is available, go over his schedule in a fun positive way. Keep in mind that too much information may be overwhelming. Try to break each plan down to three parts. “In the morning you will wake up, get ready for school and then ride the bus,” or “when you get to school, you will get off the bus, go to Mr. Cason’s classroom and sit in your seat.” Breaking down the process makes the plan much more approachable.
Preparedness of school supplies can also reduce anxiety, if the child knows where and when to access them. Make a separate binder, pouch or folder for important school work and supplies. Have the child make these organizers with you. This not only builds your relationship as an attachment figure but it helps them remember, “this is where my pens are,” or “this is where my homework goes.”
Regardless of how much you plan with your child to be organized, don’t be disappointed if it all goes out the window by first period. Organization is simply meant to help prepare, not to add another expectation the child can do well at or fail.
Many children will not want to leave a guardian they feel dependent on. Develop a way for your child to feel connected to something that brings her peace even when she is apart. If she misses her home of origin, allow her to carry a memento from her birth family. If the attachment is with you, create something just you and she have. Paint two rocks together and agree to both keep the rocks on you. When she is missing you she can hold the rock and know that you also have yours, thus feeling connected and lowering her anxiety. Parents have done this with pieces of a blanket a child had as a baby, or pictures. The item doesn’t matter as much as the meaning you and the child give it.
Every day ask them how school went. Get in the routine of discussing three things that went well, even if you end up congratulating getting on the bus, getting off the bus and eating lunch. Celebrate small successes and create a winning streak for your foster child. School staff and teachers may not understand your child and school can easily become associated with negative feelings, especially if negative reports from school staff are the norm. Do what it takes to balance the scales and focus on the positive.
Take Care of Yourself!
With all this dedicated support, it is crucial that you take care of yourself. Make attainable goals for yourself, and celebrate your successes. You are likely the only one who knows why you chose to foster or adopt, your child’s history, how he reacts in certain situations and what is best for him. Advocate for staff to understand and know that your experience matters. Join groups on Facebook for support, laugh, cry, and know that you are a rock star!