That first night that a child or young person moves into your home can be an anxious time for you, but even more so for them. They may feel safer, but still remain very nervous and uncomfortable with a new home. These feelings are completely normal and will ease off with time, but there are some ways you can prepare to provide that reassurance and create both a trusted environment and a sense of belonging for them.
Make a welcome book.
You and your family may know a lot about a young person’s background before they move in, yet they know very little about yours. This imbalance can cause anxiety for them, so a thorough welcome book they can flip through to learn about the home, each member of the family and those close to the family, and the surrounding area can really ease their anxiety. It could also include things such as family traditions, routines and hobbies. This is a gesture that can make a young person feel a little less on edge about what to expect. You can also customise the style of this book to suit the age of the child – and remember to include lots of photos!
Leave out a welcome box of essentials.
A welcome box to go along with the book is also a good idea to ensure your new young person has everything they may need in terms of toiletries and essentials. They may find it embarrassing to ask for certain things, so providing it from the start, no questions asked, can ease nerves. For younger ones, a comforting gift like a cuddly toy can help, or for older ones a comfortable blanket or a journal to write in. If you know any information in terms of what they like, you can also tailor the box to include toys and games they may enjoy.
House tour and personalising their room.
After showing them around and demonstrating how to use the house facilities, it can be hugely beneficial to encourage young people to decorate their bedroom however they would like. For them, moving into a stranger’s home, it can often feel like their room is a temporary guest room that isn’t worth making their own since they may move again soon. You can help them feel safe and secure by stressing that the room belongs to them, and they should treat it as so.
A list of likes and dislikes.
You can also write a list of likes and dislikes with the child when they arrive and have some fun with it. For example, you can both write your top three favourite foods, colours, television programmes, games, places to visit and anything else you can think of! This is a great way to take the pressure off and get to know the child, plus the game can be a lot of fun if you do it together. Have some pens and paper available – and get them to draw some pictures!
Cook their first meals around foods they like.
Another good way to settle nerves is to make sure you’re offering foods that won’t be unfamiliar to your child or young person – something they are used to! If you don’t already know their favourite meal, ask them and make that for dinner, or ensure you have lots of options for them to choose from. If they are overwhelmed with the responsibility of choosing the meal, choose something simple!
Remind them that their belongings will always belong to them.
It helps to relax a child or young person when they are reminded that everything they’ve been given on arrival now permanently belongs to them. Whether it is toys, books or clothes, assure them that it’s all theirs to keep and nothing is borrowed. Even if you think this would be obvious, those who are in the foster care system often believe things may be taken off them. If they arrive with little, you can even offer to take them clothes shopping to buy clothes that fit their personal style.
No matter how much you prepare, the most important thing to remember is to be patient, calm and understanding with young people who are joining your family.