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Three Common Issues in Foster Children: Hygiene, Eating Problems and Fear of the Dark
Children who have been abused and neglected often have similar problems when they come out of home care (often called foster care).
Here are three problems a foster parent might encounter and some possible solutions.
1. Hygiene: The child may not know how to bathe and brush his teeth. If they are small, you can help them. If they are older, I have a suggestion that has worked for me. After having an older child for several months, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t seem to clean herself even though she had been in the bathroom for a long time. One day I had an idea to get a plastic doll and she and I bathed it. She really had no idea how to bathe the baby. Things we take for granted like lathering up a washcloth, going from head to toe and drying off were never taught. She did much better after learning to bathe the doll. Plus, I taught her how to bathe a baby, something she’ll probably have to do one day.
2. Problems with Eating, especially hoarding and bingeing. Remember that foster children often come from homes in which food was not readily available, so hoarding and gorging could occur. You might find food hidden in their rooms, maybe even food that doesn’t make any sense, like 10 moldy bologna sandwiches under a mattress or food you threw out in the trash.
Another issue is that foster children may never have learned the trust-bond cycle in childhood. The trust-bond cycle is the basic sign of learning to trust. The baby is hungry and it cries. The caregiver comes to pick it up and feed it. Its needs are met. Babies in abusive and neglectful homes go hungry. They are crying. But maybe no one comes. Either someone comes and abuses them or props up a bottle and leaves. This lack of basic confidence leads to eating and personality disorders.
It’s imperative that you provide food for childcare 24/7, but it’s okay to set limits. You don’t want a child to become obese and you also don’t want to spend $500 a week on groceries. There are different thoughts on this. Some people say they should eat whatever they want, but set some limits, like all food must be eaten at the dining room. Some people say to make a chest or a cabinet for them. Some people say just planned meals and snacks.
After trial and error, here’s what worked for me and what I suggest: Plan three meals and two healthy snacks. Tell the child that they will eat at the table. If they don’t like what you have, say they always have (for example) a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese and crackers. Keep it simple. You don’t have to cook multiple meals. In addition to the suggested menu, give the child their own basket in the kitchen and put snacks in it that are healthy and they like but not necessarily things that the child will feel the need to gorge on.
We once had a child who wanted to eat all the time and hoard food. We started with a big basket of goodies in the fridge and on the counter. She would eat it all and come back for more. She came to us very thin but gained 25 pounds in the first month! Eventually we learned that if we put applesauce and Cheerios in the basket, she would eat it if she was really hungry but not if she wasn’t hungry. It was the knowledge that it was always there and no one else would eat it that began to make her confident that there would always be food available. Only then did she stop freaking out.
3. fear of the dark: Nighttime in an abusive or neglectful home can be terrifying for children. When they come to your home, provide a night light or let them sleep with the lights on. Keep the light on in the bedroom. Let them sleep with their clothes on if they want. Girls may want to sleep in a bra. They may want extra blankets or even sleep with their coat on. Let them. Place a CD player in the foster child’s room and depending on their age (up to 12 or older), put on soothing music and play the same CD every night. They will later associate the music with safety and sleep. It will take a long time to trust that night time is safe in your home.
Trust is learned so be trustworthy.
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