Coming into a new home can be an intimidating experience for a foster child – and creating a welcoming environment is one of the most helpful things a foster family can do. Parents set the stage for the relationships their foster children will develop within the family, but siblings play a vital role in helping a new arrival feel at home. Bonding with siblings can be tricky initially, but with the right encouragement fantastic relationships can be forged.
Creating a good relationship between foster and birth children can benefit both sides. Developing strong sibling bonds helps children learn cooperation and develop better social skills and conflict resolution. Siblings give one another a sense of connection and belonging that many foster children do not always have, and these relationships often carry on into adulthood. In fact, children with strong sibling bonds are more likely to have healthy and secure relationships with others as grown-ups.
How to help new siblings bond
As a foster parent, you play a vital role in helping to build these bonds – and there’s plenty you can do.
• Prepare your children before your foster child arrives
Discuss expectations and make sure your children know that it may take a while for their new sibling to feel comfortable or sociable. Come up with some ideas for how your children can help welcome their new foster sibling before their arrival so your children feel prepared.
• Give each child a safe space to retreat to
It’s important that young people can define their own boundaries and build a relationship in their own time.
Sometimes it’s a slow process, and sometimes it happens quickly – as foster carers Nicola and Lee and their 15-year-old birth son found out when they welcomed a 16-year-old foster son into their home.
“The boys got on from day one,” says Nicola. “They both have calm temperaments and were able to navigate living with someone new easily.”
Whether the bond happens quickly or slowly, allow your children to set the pace and make sure they each have a safe space to be alone when they need to.
• Take introductions slowly
Don’t expect your children to get on right away. Instead, focus on helping them find things in common so they can build a bond on their own.
• Create shared sibling experiences
Encourage your children and your new foster child to do things together, such as playing games or building things, can be brilliant sibling bonding activities. Nicola and Lee’s birth son is an avid martial arts competitor. When their foster son arrived, he joined in on activities like kickboxing.
“It was a great icebreaker,” says Nicola. “After a while he decided it wasn’t for him, but to be able to have an activity that they did together was brilliant and brought our foster son out of his shell.”
• Share family experiences
Similarly, the best ways for families to bond is through sharing the experience of doing something new. Try a ropes course, go crazy golfing, or take a family trip – the memories you create together will start to create shared experiences.
• Establish new traditions
Family traditions are a great way to create bonds, and you can help your foster child feel part of the family by starting new family traditions and rituals that include them. Some easy traditions to start include a weekly movie night, weekend trips to the park, sundaes on Sundays, etc.
• Focus on cooperation
To help build those initial bonds, get your children involved in activities that require them to work together, rather than compete against one another.
• Encourage your children to help one another
If one child is great at Maths, ask them to help their sibling. If another child is football-mad, get them to show their sibling some moves.
Giving siblings ways to help one another can build a nurturing relationship – and that help can be as simple as welcoming a new sibling into their friend group, as was the case for Nicola and Lee’s sons. Since they’re similar in age, their birth son was able to introduce their foster son to a group of friends to help him feel welcome.
“As time has gone on, our foster son has made groups of his own friends too,” Nicola says. “The boys spend time together frequently but are also very separate, which keeps a great balance.”
• Help your children talk through their emotions
Help them develop the language they’ll need to be able to talk through issues on their own by discussing feelings openly as a family. Take it slowly and be sensitive to the fact that your foster child may take a long time to open up. That’s okay – the more you model good emotional regulation as a family, the easier it will be for your children to learn these valuable skills.
Providing a safe home for a foster child can change their life forever. If you’re considering welcoming a child in need into your family, please get in touch with the Compass Fostering team to learn about the process and the support we offer our carers.