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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 enter residential care (commonly 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 worked for me. After having an older son for several months, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to clean himself even though he was in the bathroom for a long time. One day I had the idea to get a plastic doll and she and I gave her a bath. I really had no idea how to give a baby a bath. Things we take for granted like lathering a towel, going from head to toe, and drying off were never taught. She did much better after learning to bathe the doll. Also, I taught her how to bathe a baby, which she will probably have to do one day.
2. Eating problems, especially hoarding and binge eating. Keep in mind that foster children often come from homes where 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 in the trash.
Another problem is that foster children may never have learned the cycle of trusting bonds during childhood. The trust-bond cycle is the basic marker for learning to trust. The baby is hungry and crying. The caretaker comes to pick him up and feed him. Your needs are met. Babies in abusive and neglectful homes go hungry. They cry But maybe no one comes. Either someone comes and abuses them or points a bottle and leaves. This lack of basic confidence leads to eating and personality disorders.
It’s imperative that you make food available to foster children 24/7, but it’s okay to set limits. You don’t want a child to become obese, and you don’t want to spend $500 a week on groceries either. There are different thoughts on this. Some people say let them eat whatever they want, but set some limits, like all food must be eaten at the dining room table. Some people say make them a drawer or a cabinet. Some people say just planned meals and snacks.
After trial and error, here’s what worked for me and what I suggest: planning three meals and two healthy snacks. Tell the child that he is expected to eat at the table. If they don’t like what you’re having, say they can always have (say) a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese and crackers. Make it simple. You don’t have to cook multiple meals. In addition to the menu on offer, give the child a basket of their own in the kitchen and put healthy snacks in it that they like but not necessarily things that the child will feel the need to gorge on.
We once had a kid 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. He would eat it all and come back for more. She came to us very thin but she gained 25 pounds in the first month! We eventually 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 that no one else would eat it that began to make her trust that there would always be food available. Only then did he stop bingeing.
3. fear of the dark: Spending the night in an abusive or neglectful home can be terrifying for children. When they arrive at your house, put a night light on them 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 the coat on. Let them. Put a CD player in the foster child’s room and depending on their age (up to 12 or so), play soothing music and play the same CD every night. Eventually they will associate music with safety and sleep. It will take a long time to trust that the night is safe in your home.
Trust is learned so be trustworthy.
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