Three Common Problems in Foster Children: Hygiene, Eating Problems, and Fear of the Dark
Children who have been abused and neglected often have similar problems when they receive care outside the home (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 child for several months, she couldn’t understand why she didn’t seem to clean herself even though she was in the bathroom for a long time. One day I came up with the idea of getting a plastic doll and she and I gave it a bath. He really had no idea how to bathe the baby. Things we take for granted – like lathering a washcloth, going from head to toe, and drying off – were never taught. She did much better after learning how to bathe the doll. Also, I taught her how to bathe a baby, something she will probably need to do one day.
2. Eating problems, especially hoarding and bingeing. Be aware that foster children often come from homes where food was not available, so hoarding and overcrowding could occur. You can find food hidden in your rooms, maybe even food that doesn’t make any sense, like 10 moldy bologna sandwiches under a mattress or food that you threw away.
Another problem is that foster children may never have learned the bonding cycle in childhood. The trust-bond cycle is the basic marker for learning to trust. The baby is hungry and cries. The caretaker comes to pick him up and feed him. Your needs are met. Babies in abusive and neglectful homes are hungry. They cry. But maybe no one will come. Either someone comes and abuses them or puts down a bottle and leaves. This basic lack of 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. There are different thoughts on this. Some people say to let them eat whatever they want, but they set some limits, such as that all food should be eaten at the dining room table. Some people say to make them a drawer or a closet. Some people say only planned meals and snacks.
After trial and error, here is what worked for me and what I suggest: Plan three healthy meals and two snacks. Tell the child that he is expected to eat at the table. If they don’t like what you’re eating, tell them they can always have (for example) a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheese and crackers. Keep it simple. It is not necessary to cook multiple meals. In addition to the menu on offer, give the child a basket of his own in the kitchen and put in it snacks that are healthy and that he likes, but not necessarily things that the child feels 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. He would eat it all and come back for more. She came 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 them if she was really hungry, but she wouldn’t eat them if she wasn’t hungry. It was the knowledge that it was always there and that no one else was going to eat it that began to make her trust that food would always be available. Only then did he stop binge eating.
3. Fear of the dark: The night in an abusive or neglectful home can terrify children. When they come to your home, provide a nightlight 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 a coat on. Leave them. Put a CD player in the foster child’s room and, depending on his age (up to about 12 years old), put on soft music and play the same CD every night. Eventually they will associate music with security and sleep. It will take a long time to trust that the night is safe in your home.
Trust is learned, so be trustworthy.