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How to Help Your Foster Child Develop a Sense of Identity

Forming a sense of identity is crucial for every developing child. As young people grow older, they begin to learn more about themselves and create a sense of who they are. Lots of factors can influence a child’s identity as they grow up, some of which include:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Hobbies
  • Friendships
  • Family

Naturally, this presents complications for foster children. Families play a critical role in identity development – in fact, most children start forming their identities based on family values or by watching how their family acts. Genetics also come into play, meaning a foster child is in a unique position. They have been taken out of one family situation and placed in another. Depending on their age, this can mean they begin their development in one family dynamic before ending up in one that’s completely different.

Consequently, it’s not surprising that nearly two-thirds of children in foster care have mental and behavioural health problems. Going through the process of being fostered can leave a child with serious emotional issues, impacting how they see themselves. As such, it can be hard for them to develop a true sense of identity.

When you choose to foster a child, you are responsible for supporting them through everything. With that in mind, what can you do to help your foster child with identity development?

Respect where they came from

Supporting a foster child means welcoming them into your home and your life. However, it doesn’t mean you should forget about or reject everything that happened before. Withholding information from your foster child about their origins or birth parents is not a good idea. For one, it leads to painful conversations later in life where they feel betrayed by you. From an identity development perspective, you’re also withholding key information that can help a child figure out who they are.

Ensure they know their origins and where they came from – particularly if they’re a different ethnicity from you. More than that, encourage them to look at their past and learn more about any different cultures that are lurking beneath. Sometimes, lifting the lid on their past can be all a foster child needs to truly figure out who they are.

Furthermore, you should consider seeking out any birth relatives that they might have. This could include cousins, aunts, grandparents, etc. A lot of foster children go through a phase where they don’t know who they are. They feel like a bit of an outcast at home, different to everyone else. Finding relatives and introducing them to your foster child can be a very helpful idea. It gives them a sense of belonging and they begin to learn more about themselves and develop a sense of personal identity.

Give them lots of freedom

If you are about to foster your first child, you might be inclined to encourage them to do certain things. You have hobbies that you enjoyed as a child, so you coax your child into following them. Similarly, you may have birth children who enjoy particular things. As a result, you’re encouraging your foster children to join in and explore the same things as them. It all feels harmless, but it can be bad for a child’s development.

You have to give a foster child as much freedom as possible to explore many different paths. Introduce them to new hobbies or things maybe you’ve never seen before. Let them find their own way instead of trying to guide them down a particular path. It’s not your fault; you’re just doing what you think is best for them. But, when it comes to developing a sense of identity, foster children need more freedom. They need to discover what they like or dislike, rather than having their foster parents tell them what they’re supposed to enjoy.

Praise your foster child

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool when supporting a foster child. You have to remember that being fostered is a difficult time for any young person. As happy as they might be to find a forever home, there will always be questions rattling away in their minds. Why am I in care? What’s wrong with me? These questions are natural, but they can make it difficult for foster kids to find an identity. They often feel lost or question who they are and if they’re good enough.

As their new foster parent, it’s your job to make them feel valued and appreciated. Praise your foster child all the time whenever they do something good. Let them know how loved and wanted they are – big them up when they do good in school or achieve something special. This really helps a child develop a sense of identity as they become more comfortable with who they are. Instead of doubting themselves and thinking badly about who they are, they begin to feel more confident and self-assured.

Talk to your child and be open

Always maintain an open dialogue with foster children. Let them know that you are available for chats whenever they like. Naturally, they could have loads of questions relating to adoption or their life before they were part of your family. It’s good to be open about things and encourage chats like these. Often, your foster child is just getting thoughts out of their head and into the world. This is really healthy as the talks can help them develop more self-esteem and a positive view of themselves.

Become a foster parent today!

There’s no denying that supporting a foster child can be challenging. Still, it’s a challenge that’s worth facing. The tips above will help any foster parent assist their child as they figure out who they are.

If you want to be a foster parent, it’s very important to partner with a reliable foster specialist. At Match Foster Care, we can help you navigate these tricky waters and support your family as you take a big step. Feel free to contact us today to see how we can help.