It’s been said that play is the work of children. And indeed, it’s through play that children learn. Play that involves multiple children is particularly important for learning social skills.
But children and youth in foster care often have missed out on some of the basic experiences other kids have had. For example, frequent moves may mean your foster son or daughter never had the opportunity to participate in things like scouts, youth sports, church groups or school clubs. These activities are important not only because they keep kids active and engaged in their communities, but they also teach them how to get along with others. It’s in these settings that young people often learn the basics of how to make friends.
As a foster parent, you can help your foster child catch up developmentally by providing opportunities to learn and practice good social skills. Much of this will happen naturally, as the other children in your family and neighborhood interact with your foster child. Don’t be surprised if your foster child has trouble following rules of games.
When you’re alone with him, talk with him about the give and take of play with others. Saying “I know how hard it is to wait your turn at kickball” can help him open up about his struggles. Brainstorm with him about how he might handle frustration in the future. Suggesting that “What if next time it’s hard to wait for your turn, you talk to one of the other kids about how you hope your team will score?” may help him better manage a difficult situation.
Board games are a great way to help kids learn social skills. During a game, you can show your foster child how to follow rules, how to be a graceful winner and a good loser. During the game, you can help her let you have a turn and gently remind her of the rules. Afterward, you can praise her successes (“I loved how you followed the rules when we played ‘Trouble’) and empathize with her frustrations (“I know it was really hard when you lost at ‘Sorry’ today. Let’s think about what you can do if you feel so upset the next time we play that game.”)
As a foster parent, you can help your foster child work through some of his or her challenges through play, all while having fun and building memories!