Last week, we dropped off our 5-year-old foster daughter for her first day of kindergarten.
She was so excited, and so nervous. And my wife and I were feeling those same emotions!
The thoughts were swirling in our heads:
Would she be okay?
Would her teacher know how to support her?
Would she be able to make friends with her classmates?
What will happen when she gets overwhelmed?
In our family, we have our foster daughter and her 4-year-old brother, as well as a 2-year-old biological daughter, so this was our first experience with “back to school” season overall!
I asked around The Forgotten Initiative’s office for some advice from people who have fostered school-aged kids, and I wanted to share with you some of the advice shared with me (along with some of the things I learned) to make the start of the school year great.
Whether you’ve started school already or not, I hope this advice is a support for you and your family!
1) Give extra focus to providing emotional safety at home.
Starting school is a lot. It’s a long day that requires a lot of energy and focus. Make sure to provide space for the child in your care to decompress after school, and prepare yourself for some extra emotional responses after such a big day. Help your kids regulate after school by providing space to read, do a favorite activity, or even just to talk about their day.
2) Give your kids permission to own their story.
The context for this conversation adjusts based on the age of the children in your care, but the important thing is to have the conversation. Help your child understand that they get to be in control of their story. If someone asks them a question they don’t want to answer, they get to choose the response and don’t have to share more about their story than they feel comfortable with. Particularly if the children we’re caring for don’t look like us, kids will often have questions.
3) Help your child know (or remember) what to expect from the day.
This was a big one for our daughter on her first couple days. We would simply have a conversation to help her know what to expect from the day. As an example, her school had a policy where parents were asked to drop kids off at the door rather than walking them all the way back to the classroom. We knew she was nervous, so we made sure she understood that was what would happen and that she knew where she was going. Another simple example since then has been sharing with her what’s on the menu for lunch each day so it’s not a surprise.
4) Take a partner stance with your child’s teacher(s).
Be proactive in introducing yourself to your child’s teachers. Share details that would be helpful in their interactions with your child so that they know how to better care for them at school. As an example, you might say, “My little one might need help getting to a place of regulation. If there’s space, we have found she can better process through drawing. Feel free to have her color a picture. She loves being able to put special drawings in her desk. She also loves to help! If there are ways she can be an extra help to you, that would mean a lot to her.”
5) Patience is key.
Patience is so important—for any parents, but also for foster parents. Getting back into the school schedule with a change in routine can be challenging. Factor this in by planning ahead as you are able. You get to establish new patterns that will help everyone. Pack the bag ahead of time. Get the snacks. Lay out the clothes. The more you have to rush, the less likely it is you’ll be able to stay emotionally stable yourself, which makes it difficult to support your child effectively.
The back to school season can be a lot, but with some intentionality and a lot of patience, it really can be great. We are cheering you on as you navigate the school year ahead!
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Austin and his wife, Larisa, are parents through foster care as well as biologically. In addition to supporting The Forgotten Initiative, Austin is the Founder of Savage Content Collective, a full-service content marketing agency.
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