Tips for Getting to Know a Teen You Are Fostering

The need for foster carers is great right now, and many people are stepping up to help. If you have spent some time with teens, you know that getting them to open up and talk to adults is not always easy. Below, we provide tips that can help foster carers communicate with their teens more effectively so they can get to know them better. These tips also apply to communicating with any young person.

Be Available, But Not in Their Face

In the 1990s, psychologists developed a communication style known as the “potted plant”.  This communication style entails being available and providing a consistent presence while not being right in the face of the person you are trying to communicate with. This communication style is very effective in teens who might not have had much support growing up, such as foster teens.

In addition to ensuring foster children know you are always available, being there for them is reassuring. It helps teens feel at ease and not under any pressure to talk unless they want to.

Use Open-ended Questions

How you ask questions will determine whether a teen provides short, one-word answers or whether they can open up and talk honestly and with enough depth that you get to know what they are thinking. The format of an open-ended question gives foster children the space and time they need to articulate their ideas and what they want to say. 

Foster carers should learn to balance being interested and curious with not being prying, which can cause foster children to close up. Many children in care do not want adults asking too many questions about their personal lives as memories of them typically involve complex emotions, many of which are negative.

Talk While Engaging in an Activity

Sometimes a conversation with a child in care can feel like an interrogation due to the setting and environment. To avoid this, find an activity you can do together that allows you to talk to them organically and for conversations to flow freely.

There are many activities to choose from depending on your foster child’s age, and you can even ask them what they are interested in. You can use your foster care allowance to pay for these activities as a foster carer. Activities that help everyone relax are most beneficial when communicating and understanding foster children.

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Unleash Their Expertise

Every teen has an interest in which they know much more than you. For example, they may understand technology much better than older foster carers. Once you know what they are knowledgeable about, ask for advice. Teens are more likely to open up and talk about the topics they care about and know about.

Foster carers can use such conversations as openings to get foster children to talk about themselves. As always, listen actively and do not pry so they do not close up, and you lose an opportunity to understand and bond with them.

Understanding and knowing a teenager is an interesting journey that all foster carers should be willing to take. Being considerate and understanding of what they have been through while finding ways to talk to and bond with them will go a long way in helping you understand them better.