By Mandy Tennity

Do you remember the smell of paste, crayons and construction paper — maybe using a paper doily to make a Mother’s Day card? Who did you give your masterpiece to? For foster youth, this can be a daunting situation. The child loves her birth mom and wants to give her card to her during their next visit, but when she gets home and shows her foster mother what she made in school, she doesn’t want to hurt her feelings by not having a card. Does she write “mom,” “birth mom,” or “foster mom” on the card? A child can end up so overwhelmed and frustrated that the joy and excitement of creating the card can be diminished.

Here are some tips to help alleviate the stress of these family-oriented holidays and help kids express their feelings in a healthy manner:

  • Talk to the child prior to the holiday. Ask him or her what they have done in the past for the holiday — do they have any traditions? Talk with their workers to identify possible triggers to the day.
  • If other kids are living in the foster home, have a family talk about it. What would make everyone feel good? What should be done on that day? Have a clear plan, so everyone’s voices can be heard.
  • Encourage the youth to express his love and appreciation for all of his “mothers” in a positive manner. Don’t force expectations.
  • Talk with DSS about what might be appropriate regarding contact with the biological mother. Discuss what a visit or phone call should look like. Let DSS know about the child’s preferences for the visit or call.
  • If it is a younger child, talk to the teacher about what projects the class might be doing. Develop a plan to set the youth up for success.

At the end of the day, we always want to encourage kids to express love. How and to whom they express it is up to them. Our job as adults working and caring for youth is to provide them with the tools to make decisions they feel good about. Healthy expressions of love are an important foundation for many relationships to come and the basis for a caring and genuine society.

Mandy Tennity is the foster parent engagement specialist for LFSVA’s Treatment Foster Care program. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent in the Richmond or Tidewater area, contact Mandy at