3 Ways to Foster a Connected Family

If you have been a foster parent for any length of time, you have surely learned that foster parenting is both the best and the hardest thing you’ve ever done. The layers of dynamics and stress that go along with inviting strangers into your home and trying to provide a nurturing environment where they can heal and grow, while continuing to carry around in their bodies and brains the effects of trauma and neglect, is no small feat. To foster parent well requires a significant amount of intention, effort, and work.

Flourishing as a foster family does not happen naturally.

Recently, I invited trauma and adoption therapist Lesley Joy Ritchie to be our guest for a Flourishing Foster Parent coaching call, and she said something that was so important: despite how hard it is, and despite how stressed out we can be much of the time, it is vital that we find a way to connect and enjoy one another every day.

This is much easier said than done.

When you deal with challenging behaviors on a daily basis—lying, tantrums, oppositional or defiant behavior, violence, etc.—it can be very tempting to, in Lesley’s words, “consequence all of the joy out of life.” But that is the most counter-productive thing we can do if we want to help our kids heal and grow emotionally healthy. In fact, one of the hardest parts of trauma-informed parenting is recognizing that, often times, when our instincts tell us to issue a consequence for unacceptable behavior, what our child really needs is an opportunity to connect.

I confess that I have not done well with this over the years. I am someone who is naturally inclined to cancel fun activities as punishment, rather than do the work of letting natural consequences do the teaching. As trauma therapist and fellow foster-adoptive mother Dena Johnson said on another FFP coaching call, “We all want our pound of flesh!” Sometimes it feels good to punish a child who has given us a hard time—but it doesn’t help solve the root cause of their hard behavior.

One of the ways I have attempted to address my own weakness in this area is to create a weekly rhythm of family life that has built-in, non-negotiable opportunities for connection. This way, even if I’m frustrated with one of my kids or a child has really blown it, we still have opportunities to connect, whether we feel like it or not. Here they are!

Family Meals. We eat dinner together every night as a family. It’s one of our stated expectations when new children join our home—we make it clear that everyone is expected to come to the dinner table when the dinner bell rings (yes, I use a dinner bell). If you have an older child who spends most of her time alone in her room, this is one way to guarantee connection with her every day, which is vital if you find it hard to wade through teenage hostility (or even just the laundry on the floor) to connect. We always try to have at least one item on the table that everyone likes (rice, baked potatoes, or bread are staple dinner items, as well as Caesar salad, which everyone in our family likes) and we encourage, but don’t insist, that everyone try everything being offered. Sometimes, we use conversational prompts (such as these from The Family Dinner Project) or just let the chatter run wild. It’s loud, it’s messy—and it’s important to helping the family gather and see one another every day.

Family Movie Night. Every Friday night, we have a Family Movie Night, when we order pizza and watch a movie together. It can be challenging to find movies that appeal to everyone, as our kids range in age from 5-17, but we have managed to do a pretty good job for the most part. There are great Disney Pixar films of course, which are enjoyable for all ages, and we’ve loved introducing some old favorites from our childhood as well (we recently watched Escape to Witch Mountain, which I had forgotten was about two siblings in foster care). The kids and adults always look forward to it, and it’s the one time each week when we are all guaranteed to be gathered together in one room sharing the same activity. Also, we never take away Family Movie Night as a consequence. It’s a vital part of building family connections.

Family Meeting. Once a week, usually on Sundays, we hold a Family Meeting. I have written about our Family Meeting here and shared on YouTube here. (Full disclosure: this has been less structured since the time of quarantine began, as we are together all the time and connecting more throughout the week. That said, my husband and I just committed to restarting the more structured meetings again). Having a time to connect with the whole family, share compliments and appreciations, play board games together, hand out allowance, and review calendar items so everyone is aware of what’s coming up in the week is invaluable fostering family connection and a healthy overall rhythm of family life. We see a huge difference when we skip family meetings.

These are just three things we do consistently to ensure that opportunities to connect happen every week. For kids who come from highly dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems, the consistency of these positive connections works wonders. It also provides good opportunities to model clear communication, organization, preparation, and planning. And since more is caught than taught, we see our kids imitating the skills they absorb in family meetings, from financial management (we give allowance, but insist that 10% go into a savings account and 10% go into a giving jar) to time management (our kids all understand how to read a calendar and are empowered to consult the family schedule when they wonder what’s happening the the week ahead).

What are some ways you foster connection in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash

Do You Know About Cooperative Board Games?

I first learned about cooperative board games a few years back, and I was a little slow on the uptick. Until recent years, I have always been a pretty competitive person. A game without a clear winner? What’s the point in that?!

Now that I have children and routinely face the reality of rabid sibling strife, I totally see the point.

In a cooperative board game, players work together in order to achieve a goal, either winning or losing as a group. As the name suggests, cooperative games stress cooperation over competition. Those playing the game are the team. They either win together or lose together, but either way, they’re all in it together.

Sibling rivalry exists in most families with more than one child. This is a fact. Even the healthiest families often deal with challenging sibling dynamics.

But when children have experienced neglect or trauma, their need for attention and empowerment can be even greater. As we have struggled with significant conflict between siblings—both biological siblings and foster siblings—we have found that playing cooperative games has been a great way to build connections and laugh together minus the competition of traditional board games.

Cooperative games are also a really positive way to connect with your child. While it’s fun to play Candyland or Connect 4 with them, it’s not as much fun for them if they lose. With a cooperative game, they are never the only “loser.”

Here are five of my favorite cooperative games. They are all aimed at younger children, but when we play together as a family, everyone has fun.

  1. Outfoxed. This is my favorite and the one that everyone young and old enjoys. It’s a “whodunit” game where players collect clues and solve a crime. This is something we often give as birthday presents for kids between 5-9, but our four-year-old can totally play it too.
  2. Hoot, Owl, Hoot. This is great for little ones. The game maker recommends it for ages 4-8, but it works for 3-year-olds if they are playing with an adult who can coach them through the play.
  3. Race to the Treasure. I love playing this with all of my kids (ages 4-10). It involves strategy and cooperation, plus it teaches some geometry basics!
  4. Count Your Chickens. This is a great game for kids as little as three that reinforces counting and social skills.
  5. Silly Street. This is a game we love playing at Family Meeting! Everyone playing gets to be silly together. Laughter abounds when Mom and Dad are demonstrating how a kangaroo might do karate or standing like a flamingo. While there is a “winner” in the sense that one person reaches the end of the game first, we keep playing til everyone reaches the end, then we have a dance party!

I absolutely love cooperative games! How about you? Do you have any favorites to share?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” [Disclaimer Credit: Michael Hyatt]

12 Verses for Families

Our family holds a weekly Family Meeting. It’s one of our favorite things to do as a family and so much good comes of it! I go into great detail in this video if you want to know more about how we do it.

One of the things we do each week is read a passage of scripture from the Bible and discuss it as a family. We ask, “What does this look like for me? What does this look like in our family? What does this teach us about God? What does this teach us about ourselves?”

Here is a list of twelve verses/passages for families to use that focus on building faith, character, inter-personal relations, peacemaking efforts, and more. The Bible is full of rich wisdom, encouraging truth and practical tips for success in relationships, career and personal growth—these are just to get your family started!

  1. Colossians 4:6 – “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (ESV)
  2. Matthew 5:9 – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (NIV)
  3. Philippians 4:6 – “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (NLT)
  4. 1 John 4:7 – “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (ESV)
  5. Psalm 3:3 – “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (ESV)
  6. Psalm 18:2-3 – “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” (NIV)
  7. Micah 6:8 – “The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.” (CEV)
  8. Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV)
  9. Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Int he same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
  10. Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)
  11. Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)
  12. Romans 12:9-10 – “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 1Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”