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Sometimes It’s Hard to Emotionally Connect With Your Foster Child

For me, it has always been easy to connect with our current foster daughter. From the moment she stepped into our home, it felt like she’d always been there and would never leave. For my husband, however, the process took A LOT more time.

When our girl was first placed with us, she was really scared of men. The first time she got in trouble at school while she was with us, she was genuinely terrified to tell my husband. She crawled under the coffee table and hid while she sobbed.

Once we finally got her to talk to us, she said, “I’m afraid he’s going to whip me or cut me.”

That’s how scared she was to be near my husband, simply because he was a male. Imagine trying to make an emotional connection with someone who’s that scared of you.

So the process was slow. For a long time, I thought they would never connect with one another and that was really heartbreaking for me. With foster kids, you never know if they’ll be with you for two months or for the rest of their lives. If she only stayed a short time, I wanted her to learn in that time that men could be kind and trustworthy. If she stayed forever, I wanted her to have a deep relationship with him.

And for the first 3-4 months, I thought it would never, ever happen.

Talk about heartbreaking.

One day, I got into a… we’ll call it a heated discussion (haha)… with my husband about his lack of connection with her. I asked him, “How can you expect her to learn that men can be kind if you won’t even make eye contact with her or speak to her?”

And I will never forget his response because it opened my eyes so much.

He said, “I don’t make eye contact with her because it feels too personal. I don’t want to make her feel like I’m violating her space. And I’ve avoided forcing her to make eye contact with me for so long now that it feels awkward, and I don’t know how to overcome that. I don’t talk to her because I know she hates talking to me. I don’t hug her because the first time we hug should be initiated by her, not me. I never want to push her faster than she’s ready to be pushed because I want to show her that men can also be patient and respectful. If she’s not ready to have a relationship with me, yet, I can wait.”

Talk about eye opening!

I loved his response so much that I wish I could’ve shared it with everyone who wondered why he didn’t treat her the same as our biological daughters. He really was trying to let things happen on her terms.

So I spoke with our girl’s therapist about it. She could tell that our girl was struggling to connect with my husband, too, so we decided to work on it as a family.

She gave us incredible advice that has changed the game. She told my husband his job for the next week was to create a handshake with our foster daughter that was unique to them. They both had to have a part in creating the handshake, and they had to communicate while they worked on it.

She warned our girl ahead of time that it would be happening, and she also asked our girl to help initiate the homework if necessary.

It was hard for BOTH of them, but they finally got it worked out. It took SIX. LONG. DAYS.

She didn’t want to touch his hand, he didn’t want to force her to touch his hand, and neither of them knew how to start. Not to mention the fact that neither of them would look at each other in the eye and no one wanted to speak.

I thought I was going to die of impatience.

But somehow, they did it. And now, they have a handshake that is just for them, and the barrier of awkwardness has been broken.

Physical contact has been initiated (woo hoo! – maybe in a few years they’ll hug?) and they’ve learned how to speak to one another. I even heard our girl ask my husband a couple days ago if he would cook something for her.

That’s HUGE for her! She felt safe enough to ask him for something she wanted, even though it would inconvenience him.

Things are not perfect, obviously. There’s still a mountain to climb in their relationship, but we’ve finally found a starting point. My husband even drove her to school on her birthday and stopped to buy her a coffee on the way.

A whole car ride of just the two of them! And neither of them died – HA!

He’s starting to see all of the amazing quirks she has, and she is starting to see that he is a good father who just doesn’t have much confidence. The connection is happening, and it gives me hope that foster parents who are struggling really CAN connect to their foster children.

Sometimes It’s Hard to Emotionally Connect With Your Foster Child

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). Sometimes It’s Hard to Emotionally Connect With Your Foster Child. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Mar 2019
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