10 Ways to Motivate a Foster Child During Challenging Times

Being in foster care is one the most challenging times in a child’s life, as they mourn the great loss of their parents, siblings, loved ones, and sometimes, their friends, while they all are still alive but apart. These children are forced to deal with uncertainties, anger, fear, and hopelessness, and don't know how to cope with these pent up emotions.

Some of these children's parents are still involved in their lives as they connect with them via telephone, social media, and weekly supervised or unsupervised visits. This often makes it even more difficult for these children to thrive, as they listen to promises from their family -- which most promises family members often fully know are just promises, that will likely not be kept -- while their children hold on to the hope they will be fulfilled. These unkept promises create a false set of beliefs about where they stand, their value to their loved ones, and how they should move forward with their lives.

How do we motivate these disappointed children during these challenging times?


As a foster parent, sometimes you feel like you are wasting your time, because no matter what you do for that child, he or she does not respond to you. You may struggle to understand, thinking, "How could this child be so excited about seeing his parents each week, when the the parent doesn’t do anything for them?" These thoughts make you feel unappreciated, knowing that you are the one that does everything for them. And let me tell you, as a foster mom, it has nothing to do with us. It is very hard for a child to let go from wanting to be with their parents or to stop talking about his biological parents. This is especially true of older foster children; remember:

  • It's not about you.

  • Foster children often find it very difficult to open up about their emotional pain.

  • Trust is difficult to come by after a lifetime of disappointment.

  • Talking about their parents may feel to them like betrayal.

  • Conflicting thoughts create disconnection between you and them.

  • Inner conflict often builds false hopes and confusion about their self-identity.


Using Mantras that apply to what you feel your child is going through is a great way to support your child, no matter what they are going through. It is important to have no expectations or set desire for an outcome of how the child received it or responds to you; just hold your thoughts in the clearest light, for him or her to experience love, joy, happiness, understanding, and a successful outcome. Mantras and words of encouragement let them know that you love them, no matter what they are going through because you see greatness in them, and very much want to support them and be a part of their success.

  • Write them a note of encouragement and put it in their book bag before school where they can easily find it.

  • Put a mantra or a note with words of encouragement on their bed before they get home from school.

  • Place a "sticky note" with words of love and encouragement on the bathroom mirror where they can see it every day.

  • Gift them a t-shirt or pin that includes meaningful words of empowerment.


Every human being -- child or adult -- wants to be seen, heard, and know that they are valued. Even though they may act like it doesn’t matter to them, know that it does. It matters to them that they are seen and acknowledged, so it’s beneficial and important for you to let them know that they are a blessing to you. Don't forget to give them daily affirmations, such as:

  • I love you.

  • I see you.

  • I hear you.

  • I feel your pain.

  • You are an amazing person.

  • You have incredible potential.

  • I see the ability in you to impact change for good.

  • You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

  • I see the hidden leader in you, waiting to be activated.

  • You are powerful.

  • I see in you the power to do more.

  • I see in you the power to overcome.

  • I see power within you that will amaze you of yourself of your own accomplishments.

  • I see you realizing and understanding that the only person that stands between you and achieving your dreams is YOU.

  • Let loose, for all of your dreams will become your reality because its your birthright.


Behaviors carry messages. They are defense mechanisms, the way they seek to cope with bad experiences or feelings. They are sometimes meant as barriers or to create a safe space, but either way, they carry emotional feelings and affects those that are involved. There are some ways that we can help foster children eliminate the bad behaviors that are creating conflicts by modelling and teaching good conflict conflict solution skills:

  • Use positive reinforcement when they make good choices.

  • Praise them for good behavior.

  • Role play to help them learn new ways to handle challenging situations and help them understand the impact of poor decisions.

  • Listen without judgement.

  • Encourage them to express their feelings in an appropriate manner.


Show kindness with the knowledge that sometimes they may reject it through verbal or nonverbal actions. But don’t let that stop you! Remain confident in your acts of kindness, because this is the best way you can teach them: by modeling kindness -- no what their behavior reflects that day or night. Continue to provide opportunities for them to show and receive kindness, and acknowledge their actions of kindness no matter how small they may seem, or how insignificant it might be. At dinner, perhaps make it a Gratitude Family Event by having them:

  • Share one thing they are thankful for right now;

  • Identify one way that they observed kindness being displayed that week; or

  • How they, themselves, displayed kindness to someone else that day, and how did they feel as a result.


Sometimes we base our beliefs on what was told to us before the child entered our home, and confuse the behaviors and outcomes we saw based upon preconceived notions of who they are. This can result in unnecessary actions such as medication adjustments. When in doubt, stay true to the core of what every human being soul requires: Self-Confidence. Teach your child how to step powerfully into boosting their own self-confidence as you:

  • Teach them how to question the "inner critic" that keeps them locked into perceived limitations.

  • Encourage them to do one thing everything every day that truly takes them out of their comfort zone.

  • Have them do one good thing each day that will help them to firmly believe in themselves.

  • Teach them how to create steps for daily "wins."

  • Make time to discuss with them one win they achieved during the course of their day or week and how it made them feel.

  • Remember that some of the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors we observe at home and in school are the unfortunate result of loss or lack of self-confidence.


Low self-esteem is influenced by the negative experiences they encounter throughout life. For the most part, low self-esteem stems from our relationships and how other people see and treat us. This is why the influence of our parents -- good or bad -- has the most significant impact on their life, and why we have to be clear in our understanding of how rejection, shame, lack of self-worth, feeling unloved, feeling like a failure limits them from expressing how they truly feel. Past experiences might make them feel as though they not ready to talk about their feelings, or they might not even know how to express their feelings. But please, don’t let that stop you from letting them know they are loved! Don't only tell them you love them, but make it one of of your priorities: show them that they are loved. Self image plays a major role in self-esteem.

  • Encourage them to dress nicely, in a way that reflects their best image of themselves.

  • Teach them how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

  • Take a picture of them and put it on your refrigerator or somewhere else in your house to let them know that they are an important part of your family.

  • Recognize their academic achievements by telling them how proud you are of them.

  • Share some of your own experiences and how you handled the situation to turn a challenging event into a learning experience.


Foster youth struggle deeply with little to no sense of self worth. They don’t see themselves are having value because they don’t feel worthy. They often put themselves in situations that are unhealthy for them because they don’t feel that they deserve to be treated well or with respect.

  • Help them create positive thoughts that infuse the belief that they are greater than their experiences.

  • Tell them they are human beings of great value and of incomprehensible worth.

  • Continue to teach them how to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

  • Instill in them the belief that the power of positive thinking can and will help them create positive change their lives.


It is often said that we shouldn’t have expectations, but I believe this is not true in all cases. Yes, we should have expectations for our children to let them know that we are emotionally invested in their success. Expecting them to set goals and work towards achieving them provides opportunities that will help them to explore and activate their creative genius. Encourage them to reach for greatness.

  • Tell your child you see the good in him or her.

  • Help them map out a plan for success, and check in often to see how it's going.

  • Let them know that you believe they have untapped potential, and why.

  • Show that you see their value and potential, even when they have difficulty seeing it for themselves.

  • Help them connect with their inner leader.

  • Support their aspirations to achieve success.

  • Remind them that they are fully capable of achieving their goals.

  • Support them on their journey even if they pretend or say they don't need us.


The power of your advocacy will activate the power of their potential. Standing up them tells them you are in their corner and that they are worthy of more, and that they have power over the decisions that will affect their future. They need to realize that although they don't have control over everything that may happen, they can take charge of their own actions and assume responsibility for much of their lives, including their educational goals. You can help when you:

  • Teach them how to take charge of their education.

  • Support them on their journey by help them to fall in love with learning.

  • Get them excited, motivated and empowered to know more.

  • Inspire them to overcome fears of not being smart enough by acknowledging that they’re smart and capable.

  • Show them how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Studies show that fear and lack of self confidence can be a life altering experiences, shifting one's mindset, causing them to lose the ability to become self-empowered and making them unwilling or unable to accept who they are without judgment. It is for these reasons that it is so important for us to continually reaffirm to them that they do matter.

We know that all of this is hard to remember, so we've created a convenient reference chart all that lists of these ideas in once place. Click here to download the PDF.

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All