Helping Adoptive and Foster Children Overcome Friendship Challenges

Post 2 in a 4 part series

In my previous blog post (, I shared the core and resulting secondary issues of why many foster and adoptive children struggle with friendships.  This post will give parents information on how to assist their child in overcoming some of these challenges.

It is helpful to remember that these problems are deep-seated.  Parents will need to be patient and often get assistance as they provide opportunities for their child to grow in the area of healthy friendships.

God designed us all with a need for close personal connections.  As tiring as it may be, remember that helping your child work to overcome these issues will allow them to develop into adults who have close bonds with others and the capacity to love and be loved.

Before we look into some solutions, let's review the core issues related to friendship challenges.  Most often they revolve around brain wiring, personality, attachment styles, and relational trauma.  Healing brain wiring, attachment styles, and relational trauma is often done in the context of safe and loving relationships.  It is vital that parents learn trust-based parenting techniques and positive discipline.

Parents fully accepting their child, having fun together, connecting before correcting, sharing power, and learning to manage their own intense emotions will allow the child to trust the parent.  In addition, if the parent is open, kind, and shares their thoughts and feelings, hopefully, over time, the child will begin to share their internal world with their parents.

Parents are not the only ones who can help heal the child.  Introducing your child to God and teaching them how they can be God's friend is vital.  In addition, healthy relationships with siblings, other family members, teachers, coaches, extended family, and close friends are also very beneficial.  Anyone who is an advocate and cheerleader for the child will help the child grow relationally.  Working with a professional counselor is often a necessary component in healing the underlying attachment and trauma wounds that result in friendship issues.

Brain wiring and personality differences sometimes just need to be accepted.  At other times, parents can help their child address these secondary issues.  We will discuss some tips below.

  1. Fear of rejection- Helping children express their fears, developing an understanding of their past, having the deep love of parents, and learning what God says about them are first steps in healing the fear of rejection.
  2. Anxiety- Helping children know their triggers and learn about emotions are vital in dealing with anxiety.  In addition, teaching the child how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and relax the body (through deep breathing or body-based relaxation techniques) if there is not a real threat will allow them to bring online their "thinking brain" and develop new healthy thoughts to replace the anxious ones.
  3. Self-disclosure- Modeling and explaining what and who to share the details about themselves with will benefit the child.
  4. Flexibility- Teaching the concept of the "wild card" in TBRI (Trust-Based Relational Intervention), being open to new things and not automatically saying "no" to new experiences, playing games in new ways, and reviewing the concepts of "rock brain" vs. "flexible mind" are all helpful in teaching flexibility.
  5. Empathy- Teaching about emotions and emotional expression, volunteering, reading books, asking questions about how others might be feeling, and sharing our own feelings are ways to teach empathy.
  6. Self-reflection- Teaching mindfulness skills, journaling, describing emotions and thoughts, expressing an interest in the child's ideas, and lovingly asking open-ended questions after events or play-dates are ways to teach self-reflection.
  7. Emotional expression- Observe and talk about how others express emotion in their facial expressions and body language.  Ask the child to self-reflect and notice how they are expressing their feelings with their facial expressions and body language.  Do their words and body language match?  Talking on "Facetime" is a great way to teach this!
  8. Values and judgments- Help your child to identify their values and ways of viewing other's behavior while also teaching them to prioritize loving people and extending grace over judging others.
  9. Triggers- Help the child to identify and be aware of triggers and threats to safety.
  10. Boundaries- Helping children learn that they are separate people and there is a space between them and others, teaching them to ask others if they can use their items, allowing the child to have an opinion, and respecting their ideas even if they are different than yours are great ways to teach the concept of boundaries.

If your child struggles with friendship issues, in addition to getting professional help, there are many things you can do to help your child.  Try to not let the challenges of past trauma or present difficulties leave you feeling discouraged.  We are all in the process of growth and change.  If we are open and willing, God will use us no matter what stage of life we are in to serve Him and spread his love!

God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other, passing on to others God's many kinds of blessings. 1 Peter 4:10

Renee is a life coach who specializes in working with foster and adoptive families.  She is based in Louisville, Kentucky but she works with clients all over the world through internet coaching.  You can book a free 30-minute consultation with her here  ( or find out more information about her services at

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