I had a few questions about hosting on a recent blog post, so I decided to put together a little list of tips. Most host organizations cover a good portion of this in their training, but I still wanted to put together a list of a few things I think are essential or I wish I’d given more thought to before hosting.
1. Don’t buy a ton of clothes beforehand. Stick to elastic/drawstring items and things that would fit multiple sizes like dresses, etc.
It’s really hard to predict your host child’s size, unless you have been provided with recent, accurate information, which is hard to come by. Many of the host kids are small, even extremely small, for their ages. However, some like Big L, are normal or even tall. It really depends on the kid, so unless you have recent, reliable information, it’s better to just buy a few things to get you through the first few days and then purchase other essentials once you know what size your host child is.
2. But, buy books and other language-specific items ahead of time — if you are aware of your child’s preferred language.
If you are ordering foreign language books, they can take a long time to arrive, as many are shipping from overseas. But, be sure to confirm what language your child speaks and/or prefers first. Big L spoke both Ukrainian and Russian, but had a preference for Ukrainian. For Latvian kids, most speak Latvian, although some are fluent in or prefer Russian. When buying books and such, it’s better to buy books that seem “young” for your host child, as they may not be reading at their reading level. We got Big L the Jesus Storybook Bible, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables and a couple of others.
3. A couple of small gifts are good, but don’t go overboard.
A couple of small gifts can break the ice with your host child. We met Big L at the airport with a necklace and a Russian/English pictorial dictionary. In retrospect, I think I would have saved the necklace for later and brought her a different more hands-on airport gift. The pictorial dictionary was good since it was both something to occupy her, but also a bit fun. Any sort of gift that might help break the ice is great too.
I caution about going overboard for reason #5 below.
4. Bring snacks and bottled water to the airport.
The host kids will have been traveling for 24+ hours straight at this point and providing refreshments is essential.
5. The first few days set the tone for hosting.
This is why I caution against too many gifts, or even taking your host child on a shopping spree right away. Host kids, who have had little experience with things like grocery shopping and other ordinary errands, can easily get the wrong impression if you buy or do too much too soon.
Spend the first few days investing in your host child, getting them used to your routine and how things work for your family. Then, once they have the routine down, introduce a few special things here and there. The same goes for any sort of special adventures you’re planning on taking your host child on. Delay these until later in the hosting, so they are thought of as a fun, special thing, not an everyday occurrence in your family.
Also plan for your child to be totally exhausted for the first few days– jet lag and culture shock/overwhelm. Big L slept until noon and didn’t really want to eat for the first 24hours. Totally normal.
6. Sink into the awkward.
After we picked Big L up at the airport, it felt SO awkward. I really wondered what we were doing. An experienced friend told me that yes, it would be awkward for the first couple of days. Knowing that awkward was normal helped. Instead of trying to dance around Big L, we were just ourselves and invited her into our world. If she said “no” to an activity, that was okay. She could sit on the sidelines and watch and we wouldn’t try to force her into participation or stop the activity because of her. Many kids just need a bit of time to observe before they jump into family life.
7. Organize a family ice-breaker.
Once your host child is well-rested, engage in a family silly-string or squirt gun fight! Or, for winter hosting, snowball fight! Pick a family member or two who will enjoy being the target, team up with your host kid and attack! This has been a great family bonding type of activity for us, just totally silly and everyone ends up laughing.
8. Plan dentist and eye exam appointments for part way through the visit.
Most hosting organizations want you to get your child these appointments. However, if you plan them too soon in, you may not have the trust built up in your child. And if you plan them too far out, it may be difficult to get any follow-up treatment (cavities filled, glasses, etc.) in time. A week or two in is best.
9. Think through how much screen-time you want to allow.
Screen time is a big issue with kids, as we all know. Your host kid may want to get on their social media to connect with friends. Some programs allow this, some do not (so double check with your coordinator first if you aren’t sure!). Particularly if you’re planning on adopting your host child, think through how much you want to allow and set the guidelines from the outset.
There are many pros and cons of allowing the social media connection. Homesick host kids can connect with their friends, or even just show you photos of their friends. But, it can also have a negative affect if their friends are jealous or not supportive of hosting. Or, they can just get sucked into their social media world and be pulled away from time with family.
10. Think creatively about physical affection.
This can be an awkward thing at first, until your host child gets to know you. And even once your host child is comfortable with it, find excuses to connect with your child, as they may have not had it in a long time or EVER. Most kids really need this, but it’s an awkward thing to start.
Ideas: at-home spa/salon day for girls with hair styling and nail painting, applying temporary tattoos, helping with sunscreen. Our family also did nightly footrubs with essential oils.
11. Treat your host child as younger than their chronological age, especially if they act that way.
If you have an older host child and also have younger kids at home, offer to do the same things you do for your younger kids for your host child. They may laugh, but some kids may take you up on it. Things like cutting up food, applying sunscreen, holding hands. Even if it seems totally awkward to you, remember that they’ve probably never had a parent to nurture them in that way and it’s priceless that they can now get it from you.
12. Make a list of family rules or expectations in your host child’s language.
This is a good thing to have posted in your child’s language, especially if you’re hosting a child who has not been hosted before. They may not be familiar with family life and having a clear list of rules can be really helpful for them to understand your expectations.
Example: in Eastern Europe, it is often necessary to throw toilet paper in the trash can instead of in the toilet. We put a little bathroom reminder in the bathroom along the lines of “toilet paper goes in the toilet, flush, then wash your hands.” It was just a friendly little reminder of our culture.
13. Encourage your host child with love notes.
We did a paper chain, one for each night of bible verses and words for encouragement for Big L. It was a way for her to understand how long she had left with us, but also be filled with encouragement as that flight home drew close. I’ve also heard of families just writing up words of encouragement and hiding them around the house for their host child to find. Either way, it’s a great way to fill your child with love. You can also sneak them into your child’s suitcase as they’re packing to leave.
Anything else you want to know about? Other tips from experienced host families?