You’ve decided to take on the fulfilling task of bringing a foster child into your home. You accounted for everything the child will need in your budget from clothing, food, extracurricular activities, etc., etc. One thing most new foster parents forget to account for is how will you administer discipline to your child in the event of inappropriate behavior?
Abuse, neglect, and trauma can lead to a variety of emotional, and behavioral issues, for children who live in the foster care system. Due to this, foster parents need to be careful in regards to the type of discipline they employ with their child. Most children in foster care have been exposed to domestic violence, physical abuse, or emotional abuse prior to being placed in foster care.
Children in foster care – like other children – require positive discipline that teaches them new skills. The word “discipline” may have a negative connotation to most people, but at its core, discipline is simply another word for training. We take comfort in the fact that our military; doctors; policeman; teachers; and a host of other professions have received training in their chosen profession, or discipline, to become excellent at what they do – your foster child shouldn’t be any different.
Here are a few discipline techniques that can be effective for children in foster care:
Ignore Mild Misbehavior
There’s an old adage that says, “don’t sweat the small stuff; and its all small stuff”. Remembering that several foster children come from harsh environments, don’t get agitated over a lack of table manners, or if your child has a tendency to interrupt adult conversation. A lot of their actions may stem from wanting your attention, or simply not knowing how to behave in a social setting. This is a great opportunity for you to pour into them and train them how to behave in social settings.
Praise Good Behavior
This tip is applicable to everyone, but especially foster children who may have gone years without hearing praise. To piggy back on the first point regarding ignoring mild misbehavior; try to catch your child being good and emphasize the behavior you appreciate.
So if your child is doing his homework quietly; rinses his plate off; picks his socks off the floor, you need to praise his efforts because that will give him the incentive to continue with the appropriate behavior. Also, pointing out good behavior will help him understand what expectations you have for him.
Give Your Foster Child Control
Try to avoid using the word “No” when dealing with your foster child. Instead of saying, “No playing outside until you finish your homework,” say, “When you finish your homework, you can watch tv for an hour.” The small difference in how you present an option to your foster child will give him the idea that he has control over how things happen to him.
You should offer your child a series of simple choices that will continue to enforce the idea that he has some say in his life. Ask, “Do you want to do your homework or take the trash out first?” or “Do you want green beans or peas with your fish?”.
Redirect His Attention
If you see your child throwing a tantrum and you want him to stop, ask him to help you finish cooking dinner. Similarly, if he’s upset because you said he can’t go to the park, remind him of something you’re planning to do next week. Using a little redirection can help you and your child avoid a lot of unnecessary power struggles.
Offer Rewards For Good Behavior
The reward system can be a very effective tool for kids of all ages. You have to take the time to find out what motivates your child because one child may respond well to a sticker chart; while another may respond well to another reward system. It is imperative that your child sees it as a reward system, and not as a punitive plan that will cause him to lose privileges.
Place Your Child In Time Out
This is an effective tool used in classrooms, as well as homes. Used effectively, this will get your child to engage in some self-reflection about the choices he makes, and the consequences that follow. It’s good to debrief with him afterwards and try to get some dialogue going about what can be done better next time. It’s important to choose the time out space carefully. While a time out chair may be appropriate for some kids, others may do better in a time out room.
No matter what tools you choose to use in disciplining your child, the most important thing to remember is consistency. Most parents subscribe to the old adage, “make your yes a yes; and your no a no”. None of the tools previously mentioned will be effective if your child knows he can make you alter your decision with a little extra push; or a well acted out tantrum.
When specific behavior problems arise, work with your foster child’s guardian, case manager, therapist and other caretakers to identify the best strategies for intervention. Consistency is often the key to helping children in foster care learn the skills they need to manage their behavior.