When you take in children from foster care, there are A LOT of rules and restrictions. One of those restrictions is no spanking or physical discipline (understandably so in a lot of cases) so we’ve had to come up with creative alternatives that actually work to keep our sanity and avoid having out-of-control kids.
This is our preferred method of discipline. Connecting the consequence to the action goes a long way with our foster kids who have likely never been taught about logical consequences. For example, if they make a mess, they clean it up (even the 1 and 2 year olds). I refuse to be their maid, and we want to teach them to care for and be responsible with the things they’ve been given. If they break it, they buy it. If they’re told to do something but choose to disobey and end up hurt, we don’t rescue them (unless it’s obviously life threatening). If they choose not to eat what’s on their plate, we don’t make special plates for them (barring any food issues we’re dealing with). If they can’t get along and play well with each other, they play by themselves. You get the idea.
For little things, like teaching manners or a rude tone of voice, we use do overs frequently. If they forget to say please or thank you or interrupt a conversation, I’ll stop and correct them and invite them to try it again the right way.
Although this isn’t technically a discipline technique, I think it’s worth mentioning. One of the first words we work on with littles is “sorry.” As our kids get bigger, we expand a simple “I’m sorry” to “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me.” We eventually reach a point where apologizing looks like this: “I’m sorry for _________. It was wrong because _____________. Next time I will ______________. Will you please forgive me?” This means that no child can just flippantly say she is sorry and keep on going. Apologizing in this way forces the child to think about what she did, why it was wrong, and how she can make a better choice next time. We think this thought process is so valuable in raising decent humans.
We place the child in a spot close to wear we are rather than isolating them. In our house, it’s the staircase. It’s a central location downstairs, and we can see the child from most rooms. This helps kids to not feel isolated or abandoned, yet still gives them time to sit and think on they’re own. Time in can also be executed in a slightly different way – instead of the child sitting on his own, he sits with you. We do a lot of this in public. We draw them in instead of sending them away, which communicates so much to kids who have been literally sent away, sometimes more than once. Used like this, time in can be used for short periods of time (similar to a time out) or even for full days. Some children benefit tremendously from staying by a parent’s side all day long, doing what the parent does. This has always been more of a reward for our attention-seeking kids, but some kids won’t find it to be the most fun thing in the world, and I’ve seen it used effectively in other homes.
We use time out if a child’s behavior gets physical (hitting, kicking, hurting other people, throwing himself around) and they need a safe space to throw their fit or if the child needs some space to calm down and get in control. We’ve also have kids that only act a certain way if he/she has an audience, and time out takes away their audience and thus the behavior stops relatively quickly. Honestly we try not to resort to time out too much with our foster kids because we don’t want them to ever feel isolated or alone, but in these limited circumstances we have found it to be more helpful than harmful.
Sometimes kids, especially boys, just need an outlet so I’ll tell them to go run around the backyard for awhile. I have found that it’s really hard for them to continue to throw a fit while they’re running. It also wears them out and can change their bad attitude into a better one or help them move on to the next thing instead of fixating on why they were throwing a fit in the first place. We also have a trampoline so I’m able to send them their too. They jump and bounce around and go crazy for a bit, get some alone time, and then they’re usually good as new.
Swinging seems to be so therapeutic somehow. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always noticed how it calms my kids down. Maybe it’s something close to being rocked. Whatever it is, if you have a play set in your yard, use it!
All our kids have chores to do, even the little littles. Occasionally some behavior will earn them an extra chore above and beyond what they’re required to do already. Or if the behavior was committed against another child in the home, the offending child will have to take over a chore for the child they injured or behaved badly to as a way to make amends. This only works if your kids dislike doing chores. All my kids have always loved chores, so unfortunately this rarely works for me.
For some kids, rewards are extremely motivating. I even have some kids who are motivated by rewards in some areas but not in others. For foster kids, since you don’t really know them super well unless they’ve been with you for a long time, it will take a lot of trial and error to see what rewards, if any, work. As rewards, we’ve used sticker charts, marbles in a jar, special treats, prizes, toys, special time with us, picking a movie to watch, time with a friend, skipping nap time, and staying up late.
Disciplining your foster kids (as with any child) is WORK. The thing that makes it interesting is that with your foster kids, you haven’t known them their whole lives. Sometimes you’ve only known them a matter of days or weeks! It takes parenting on the fly to a whole new level. Some kids will force you to constantly get creative and think outside the box, and then just hope and pray something works. I encourage you to seek the Lord’s wisdom in this area particularly, as well as the wisdom of foster parents who have gone before you. Their advice will be invaluable! And when non-foster parents tell you things like, “Oh my kid does that too,” ignore them. That might be true, but you and I both know two things – 1) their kid’s behavior isn’t rooted in trauma, and 2) they’ve been parenting that kid their whole life so it’s a completely different ball game.
Some people will say that your foster child has experienced so much trauma or has been so affected by drugs that they “can’t” behave a certain way. SO false. Will it take longer to learn? Possibly. Will it be frustrating for everyone involved? Probably. But can they learn eventually? Absolutely. We are raising these people to be adults in the real world someday, and no excuse, no matter how valid, will work. You have been entrusted with these humans for a short time or maybe forever, and while they’re yours, you should teach them well. Set the bar high and help them reach it. Stay the course and be consistent, and, Lord willing, you’ll find some method of discipline that works. Discipline, even for kids from hard places, is one of the most loving things you can do. The end game of consistent discipline is so worth it. It provides structure and predicability, which makes kids who have likely never had stability, feel safe and secure.
The ladies of the Babywise Friendly Blog Network are all blogging about discipline this week. Check them out on these days:
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