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How to Be a Great Foster Parent

Week 4: Great Foster Parents Use a Variety of Child Discipline Techniques

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Parenting Class Quick Links: Index | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5

What You'll Learn This Week

  1. The difference between child discipline and punishment.
  2. How parenting a foster child can be different and challenging when compared to children who have not suffered abuse and neglect.
  3. Tips for handling challenging foster child behaviors and issues.

What Is the Difference between Discipline and Punishment?

These two words are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between them. Discipline means to teach. Punishment means to punish. When we use child discipline techniques as foster parents we are attempting to teach our foster children new ways to handle emotions and manage their own behaviors. This will also help in our attempts to form attachments with the children as well as help them to learn to trust us as adult caretakers.

Punishment is often more about the foster parents anger and disappointment than about the child and the child's need to learn. The use of such punishments may also destroy the very bond we are trying to create with a foster child.

Parenting Children Who Have Been Abused and Neglected Is Different

I have trained many people to be foster parents. I often hear new foster parents say that since they have parented before, they have few concerns or questions about foster parenting. Please know that parenting a child who has experienced abuse and neglect will require new and different parenting skills and techniques. It is not the same as parenting a child you have raised from birth. The techniques that worked on your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, may not work on a foster child. When it comes to foster children, their behavior is often being driven by something bigger. A child that lies and steals may feel that they need to do so in order to survive. The motivation behind the behavior is much bigger and deeper.

I feel that each parent must decide what is best for their child and make a decision on the best child discipline method. However, it is important to point out that the use of corporal punishment, like spankings, on foster children is usually not effective in changing unwanted behaviors. Remember:

  • The child may have a high pain tolerance due to abuse.
  • Physical punishment may cause the child flash backs and more anxiety.
  • Physical punishment may hurt the child's ability to attach and trust you.
  • Punishment may not teach the child new behaviors.
  • Physical punishment is usually against foster agency policy.

Tips for Handling Challenging Foster Child Behaviors and Issues.

  • Try to focus on the child's strengths.
  • Create a sticker chart to focus on what the child does well as well as things that the child needs to improve upon. So, if the child does well at remembering to brush his teeth, add that to the chart as well as the need to focus on not using foul language at school.
  • Break things down until the child is successful. If the child can't go all day without cussing, perhaps you need to focus on half a day, or even hour to hour until the child can earn a sticker for making the goal.
  • Create a safety plan for behaviors that may be more of a concern. Make sure that the safety plan focuses on specifics and addresses as many areas of concern as possible.
  • Utilize time outs for children and parents. Sometimes we just need a break from the chaos too.
  • Ignoring some behavior may be the best bet. If it's not dangerous to the child or anyone else, ignore and save your sanity.
  • Remember to document challenging behaviors and even when and how a foster child is disciplined. Some foster parents utilize a calendar to note these behaviors.
  • Know when you need to get professional help, and don't blame yourself or think it's a lack of skill when you need extra help as foster parents. A therapist may have other ideas on how to manage challenging behaviors.

This Week's Assignment: Seek Out Advice from Experienced Foster Parents

Make a list of some behaviors that you may find challenging or have found challenging since becoming a foster parent. Ask your foster care social worker for a few names of established foster parents who would make a great buddy family and wouldn't mind mentoring you. Ask your buddy foster families for child discipline techniques that have worked in their home. Know that you may have to tweak for different situations, but having a "buffet of child discipline techniques," as my friend calls it, is a good idea.

Next make a list of the new child discipline ideas that you've gained from your new friends. Keep this list handy, there will be times when you are left grasping for ideas on how to handle a new situation.

Share with other foster parents what is served on your "buffet of discipline" or what you've learned from other foster parents.

Make sure to read the articles in our "Recommended Reading List" as well.

Recommended Articles in This Week's Lesson

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