Parenting Vs Therapeutic Parenting
Foster Carer’s Experiences
For a long time we have been “parenting” our eight year old foster child, in a similar way to the way we “parented” our birth children. We know there have been slight differences – our birth children will tell you that. For a start we know that we have had much stricter boundaries with our foster child. We learnt quite early on at the age of four that she was constantly testing the boundaries, she would be on alert to see which adult she could play off against the other. We had to take the approach of working together, checking every decision with each other and backing one another up – but essentially sticking to the boundaries.
As time has gone on and the placement itself has become secure, we have never felt so insecure in our parenting skills. All the techniques we used in the early days, no longer work. Our foster child is a mastermind at control – whether it be with food, getting dressed, having a shower, doing her homework – she will find a way to control the situation. We now need a new approach, for the sake of our foster child but also for our own sanity, our birth children’s mental health and the general harmony in the household.
Sarah Naish in her book Therapeutic Parenting in a Nutshell (2016, Amazon, Produced in Association with Inspire Training Group, Part of Fostering Attachments Ltd.) offers a concise handbook explaining how therapeutic parenting works, why it is used, why it works and most importantly how to implement it. Naish very helpfully includes a quick reference chart – for those of us who have limited time to read a book, along with a list of video resources, web links, references and bibliography to other resources. She says that “by helping therapeutic parents and their supporters to gain a better understanding of therapeutic parenting, we can work more quickly and effectively towards improved outcomes for all of our children.”
We did not set out to be “therapeutic parents” but now that we have exhausted all our own parenting techniques we need to look for an alternative. Children who have experienced trauma in their lives are often wired differently. Parenting therapeutically gives the child a chance to recover from the traumas they have experienced, by developing new neurological pathways in the brain.
Naish goes on to outline how to implement therapeutic parenting by the use of empathy, routine, boundaries, playful response, conscious response and acceptance. She also very helpfully suggests methods to avoid (usually found in standard parenting techniques), these include: asking why, lengthy conversations about behaviour, over praising, avoiding surprises, spontaneity, reward charts etc.
She goes on to talk about additional techniques such as allowing the child to experience natural consequences, teaching the child to ‘show sorry’ rather than ‘saying sorry’ and ‘time in’ rather than ‘time out’.
With the exception of the time in vs time out (time out is as much for us as the child!), we are going to explore this method of parenting. We will need the support of those around us, including school and social services, if we want to get the most benefit from this technique. Naish says that “therapeutic parenting is most effective if the team around the child are on board.” It will be a whole new way of parenting and may feel like it is going against the grain of what feels natural. We hope that this new approach will give a better outcome for our foster child.