Discipline and foster carers

Taking control

Discipline and fostered children is not straight forward, as the usual forms of discipline including rewards and consequences are not appropriate or effective when working with fostered children. Caring for your own children and using effective discipline can be difficult and at times is not an easy task.

Coming home from a tiring day’s work to find the house a tip! Toys everywhere and you’ve asked time and time again for the kids to clean up their rooms, which most of the time lands on deaf ears. Fostered children are not used to the discipline based around respect, rewards and consequences.

The discipline they may have experienced may have been physical and emotionally abusive, which impacts on a child’s development negatively, providing the overwhelming message discipline hurts both physically and emotionally.

How do you discipline foster children? What do you do? Tell them to do it again, with a final warning attached? Threaten to ground them? Send them to bed early? Confiscate their favourite toy or do you end up having a tantrum?

What happens if you the carer has a tantrum? A cooling off period may be necessary and apologies to the children may be the order of the day.

Foster carers need to think and reflect about how they discipline and care for foster children, thinking about how they deal with difficult situations, so they can work with the challenges that are presented. Looking after fostered children is difficult enough, without the foster carer carrying some guilt about how they dealt with a disciplining situation inappropriately.

Discipline and different types of children

Thinking about how we discipline and work with challenging foster care situations is crucial, with the messages we provide to the foster children and what we can do to try and help is really important. Their past experiences of being parented and disciplined are not usually positive, with the messages they received from their parents being generally negative.

Overly Energetic Child

If a foster carer is caring for fostered child who is highly active, who is into everything, who tires you out, is wild, loses control and hates to be confined, a certain type of discipline and care is required.

The foster carer should not call them ‘wild, uncontrollable and destructive, instead use words such as ‘getting too excited, beginning to lose control or getting really fired up’. These are positive discipline words to use with the child and you would want to help them with these behaviours by intervening early, providing some quite distraction, time out or appropriate space to enable a the young person to release and express themselves. Straight forward discipline wont work with these types of children

Lack of Focus Child

The child the foster carer is working with gives up on things very easily, seems disinterested, cant handle delayed gratification and has a short attention span. Foster carers should not use terms such as lazy, waster, irresponsible, doesn’t try hard enough and a quitter.

Only positive discipline words and messages should be presented to a child of this character, as you are looking to try and help build on the positives. Encouragement is key, with avoiding criticism at all costs. You can help these children providing them with opportunities/projects broken down into small tasks/goals so the children can reach the desired goals/expectations and experience success.

Negative Moods

Is the child or young person generally negative about most things? Do they appear serious or unhappy most of the time; do they seem to look for the negatives before the positive? Do they not seem to be happy about anything?

If this is the fostered child you are caring for, consider the discipline your are using, never call them a whiner or whinger. Don’t have a go at them saying they are never grateful or satisfied with anything! Its about trying to understand the fostered child and understanding you cannot make things better for them overnight.

Your response and discipline needs to be neutral in a way, providing time for the young person to adjust and hopefully move forward in life, which more than likely will be a slow process.

Don’t take their responses personally, this is not about you the foster carer, it’s about them and how they are coping with what life has thrown at them. As a foster carer you need to go with the flow and recognise this is how the child is and you’re not going to change that, you are going to have to work with it.

Ignore as much of the negative temperament types of behaviours as possible and hopefully change will happen with time.

Unable to concentrate

Does the foster child have difficulty concentrating on things? Can they not pay attention to things they are not interested in? Do they respond to the discipline you try to instill? Do they not listen to you when you are speaking to them?

It’s quite easy to get angry with these types of behaviours, but you should not call/label them as lazy or a waste of time, they can’t be bothered. What you can do is say things like ’I know it’s difficult for you to concentrate on things sometimes, but I’m going to help you with that.

Try and look into my eyes when I’m talking to you as this will help us both to communicate better with each other. Always try and establish some eye contact if possible, even if you need to build up to that over a period of time as that can be threatening for some children living in the care system.

Complicated sensory traits

Some abused and neglected children may have developed extreme sensitivity of theirs senses. For example, is the child very sensitive to sounds, lights textures, colours, pain, temperatures, tastes and smells?

Do their clothes have to feel perfect, which may make dressing an issue? Do they have problems with their taste of some foods, which may cause difficulties? Is their body temperature’s unpredictable, which may lead to anxieties and outbursts? Foster carers should not call these children, fussy, picky and always hard to please.

Acknowledging the issues by saying, ‘I know you have a difficult time with such and such, validating their issues and not demonising them. Foster carers need again not to take things personally, as this is the way the child is and they are not doing it on purpose to make you angry or wind you up?

The softly softly approach is best, communicating constantly with the child, providing the child opportunity to express themselves in an open and honest way.

In Summary

Disciplining foster children in a positive way, means employing empathic behaviour management techniques which not all foster carers have the skills, experience and knowledge to do.

Foster carers need to work in partnership with social workers and other professionals to plan and structure positive ways of working with fostered children. This process is on-going for foster carers and includes researching, reading, attending training and learning from professionals and other foster carers, ways and means of providing positive discipline.