Brenda McLackland, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Balancing nurture and discipline
Many times I’ve heard potential foster carers express their excitement at welcoming a child into their home, to love them and spoil them and to make up for their past difficulties. At this point I usually get a dreadful sinking feeling and manage to say something about remembering to keep a balance between nurture and discipline. ’Yes, of course’ they reply, but somehow they often do forget to keep that balance.
We discuss this in pre-approval training too. I get the impression carers think it is hard- nosed and frankly heartless to keep on about discipline. The trouble is I see is what happens when there are no limits set. Children need carers who listen, understand and nurture them but who can also gently say ‘no’. Far from being cruel this is actually necessary.
Boundaries are not just about saying no they are there to provide a structure to a child’s day. When to play, eat sleep should all be within limits. When a child senses this structure, and can predict their routine it helps them to feel safe. Carers who think it is kind not to say ‘no’, not to provide structure and limits do a child a disservice.
Although there may be an initial ‘honeymoon’ period the child will soon learn they have a lot of power, they can do what they like and often do. I have had carers tell me they are tormented by a three year old who kicks and punches them at will. This is not good for the child or carer and they can have quite a job reclaiming their authority.
It is not the child’s fault – they adapt to the environment they are given. Firm but gentle boundaries are just as important as love.
Start as you mean to go on.
Brenda for Simply Fostering