Parenting a child could very well be one of the hardest tasks in life. It is an immense responsibility that shapes the life of both child and parent. The process is complicated when foster parents find themselves parenting a child who is not biologically theirs, and who possibly has experienced abuse and neglect before. The dynamic between child and parent is fundamentally, even if only subtly, different from that of correcting biological children. Here are five effective disciplinary strategies for foster parents.
1. Explain the Rules Early
It’s tempting to throw the rules out the window and welcome your foster child into your home – and while the welcoming element is absolutely critical and vital, laying down the rules becomes even more important when dealing with foster kids. Parents have reported thefts, lies and even mistreatment of pets at the hands of their foster children, so it is of extreme necessity to inform them of the dos and don’ts of your house. Remind them early, remind them often, inform them of the consequences, and carry those consequences out, consistently and with care.
Make sure that any punishment you mete out is approved by the foster care system (like NYFoundling.org). One the discipline has been administered, reassure the child that you still love him or her, why their action was wrong, and why you had to punish them.
2. Pick Your Battles
Some misbehavior on the part of your foster child will require immediate disciplining. There may be occasions, however, where it’s more beneficial to simply ignore the child’s actions. Naturally, this would only come into play when the child’s misdeeds are harmless, and will test the patience and endurance of the patient. Risky as though this method is, it may not be worth taking a foster child to task for the smallest of infractions.
3. Reward Good Behavior
It sounds slightly Pavlovian and obvious, but foster children really do need praise and assurance when they do something right – excel at school or sports, clean their room, do the dishes, etc. Make sure that they know you’re there for them in good times as much as the bad. This is especially important when they overcome a bad behavior that they did in the past, such as no longer hitting a sibling or stealing.
4. Lead By Example
Foster children come from difficult backgrounds and situations, where their parental figure did not do a good job. Now that they’re in your care, the kids need a strong example of behavior more than ever, so your job as a parent just got harder. Everything, from proper manners on the road to household chores, becomes a model for your foster child where no such precedent existed prior. Your example may break some unhealthy habits he or she picked up from, or resorted to in their previous households.
Communication is a fundamental aspect of any relationship, let alone one where a foster child is present. If the child is unhappy, talk to him or her about what’s troubling them: don’t simply ignore them or discipline them out of hand. Talk to your other children, to reassure them they are equally loved and valued. Convene family meetings once a month to answer questions, talk about everyone’s concerns, and develop a mutual way forward. Ensure that everyone’s voice is fairly heard at the meeting, and remind your children, both foster and biological, that they are important members of your family. Constant reminders will impress upon the kids to accept each other and treat one another as family.