Foster parents are not allowed to use corporal punishment with foster children. Adoptive parents are also wise to try other discipline techniques and to avoid corporal punishment due to many children's past experiences with abuse and neglect.
When someone becomes a foster parent or adopts a child they are often put into a position to manage difficult behaviors. The children in the foster care system have usually endured abuse and neglect and often express their feelings through behavior.
Some internationally adopted children may display similar behaviors due to living in an orphanage. Here are few child discipline ideas that helped numerous foster and adoptive families.
Redirection. Often it is helpful to attempt to distract a child's undesirable behavior with redirection. For example, if a child is focused on pestering a sibling, try interesting the child in a different activity in another room or engage the child in performing a chore together with you.
Ignore the behavior. This is the toughest discipline for me as I find ignoring behavior to be very difficult. Make sure that you are ignoring a behavior that is not a danger to the child or others. Ignoring a fire starting behavior, for example, is not a wise decision. But it would not be difficult to ignore a child that sucks his thumb, refuses to pick up his socks, or flush the toilet. It's wise to pick your battles.
Utilize Love and Logic. I highly recommend the Becoming a Love and Logic Parent program to all parents, especially foster and adoptive parents. This program helps parents learn how to pick their battles like suggested above and make the words parents say to their children actually worthwhile and not empty threats.
Timeout. It's probably one of the oldest parenting tools in the book when it comes to child discipline. Timeout is the practice of placing a child in a corner or on a timeout bench for a set number of minutes. A good rule of thumb is the child's age plus one minute. The child is often placed so that they are facing the wall. Be aware that this may not be a good choice for children with attachment issues. Do more research or ask your child's therapist if timeout would be a good discipline method for a child that is struggling with attachment issues. If so, consider time in.
Time-in. Similar to timeout, but the child sticks by the adult caregiver's side for a set number of minutes. The child does whatever the adult is doing. If the parent is washing dishes, the child is standing right next to the parent. Only consider this discipline method if the parent is not overly stressed. A parent should not choose time-in when that child is already working on the parent's last shred of sanity.
Consult a professional. Some behavioral issues may be too big for a parent to handle on their own. Consider setting up weekly sessions for the therapist to work with the child or the therapist may suggest family sessions. The therapist can help the child further work through past trauma to help reduce behavior issues.
Talk with the child about their feelings. One of the easiest ways to work with a child's behaviors may be to talk with a child about their feelings. Help a child understand why they are acting out. A child slamming around the breakfast, cereal bowls may be feeling anger. The child that is sulking may be feeling sad. It seems logical and easy to us, but many traumatized children may be detached from their emotions and not fully be able to identify what they are feeling or why. Help assign feelings with discussions. A great way to do this is with The 4 Whats technique.
Earning privileges and losing privileges. Another easy disciple technique is to help children see how they are able to earn privileges with right choices and lose privileges with wrong choices. It is how the world works most of the time; compare work and the earning of a paycheck and theft and earning prison time and the loss of freedom. Earning or losing privileges can also be the earning or loss of an important object or an opportunity or privilege.
Weekly family meetings. Meeting together as a family to discuss various topics can be a very effective way of dealing with difficult behaviors. Remember to not allow the meeting to get out of control. Find fun ways to allow everyone a chance to speak. Try to remain positive with the children. Don't allow the meeting to become a way for the other children in the home to attack one person. We use a family meeting right when new foster children first enter our home, but we also like to try to hold family meetings weekly. Here are guidelines on how to do weekly family meetings in your home.
Chart child's behaviors. I became informed on the usefulness on behavior charts while working at a children's home. We not only targeted behaviors that the children needed to work on, but also behaviors that the children were already successful. This allowed the children to experience success every day. Behavior charts help the caregiver and the child see how they are progressing with targeted behaviors, such as cussing, not doing school work, arguing, and more. They can also be useful in helping social workers and birth parents see how the child is doing in the foster home.
Combine child discipline strategies. It would also be very easy to combine strategies when working with children. A behavior chart can very easily be turned into a token economy with stickers and the child is then earning privileges based on the chart.
Working with behaviors is one part of foster or adoptive parenting that is often not very pleasant, but it's probably one of the most important pieces of helping children and families get back on track. If we can help children manage these behaviors and understand why they do the things they do, understand their feelings, and overcome maladaptive coping or survival skills, we are helping them to one day become productive citizens.