Disciplining Foster Children With Trauma: A Guide

Foster care, Adoption, and good parenting

How to DISCIPLINE foster children who have trauma

Disciplining Your Foster children who enter the Foster care system may have been through a significant amount of trauma that has stemmed from abuse, neglect, or any other situation that may have impacted their lives in an unhealthy way from their biological family members. This guide will help you use positive discipline for a foster child with trauma.

So how to discipline a child in Foster care and demonstrate good parenting?

We must be careful when disciplining a child who has been through trauma. It may trigger and defeat the purpose of the discipline, which is to decrease unwanted behavior. All family members must use the same discipline strategies to help the child when behavior intervention plans are put in place so the young people and move to positive behavior.

You can use an effective disciple strategy if this is a reward chart or obtaining desirable behavior that fits with your parenting style and lowers the problem behaviors that could have led to negative punishment and hurt the child's development. 

Those youth in foster care need to know what healthy or positive discipline is and understand that the purpose is not to punish them but to teach them new skills, prepare them for the world, and ensure they have the skills before they age out of foster care.

Effective discipline helps the child to develop and feel a sense of positive self which could spill over to a student's behavior and support any special educational needs they may have, all excellent outcomes for a plan for positive behavior.

Some children generally lack problem-solving skills, appropriate coping mechanisms, and emotional regulation. So, when we pair this with the child in foster care, the behaviors can increase in severity and frequency. A behavior plan may need to be created, but if so, involve your child in this process of creating the program. 

Understanding parenting skills from birth families can also help understand the biological parents' approach. A social worker can help with this information. With older children, an open discussion with the foster parents or future adoptive parents is always a great idea. 

If your private agency or child-placing agency (CPA) has a parent coach on hand, this can also be very helpful. Your monthly support groups can help all foster families understand ad discuss the challenges.

Ignore Mild ATTENTION-SEEKING Behaviors 

Ask yourself. Is it worth it? You must pick your battles wisely when making disciplining choices. It would be best if you looked after yourself and the child and let yourself take a time out versus trying to win every battle that can be right for you and the child. 

You can spend individual time with your child at least once a day and can improve relationships by building trust. If a child is exhibiting behaviors to get your attention, ignoring the behavior until the child has settled down can also show a child what self-control looks like. 

Praise Good Behavior 

Suppose you think about your childhood and how wonderful it felt when your parent, family member, friend, or teacher said, "good job" or "you did so well." In that case, you will value the importance of praising good behavior. Children tend to be people-pleasers and will work hard to try to continue the behavior if they are being praised.

However, if you are commending a child on their actions, please do not confuse your child with criticism. If you praise a child for cleaning their room, do not follow up with, "but I wish you would have put all your clothes in the hamper instead of beside the hamper." Embrace the small victories! 

Grandma's Rule of Discipline 

It is all in the wording! 

Children in foster care or with adoptive families have very little control over the things that occur in their life. This discipline technique gives children a little more control over some situations reframing the sentence presented to the child. It looks at the incentive that is offered rather than focusing on the negative consequence or behavior. 

Instead of saying, "You cannot go outside until after you clean your room," say, "You can go outside after you clean your room." This allows the child to determine when and how they would like to receive their incentive. 

Offering your child a few choices can give them a sense of control (although you pretty much decided for them). If a child has multiple tasks that need to be completed, then choosing which one gets completed first can help. 

Redirect Attention 

Redirection can prevent many behaviors from occurring or escalating. If your child is engaged in a behavior or activity that you would like them to stop, encourage them to assist you with completing a taskā€”no need to raise your voice or take items away at this time. 

Equally, if you cannot fulfill a promise or an activity gets canceled, remind your child that there is something planned for the next day or even the weekend. 

Offer Rewards 

Reward systems have proven helpful when working with children in foster care. Children tend to do better with visuals as they see their progress toward their goal/reward. 

However, the type of reward systems can vary depending on age and developmental stage. A younger child would do better with a sticker chart or a behavior chart that involves colors (green, yellow, or red).

They can see their movements. An older child may work better with a token economy to earn a certain number of points to gain a reward. This can be done with a point system or "play money," allowing them to use what they have earned to "buy" a prize. 

Every child does not have the same motivation for rewards; therefore, you will need to spend some time learning what encourages them. 

Remember, this is a reward, not a form of control for you as a parent. 

Reflection Time 

This is technically considered a time out, but "time out" tends to have a negative association when children hear about it. This also serves as a more therapeutic name for the discipline technique. This discipline method allows the child to step away from an overstimulating environment and gives them time to reflect on their behaviors or think of a more constructive way to spend their time. Reflection time is not meant to be used often and should be used sparingly with foster children. 

Remove Privileges 

Taking away privileges is probably one of the most effective forms of discipline if utilized appropriately. However, you may need to observe your child and learn what privileges will be more effective. Also, consider what the privilege may mean to them and the timing it takes away. For example, if taking the cell phone from a teen is a way of losing a privilege, realize that this may be the only way they communicate with friends or family.

At the same time, they are in care and maybe a bit harder to part with. Also, ensure that the amount of time the privilege is being taken away fits the "crime." We sometimes like to show too much authority by taking items for an extensive amount of time when that is not necessary.

If you are interested in learning more about disciplining techniques or behaviors, join us in our training session on Behavior Modification, where we will discuss different disciplining methods/techniques and how to handle certain behaviors. If you are a foster or adoptive or birth parent or the child's permanent family, a good behavior plan that all the adults and child can agree upon is a great place to start.

Learn more about being a foster parent here 

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