The question of discipline is important for any parent, not just for a foster parent. There are a plethora of parenting styles and techniques that those raising children utilize on a daily basis. But for foster parents, who are often caring for children with challenging behavior due to a history of being abused or neglected, the issue of discipline can be all the more difficult– especially if that child is a teenager.
Teenagers aren’t famous for their ability to think calmly and respond rationally to situations. It’s a difficult time in their lives, biologically as well as socially, and this is especially true for teens in foster care. The teen years are a time of discovery, of figuring out who you are, understanding where you came from and wondering what your future holds.
It’s a scary and uncertain time; because of that teens will often act out. For a foster teen who comes from a home of abuse and neglect, the acting out can often be extreme.
How Do I Discipline My Foster Teen? Set boundaries
As a foster parent, it’s important to set up boundaries and be clear on disciplinary consequences. Let the foster teen know what the expectations are in your household and why they are important to you.
This can be done during a weekly family meeting where family members get together to talk about issues around the household. It’s important to remain positive and non-judgmental during these discussions as letting a foster teen know he’s being heard can often go a long way in improving attitude and behavior.
When a foster teen does break a rule or his behavior is detrimental to your home, it’s important to address the issue quickly. Letting things boil or allowing him to think that particular action is acceptable may make the problem worse. After talking about the behavior, the question of discipline remains.
How Do I Discipline My Foster Teen? The “Job Card”
Although a common discipline technique, traditional grounding can often do more harm than good. Grounding a foster teen can often create an adversarial environment in your home without effectively teaching a lesson. That’s why certain psychologists like Blake Lancaster, PhD, recommend taking a different approach. Lancaster believes creating a “Job Card Grounding” system creates consequences for inappropriate behavior while eliminating arguing and fighting.
The system has the foster parent creating “Job Cards” i.e., index cards with a specific task and the steps to complete the task. Jobs such as cleaning the refrigerator or vacuuming the house are handed out when the foster teen misbehaves or breaks a rule. Until the task is completed, the foster teen is stripped of privileges such as cell phone, computer or television. Once the job is done, the privileges are restored.
Giving the foster teen the card allows you to walk away and avoid being drawn into a fight while also showing the foster teen that actions have consequences.
How Do I Discipline My Foster Teen? Time-In
Another discipline style is the “time-in” technique. Unlike the timeout, the “time-in” has the teen sticking by the foster parent’s side for a set amount of time doing whatever task the parent is doing. The reason behind the “time-in” is twofold. Firstly, it lets the teen know that, despite his transgression, he’s wanted. Secondly, the punishment of completing a task allows the teen to productively use his energy and accomplish something helpful.
In some cases, the behavioral issues will be outside the scope of regular discipline and professional help will be required. As a foster parent, it’s important to provide the necessary help for your foster teen who needs it. A foster parent should consult with their child’s caseworker to make sure the teen gets the appropriate assistance, including counseling if necessary.
Also, it’s important to remember that creating good behavior isn’t simply punishing bad behavior through discipline. It’s vital as a foster parent to reinforce good behavior by calling attention to the positive and offering supportive words.
While there is no one right way to discipline a foster teen, highlighting the good and building trust and accountability will always help foster a good relationship.
Lloyd Nelson is the Digital Media Manager of Foster and Adoptive Family Services. He can be reached at email@example.com.