by James A. Kenny, Ph.D
For too many people, discipline is equated with punishment. This creates a special problem for foster children who have already suffered from abuse and neglect.
In actual fact, punishment is a rather ineffective method for obtaining compliance. There are other methods that work better. Here are a few ideas:
Begin with a focus on the desired outcome. Be concrete and specific. Select behaviors that can be observed and counted. Goals like “attitude” and “respect” are too vague and general. Instead, look to goals like coming home on time, the absence of certain unacceptable words, and teacher reports on completed assignments. Find quick and simple ways to achieve these goals.
Consider a whole range of non-verbal or word-free responses. (We don’t mean spanking. That violates DCS policy.) Words take too long and provide secondary gain. It may help to imagine you have duct tape over your mouth. What can you do? Distract him. Have pre-planned games or activities. Go and get her. Separate combatants. Confiscate the cell phone.
Anticipate trouble areas. Post the house rules, including chore lists and curfew times for everyone. Have a written policy on cell phone use and abuse. If necessary, lock up money, valuables, and liquor. Do your own detective work and don’t ask children to incriminate themselves. If you have reason to doubt where they say they will be, check for yourself.
Make it fun. Wise parents can sometimes make discipline a game. If you want the room picked up, play “Beat the Clock” or “Beat the Song.” If you need quiet, play “Shazaam!” Everyone who is quiet until you say “Pinocchio” gets one M&M. If kids are fighting, play “Magic Chair.” Blow the whistle and everyone who goes to their previously agreed-upon chair until you blow the “all clear” whistle earns a tiny but immediate surprise.
Finally, set a good example. Be a model of the behavior you expect. Don’t use words you don’t want your foster kids to use. Don’t shout at your spouse or kids. Don’t smoke. Drive within the speed limit. Fasten your seatbelt.