From Taylor: So many families that I have the honor of working with describe the immense amount of joy they have experienced through fostering and/or adopting; however, this does not come without its fair share of challenges. A question I am often asked in both clinic and private settings where I have worked with families who have fostered or adopted children is, “How do I set limits?”
While every child is unique and there is no cookie-cutter approach to setting limits, here are a few tips to consider with children who have been fostered or adopted:
Be mindful of your child’s past experiences. Many of our children have experienced or witnessed trauma, abuse, neglect, and other negative experiences early on. They may be triggered by situations or memories that are not obvious to us. It is important to be mindful of their past and seek to disarm their fear response. Additionally, they may have missed out on building skills early on because they were never taught. Ask yourself:
Understand that limits are necessary and important. While we should be mindful of early childhood experiences, this does not mean our children need less structure. Limits are essential for all children; they help the child to feel safe. If a child thinks there are no limits to his or her behavior, that can often lead to more anxiety, as the world becomes a very unpredictable place. Having appropriate boundaries ensures that the child knows what is expected of himself and his world. It also helps the child to function successfully in other environments outside of the home.
Here are a few helpful guidelines to consider when you need to set limits:
Be consistent and follow through. Remind your child of the rules and consequences, and be consistent with those consequences. Follow through with what you say, as this gives the child a predictable experience. This leaves no question about what will happen.
Calm yourself first. You are allowed to have strong emotions. It is completely understandable that you become frustrated, angry, and upset at times. It is unrealistic to think that you will handle every situation perfectly every time. But the outcome will most likely be better when you approach situations in a calm, patient, confident manner. Take some time for yourself if needed before you intervene with your child.
Look for the need behind your child’s behavior. Think outside of the box. A child’s behavior is often a form of communication about a specific need. Think to yourself: What is the need behind this behavior? What purpose does the behavior serve? For example, some children have learned from previous experiences that adults will not provide appropriate comfort when they are distressed, so, instead, they may act as if they do not want comfort and even act out aggressively. If you look beyond this behavior, the child often needs someone to help regulate their emotions and provide nurturing.
Allow for “re-do’s.” Dr. Karen Purvis from Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development speaks about this in her book Empowered to Connect. Sometimes our children need a chance to practice the new skills we are teaching. When you catch your child engaging in a behavior that is inappropriate, intervene immediately and give the chance for them to change the behavior. For example, if you are working with your child on respect, you could interrupt the behavior by saying, “Let’s try that again with respect.” This gives children the chance to succeed.
Listen and label feelings. Labeling feelings helps your child regulate themselves. By validating your child’s emotion, you acknowledge their feelings; however, you are also teaching them that they can manage discomfort in an appropriate way. It helps them understand that the feeling is okay; however, the behavior may not be. It also provides for an opportunity to discuss behaviors that are appropriate and build problem-solving skills. An example of this might be, “I understand that you are mad because you want that toy, but you may not hit. Now, try using your words to say what you need.”
Connect and repair. It may be helpful to connect with your child by getting down on their level and making eye contact. Perhaps a simple touch can help redirect your child. If misbehavior is frequent, add in some “special time” each day with just yourself and your child as a time to enjoy one another and reconnect. Spend time talking about upsets with your child when he is calm and is able to reflect on the behavior. Discuss new ways to manage the problem in the future.
Remember the power of praise. If you only discipline through negative consequences, you will miss many opportunities for growth. Remember to praise your child when you see positive changes in behavior. Labeled praise is even better; it shows your child exactly what you like about the behavior, which increases the likelihood that they will repeat this behavior. For example, “You did a great job of sharing today,” or “Thank you for speaking to me nicely.”
My last tip is to give yourself some credit. I saw this quote the other day, and I thought to myself that it couldn’t be more true. “The struggle is part of the journey.” You are doing the hardest job on the planet, especially combined with the struggles specific to the foster and adoption systems. And, although you may not always do it perfectly, that deserves recognition.
Taylor is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Her areas of focus include parent-child relationship issues, anxiety, depression, adoption, behavioral difficulties, parenting, trauma, and family conflict. Taylor is trained in the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with children. Her additional certifications include Child-Parent Psychotherapy Training (CPP), Youth and Preschool PTSD Treatment (YPT), and Circle of Security Parent Training (COS).
I am beyond excited to be a part of Adoption Strong, and to spread the support, joy, and comfort this group of people will provide to each other and to our community. I bring a different perspective to the table, as I am not a mother (although I pray to experience that joy one day). My name is Taylor and I am a licensed clinical social worker, and I have worked closely with both children and families who have been involved in either adoption or foster care going on seven years now. Here’s a little bit about my story. My first job after graduate school was with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); I’m sure most of you are well aware of this agency. One of my first cases after training was a sibling group of five children whose parent had fatally overdosed in the middle of the night, and no family members were able to be located to care for the children. I was called out at 5:00am on a Sunday to find an open foster placement. The youngest child, who I believe was around 3 at the time, and I instantly clicked. He had the biggest blue eyes full of confusion and fear. I wanted so badly to take away his pain. Finally, late in the evening, we brought the children to their new foster homes. That youngest child fell asleep in my lap while we were talking with the foster parents and helping the children explore the home and warm up as best possible in such circumstances. As I went to lay the child down in his new bed, he woke up. When he realized I was leaving, he clung to me and began to cry, begging me not to leave. I had only known this child for several hours, yet he trusted me in some way, and it disturbed him to see me leave. Unfortunately, I could not stay. I comforted him as best I could and left with a heavy heart, even though I knew that he was in capable hands in his new home. I got into my car, and began sobbing. I’m talking about can’t breathe, huge tears, sobbing…the kind of crying that comes from deep within and exhausts you. And I did this until I pulled into my driveway. I sat in my car under my carport and prayed for that child and his family. Prayed that God would wrap His arms around that child to comfort him and his siblings. Prayed that God would give his foster family strength to nurture and comfort him. Prayed to trust that God’s plan was at work even though it was so difficult to understand at that time. And prayed that I would never forget that moment because it was such a feeling of raw emotion that I had never experienced, but that truly inspired me to try to make positive changes in the world to the best of my ability with God’s direction.
I have no idea what happened to that child, as I left the agency shortly after. However, I continue to pray for him, and I thank him for all that he taught me that day, as it was the start to my career and calling. That’s how it is for me most of the time…yes, I have knowledge about mental health, trauma, attachment, etc. However, I usually end up learning more from each child and family that I work with than they truly know. I have experienced many more difficult moments like that one in my career. My job is very hard at times, but it is nothing compared to the job you all do everyday as mothers. So, I want to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to all of the mothers and mothers-in-the-making out there. I do not think you hear that enough, especially when dealing with the foster and adoption systems, which are exhausting and frustrating and all the other millions of adjectives I could insert here. Thank you for answering God’s calling. Thank you for opening your hearts and your homes. Thank you for advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Thank you for hanging in there when times get tough. Thank you for being selfless. Thank you for being genuine and honest. Thank you for loving more than you could have ever imagined. Thank you for living out God’s word every. single. day. Thank you for doing the hardest job on the planet…being a Mom. I am honored and inspired just to be a part of this group with you. Thank you, Taylor.
“However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle.” Valerie Harper