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Discipline for Older Foster Children

Two teens sharing music on headphones

Two teens sharing music on headphonesFoster children frequently come from traumatic situations, where they’ve faced abuse, neglect, rejection, or exposure to unsafe situations. As a result, there can be significant behavioral issues when an adolescent or teen comes into your home. Corporal punishment (i.e. spanking or any form of physical punishment), food denial, and removal of visitation privileges are all forbidden as punishments for foster children. Other forms of punishment, such as time-outs, just aren’t effective anymore. It’s necessary to find healthy methods to address problematic behaviors.

Set Boundaries

Foster parenting will be much easier to navigate if you clearly communicate expectations. It’s important that your foster teen knows what’s expected of him or her in your home and why. However, make sure you communicate these things as positively as possible. Allow your teen to ask questions and give feedback. When he or she is a part of the discussion, it will help to establish more trust.

Address situations right away. If the teen breaks a rule or does something that’s detrimental, don’t let it boil or slide. That will only create a bigger situation.

Utilize Job Card Grounding

This is an excellent alternative for older children. Job card grounding eliminates the reasoning and arguing that normally occurs between parents and children. With this method, you create job cards—perhaps 10 or more different cards—that each name a job and outline all the steps required to complete it. When your older child misbehaves, you give him or her a job card. Here’s an example:

  • Clean a section of kitchen cupboards:
  • Take everything out of the cupboard.
  • Wipe down the inside of the cupboard.
  • Organize cupboard items (i.e. lids in one place, like containers together in a stack, etc.).
  • Put everything back in an organized fashion.
  • Wash off the outsides of the cupboards.

Once the job card has been assigned, take the approach of not caring if or when the child completes it, but make it clear that all recreational privileges (i.e. cell phone, computer, video games, TV, or other fun activities) will be off limits until the job is done. In this way, there are clear expectations and outcomes.

Love and Logic

This is a method of communicating with the teen in which the parent consistently communicates unconditional love and empowers the teen to make positive choices for him or herself. For instance, love and logic parents will tell the teen, “We believe in your ability to make good choices. If you do make a bad choice, we will be sad, but we will still love you.” Love and logic parents allow teens to live with consequences of their choices without stepping in and fixing it for them. In this way, teens are empowered to learn from their own mistakes.

Foster parenting older children requires healthy communication, clear boundaries, positive input, and effective, non-threatening methods of directing them back to good choices. These approaches will build trust and accountability and will hopefully give the teen a better chance at transitioning to adulthood successfully.


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