Guest Post: Foster Parenting and the Importance of Choices

Foster Parenting and the Importance of ChoicesBefore I even introduce the author, I want to start off by saying that I believe all parents should read this post. You can be a foster parent, adoptive parent, biological parent, step parent, grandparent, soon-to-be parent, want-to-be parent, never-want-to-be parent but I love being an auntie/uncle, etc. So let’s get to it!

I met my friend Jacqui at a church in Greensboro, North Carolina that we were attending.  I love hearing about my friends who become foster parents so when I heard that Jacqui would become a foster parent, I was ecstatic. She shares with us her experience and what she has learned which I mentioned before, is great information for all parents. 

Hello! My name is Jacqui, and I am a foster parent of a ten year old girl. In this post, I will refer to her as FD-10. If there is one thing I have learned about being a foster parent, it is how important it is to give children choices. Children in foster care have had choices taken away from them at one point or another in their lives. In order for children to feel safe and secure, they need to feel like they have some type of control or say in their lives.

When our FD-10 came to us, we had no idea how to be parents of a 10 year old. I remember being so nervous that the social worker was going to leave and we would have to jump right into parenting. When the social worker left, we ate dinner as a foster family of three. During dinner, we asked FD-10 what her current chores were, what she liked to eat, her hobbies, etc. We used what we learned from that conversation to help us make her chore chart and our grocery list for the week.

The next day, we went to Target to get furnishings for her room. She was blown away that we would take her to a store and let her choose! She had never been to Target and told us it was a dream come true. She picked out her sheets, bed spread, curtains, bathroom rug, towels, wash cloths, etc. When we got home, she insisted on taking pictures of her new room and bathroom because she was so in love with the decor she chose.

More Ways to Incorporate Choice

As the weeks went by, we found more ways to incorporate choice. One day, she started whining and throwing a tantrum in the living room. I said calmly, “You may choose to have your tantrum in your bedroom or the playroom, but you may not have your tantrum in the living room.” She looked at me strangely when I said that. She went to her bedroom for about five minutes and then rejoined us in the living room. This happened again as we were walking into the grocery store a couple of weeks later. I told her she could choose for us to walk back to the car so she could have her tantrum or she could choose for us to go into the grocery store calmly. She looked at me oddly again. A few days later, she told me she was surprised that I didn’t tell her to stop whining or punish her on the spot. I explained that she needs to learn appropriate ways to express and manage her emotions. I have to admit she looked at me like I had three heads.

Parenting with Love and Logic

At the time, I was reading a book called Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline, MD and Jim Fay. I highly recommend the book and the online workshop. In the book, they talk about helping children make choices, make mistakes, and learn life lessons while they are young and while the stakes are low. I found this idea intriguing! I confess I am the kind of person who takes copious notes in workshops and looks forward to putting the strategies into practice. Now, I don’t want you to think I was hoping she would mess up. I wasn’t. I was just hoping I would have the right tool to use for when she did. Two days after I took the online training, FD-10 struggled with school. (We are homeschooling because this happened during the quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic). She would not get started. She complained about every math problem, every page of reading, every comprehension question, and every direction. I was exhausted. One thing I remembered from the Love and Logic training is that it is okay to delay the consequence if you are not sure what the consequence should be. After several minutes of whining and complaining I said, “You have not listened well and done what you know we expect of you. I will think about the consequence and let you know what I decide later.” About four hours later, I used the “energy drain” tool that I learned from the Love and Logic online training. I said, “FD-10, you really drained my energy with your tantrum and whining this morning. You need to find a way to put some energy back into me. Here are three ways I replenish my energy: 1. I get to play the Nintendo Switch for two hours straight without being interrupted. 2. I get to read a book for two hours without being interrupted. 3. I get to watch a musical in the living room uninterrupted. You get to choose which one you would like me to do.” She chose number 3. I curled up on the couch with a blanket and watched The Sound of Music. Later that evening, she said she hated that movie and would try not to drain my energy like that again.

Choices are important for every child, but I think they are even more important for children in foster care. The smallest things can trigger trauma, so it is important to allow the child to choose their soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Our FD-10 was so proud to pick out her Suave body wash, Crest toothpaste, and coconut milk soap. It gave her a sense of ownership and belonging. So, whether it’s decor, bath products, or discipline, it is incredibly important for children to have the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

Foster Parenting and the Importance of Choices

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