Tonight, I have the pleasure of addressing a really important question from one of my frequent readers, Pam. To read Pam's full question, you can see her comment on my post from last night.
"We were given the scenario of a family planning an outing to the ice cream shop. However, Child B misbehaved and needed a consequence. So the family went on the outing but Child B was allowed to watch while all his siblings and parents got the ice cream while Child B did not. Our instructor even went so far as to say that even if the family had not planned an outing, once Child B misbehaved, they would plan an outing so that Child B could see the others getting rewarded for their good behavior while Child B went without."
My first reaction to Pam's comment was complete shock, as was my mom's. My mom actually said that if she had been in that class, she would have stood up and left after hearing that information. I completely agree with that, because I could not even imagine being so cruel to a child just because they did something wrong.
We actually go through scenarios that cause my parents to question whether or not to hold back on discipline quite frequently. I believe I've written about this before, but my brother faces a lot of challenges in life, one of which is Oppositional Defiance Disorder, or O.D.D. He often gets himself into trouble because he cannot quite control the things that he says or the way that he acts. Because of this disorder, my parents always give him extra warnings and try to work with him to remind him that he needs to get his behavior in check, but a lot of times it ends up with him getting into trouble anyway.
Let me just say that disciplining in our house has always been based on age and ability. A three-year-old who hit someone with a toy is not going to get grounded for a week; they might be on time out for three minutes (one minute per year of age has always been the general rule here), but that's about it. This goes for all of the children who have been part of this family, whether they are struggling with something like O.D.D. or they're just overtired and misbehaving. The older you get, the harsher the consequences are, but that just means that instead of a time out, you might be grounded from television or video games for a while.
A lot of times, especially with my brother, groundings will interfere with special family events or outings that have been planned. We never cancel plans because one child is in trouble, but we never make that one child sit out because they were supposed to be grounded. I can think of a few examples off the top of my head....
- In May 2014, I had this HUGE surprise party planned for my parents' 25th anniversary. A few days before, my brother got in really, really serious trouble. Was I going to cancel the party? Obviously not. Did I keep a super close eye on my brother during the party? Absolutely (I did because my parents were enjoying themselves, of course)... but my brother was still able to enjoy himself and play with cousins and have a good time. His grounding resumed the following day.
- When we went to the movies the other day, my brother had gotten himself into trouble prior to us leaving the house. My parents didn't want to cancel the outing because everyone else was excited to see the movie. They also didn't want anyone else to forgo the movie experience because they needed to stay home with my brother, and since we rarely get to a movie, they wanted my brother to enjoy himself as well. So even though he was technically grounded, he got a free pass for that afternoon and got to enjoy the day with us.
- My brother was also in trouble this past week and he was grounded from television. But last night, my parents wanted to sit down with all of us and watch "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" because it's an annual tradition for us. Just because my brother was in trouble, didn't mean that my mom and dad wanted him to miss out on the fun. So he was allowed to sit with the rest of us in the living room and watch the show, even though his grounding wasn't supposed to be over until today.
Disciplining a child is never easy, but it can be especially difficult when you're part of a large family, whether or not you're an adoptive/foster family. I would definitely say that foster children should always be treated the same way any other child in your family is treated. There's always this period of transition for the foster child, when you should probably be somewhat more lenient with them as they get used to living in your house. But that doesn't mean that you just let them get away with hitting another child or something. You just go easy on disciplining for the first week or two (but explain what the rules are and what's expected) and gradually build up to your regular rules. Whether your children are temporary foster kids, biological, or anywhere in between, I don't think it's ever okay to purposefully leave one child out of an experience, no matter how much trouble they've gotten themselves into. You want the children to know that they are still loved, and it's perfectly okay to remind them that they were in trouble (and what they were in trouble for) but that you want the family to enjoy this time together so the child can be "off of grounding" for a certain period of time.
Making a child sit out and watch others having fun isn't going to benefit anyone. I mean, if you're out as a family and someone starts acting up, put them on a time out for a few minutes and show them that they need to behave so they don't miss out on all of the fun that you're having. Don't just let bad behavior go unnoticed. But there's no way that you should be isolating a child from the rest of the family, and there's definitely no way that you should purposefully plan a fun outing after a child is in trouble, just to make them feel bad. Honestly, why would you want to do that?
Pam, I hope this answered your question. I don't want to tell you what to do, but if I were in your situation, I would definitely question someone about those classes or see if there was another class I could get into instead... I can't believe anyone would be allowed to teach those disciplining methods to anyone, much less prospective foster parents. I hope other readers were able to take something important away from this post as well. I think my parents have done a pretty good job with disciplining kids over the past twenty-one (almost twenty-two!!) years, and they've only improved over time. I know everyone has their own way of doing things, but my parents have never spanked any of their children, and use the time out in the corner method, which works amazingly. You would not believe how much standing in the corner annoys kids... they usually learn pretty darn quickly not to repeat a bad behavior after being bored for five minutes in the corner!
Thanks so much again to Pam for the great question, and I hope that everyone else will not hesitate to ask me a question when you want another opinion on something, or if you'd like to know how my family has handled situations in the past!
Thank you so much for your continued support! I look forward to sharing more stories about my experience with foster care, and hopefully hearing from readers who have questions or similar stories to share. I'm always willing to answer questions and hear about other experiences! Please don't forget to like and share my Facebook author page as well!
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