Saturday, November 10, 2007

Behaviors 4: House Rules & Real Growth

After the last three posts, some of you may be thinking that I think we can't have any control over kids. I don't in fact think that at all.

I want to make clear, that enforcing basic house rules is a different topic. Trying to make a child into a person who cares about things being neat and tidy is not a project I would recommend taking on. Requiring that kids hang up their coats when they come home is perfectly reasonable. It will probably mean reminding them to do it every day for months, if not longer, but it is a reasonable rule that you can have in your house.

Though I find that it makes sense to have as few rules requiring specific behavior as I can live with, we do have them. Everyone has responsibilities, things like chores and homework, and though some down time is allowed after school, for the most part kids are not allowed to do the things they find fun until after they do the things they are required to do.

The sorts of things you learn in classes like Love and Logic can be really helpful. All that natural and logical consequences thinking can really help lower conflict as you get children to follow basic rules. I would just recommend that you keep it simple. Don't have too many rules. Think seriously about what battles you want to fight. Better yet, use the whole consequence thing so that you are not fighting at all, if possible.

I think when get in trouble with it when we start to think that the techniques that helped us to get our children to hang up their coats and help with the dishes will help us to change their characters or heal their traumas.

You can set out to help a child make a significant change that you want them to make. Margaret has an excellent post she wrote recently about helping her son become comfortable with touch and then trying to teach him boundaries around touching. It is clear that it is the sort of goal that it takes months, if not years, to help a child reach. I would guess that one of the reasons Margaret is having success (though of course it comes slowly) is that Slugger also wants it. He craves physical closeness. So helping him to accept it, and then accept boundaries around it, is a long, slow, process that will likely have a lot of success.

Since I started writing this I have read another post by Margaret, this time about enuresis (bed wetting). Margaret again shows a great deal of patience and understanding and talks about what she has tried and how well it has worked. My guess is that Slugger does not have a similar craving for a dry bed. If I am right, and I have been wrong many, many times, it is going to be much more difficult for Margaret to find a solution that she can implement that will "work." This issue is much more complicated as it is not clear why Slugger does it. If he doesn't want to stop, or even worse (for Margaret) if the activity is somehow satisfying or helpful in accomplishing a goal, well, trying to change it is going to be much more difficult.

To put this all simply, my whole advice to new foster parents about managing behaviors is this: That stuff they taught in class is really helpful for simple house rules. Don't expect too much from it.

You can be part of a process in which the children in your care go through amazing growth. They may make you so proud of what they have done that you can barely talk about it without crying. When that happens though, at least in my experience, there were a couple of things that were always true. First, it only happpened after the youth felt safe in the home, and even then it was a process that took a long time. Sometimes it is so gradual that you don't even notice it happening, until you back to your blog or old emails and realize what the kid was like two years ago! Sometimes it only got started while they lived here. In fact, with all the boys the most amazing growth they have accomplished has been after they emancipated.

The second true thing is that the youth wanted it. It was important to him and he was willing to work. I may have guided or offered suggestions, but in the end it was clear that I did not change him. He grew and healed while I did little more than listen when he wanted to talk and offer encouragement.


  1. Funny. You just linked to my two recent I-don't-know-what-the-hell-I'm-doing posts. But that's the way it works, isn't it? You can read and study all you want (and you should), but there is always something that will throw you off-balance.

    You just have to be flexible, accepting, and willing to keep trying and trying and trying.

  2. I just wanted to comment that I am finding your posts interesting. As a mother of 10 , two adopted through a disruption, I appreciate getting different perspectives about things, although I may not neccessarily parent the same way.


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