Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I wish I knew...

I got a comment and an email about adopting teenagers and it got me thinking about what the most helpful things I could tell someone, which got me thinking about what I would like to go back and tell myself. I started a list and found myself really wishing it were possible to send a note back to me. I thought I would share it with you, but let's be clear. This is what I would have like to know. You experience may differ.

1. if anyone tells you that if you do X, you will make long-term changes in the child's behavior, stop listening to that person.

2. punishment doesn't work at all and rewards systems only have short-term results. (At least for you, they might work for other people but you suck at behavior mod).

3. human beings do not learn when they are agitated.

4. children/teens change their behavior over time if/when they develop a relationship with you and start trying to be more like you. This means: (a) you will not be successful getting a kid to do something that you or your spouse do not do. As long as you leave your papers and stuff in the living room and Roland leaves dirty dishes everywhere, the kids will do the same; and (b) when you have messed up, lost your temper or whatever, you have provided the perfect situation to model appropriate response to set-backs. You don't expect your kids to be perfect, so model being reasonable with yourself. Calm yourself down, apologize if appropriate, try again.

5. Telling a teen "when you did not come home when I expected last night, I was very worried. I kept imagining bad things happening to you. It's important for you to come home when you say you will and to CALL ME if you can't" actually works BETTER than grounding them for breaking curfew (see #2 above).  This does NOT mean this is a technique that will make dramatic changes in their behavior (see #1) just that it is a better strategy.

6. Only try to make and enforce rules that are about keeping everyone safe and sane, not about trying to make them a better person (see #4 above). Keep the list short (e.g "Everyone knows where everyone is'). "Enforce" the rules by following them and reminding teens that behavior is required of everyone in this family. If you do keep the list short and reasonable and follow the rules yourself, you will be surprised at how well the kids accept and try to follow them.

7. Do yourself a favor and let go of academic goals right away. You can be helpful by asking kids what grades they need to meet THEIR goals. If they say, "All I need to do is pass" take a breath and say "Okay, do you need any help from me to do that?"

8. Telling them what the consequences of their actions is most helpful if they don't already know what they are. Reminding them that if they fail they will have to take summer school is not helpful. Making sure they know that they will have to WALK to summer school may actually change their plan for success.

9. The best training you will ever do to learn how to put this in practice you will get in Al-Anon meetings.


  1. Have you been reading my last couple of posts? lol. And why didn't you post this 3 months ago when Jade first came to live with me?! Good advice though...and thanks for putting me on your feed to the right...a lot of my visitors come from your page. ;)

  2. Crayon, I am sorry to say that I haven't been reading blogs hardly at all. I will have to catch up!

  3. I'm pretty sure you are on my private blog list, so if you decide to catch up, start there...that one has most of the drama! lol

  4. Thank you for this. You are my role model and what you write rings so true. I am neither a parent of teenagers nor a foster parent, but I will be one day. Both hopefully.

  5. This is great, exactly the truth!

  6. Your strength is inspiring.
    You are fantastic, and you are wonderful.
    Your children are better for having had you in their lives.

  7. Thank you. As a foster parent to a tween, many of these rules already apply. Love the walking to summer school reminder.

  8. wow, this was a great read.
    yondalla, i have been absent in reading your blog for about half a year now, but i'm thinking to start back up. i always got the feeling of your blog posts being so full of potential insight about human interaction and truths about relationship and security that comfort and challenge me to hear, and that's why i always loved reading your posts.

    i'm glad to see that you're still blogging, btw!


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