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Most recent posting below. See other articles in the column to the right.

Calm The Rebellion

Dear Jeff:

I have a foster child who is very rebellious. He refuses to follow any direction, is rude and hits the other children. What can I do? I have used the time-out chair/room, removed items and canceled outings. Yet nothing works. I have given so many consequences that there is nothing left to take away! He is like a rock inside, untouchable.

He makes me angry. Then I quickly loose my composure with others because of this frustration. I try to be kind and have a positive attitude, but my Foster child is so hard and so uncaring that it seems impossible. I have no support group. Friends who I do talk to think I am a monster. I just want to quit! Somebody please help me!

Totally Worn-out

Dear Totally Worn-out:

Let me try to help you look at this situation with a new pair of eyes. Picture your typical day. You start out by getting dressed and going to the kitchen for breakfast. Your rebellious, ADHD child (age is not important at this point) is still in bed. You do a few chores. Now, it is time to wake him (he has no alarm clock since it was taken away after he threw it at you).

He finally arrives for breakfast and in less than 30 seconds you are correcting him. "That shirt does not match your pants!" "You didn't brush your teeth again!" STOP THERE - HOLD IT! I know it's hard. I have been there! You must make an effort to not correct him. As long as his behavior is not awful, criminal or unsafe, don't correct him! It cannot be that important.

This new strategy ONLY applies to the rebellious child! The other children in the house should continue to follow the "rules." I know that you want to change his ways and make him "want" to do what is right. Forget all minor stuff from now on, you can reestablish rules for minor infractions later. Your child knows what is right and wrong (unless he is very young). He really does, but for some reason, he does not do the right thing. But let's not address that today, let's just be accepting!

Overall you will be cutting back on correcting your child (if you cut back 50%, this will lower your stress 100%). You can do this successfully by "not seeing" little mistakes. It can be done and YOU will benefit from it, he will benefit from it. This will give you and your child a break and a chance to build a better relationship by being less critical. Your child will get to see a new side of you, that you are concerned about him. Don't expect him to show any respect toward you. If your child's behavior is bad toward the other children, then separate them for a few days. Think "Less Stress" for you and for him. You are now starting something NEW!

Now for the what should you do with your child during this time. Find less active activities, and more calming things for him to do. Instead of having him run around outside, have him do a quiet project inside. Listed below are some great activities:

  • Reading
  • Writing a letter, a story or poem
  • Drawing
  • Cutting shapes out of paper
  • Molding with clay
  • Listening to stories on tapes (I like the "Adventure in Odyssey" series best)
  • Listening to music on tape

Were you surprised not to see TV at the top of the list? These activities are better because he can use his imagination. Limit the TV to two hours a week. Do this "calming program" for a while and you will notice that he will be much calmer. This will give him fewer chances to be aggressive. It works, but it could take a few months for really bad cases of rebellion. You should also discuss his behavior with your Doctor. You may find that medication will also help your child to concentrate better.

Don't forget to keep yourself in "check" too. As your child is driving you nuts, remember that eating properly and exercise will help reduce stress. Do light exercises for at least 10 minutes three times a week. Do what I call motion exercises e.g. running in place, jumping jacks. You can do the exercises anywhere, anytime, in any outfit, and you don't need to sweat doing it. Vary the exercise, do a different exercise each time or a variety of exercises. If you can't do ten minutes then do what you can, but do something! Also sometime during your busy day it may be helpful to put your feet up for a 20 minute (but not any longer than 20 minutes) rest each day. Follow this and you will be feeling great and in control!

You have the right to change, to be and do things differently. Think of it like building a house. You used to build with concrete blocks, now you build with wood. You start with one very small 3" nail and one small piece of wood. This building process represents you starting over. That one small nail that you are about to hammer is the kindness you will give with every word you speak. You will pretend if necessary to be kind. You will say "Good morning, how are you doing?" You also have the right to "Be Imperfect," to make mistakes, to accept yourself as you are with the understanding that you will try each day to do better than yesterday!

Start each day with an attitude of: "I will be content today". You must find something, anything that you can honestly appreciate in this child. It can be very small! Whatever age your child is, find something they are good at - EVEN IF IT'S NOT YOUR STYLE. Today you strive to meet the "Ultimate Challenge": Don't give up. Keep it simple (e.g. TALK LESS - stop the bantering!). Do something fun (BAKE YOUR SPECIAL TREAT). Bake it with your child! If they ruin the special treat or if it gets ruined, forget it. Refuse to let it upset you. Expect it not to turn out right, so if it does then Great! You now will build from here, one piece of wood at a time. One honest compliment at a time, and it must be HONEST. Your child will know if you are sincere. You will find after a few days that it is getting easier for you to be in the same room with your child.

Find new ways for your child to spend his time. I look for items that are entertaining and/or educational. These things have worked for me: MIDI keyboard, a mini pool table, a ping pong table (can be played by one person - lift up one side), an air hockey table, a soccer table, a computer for games, Game Boy type games, a short wave radio, broken radios - etc. to take apart (buy them at garage sales), building block sets to create boats, houses, ships. Find what your child does well and then encourage that activity. Make sure that this activity elicits a calm behavior, if not, then choose something else. Do what you can to promote his improved behavior and then you can compliment him.

What I propose today is for you to get a new start. Each foster parent is unique, so create your own way to implement more tolerance and more patience. Realize that you cannot change your child, you can only point the way. Also your child will excel only when he is ready, you can't rush it. Remember you can't change your child, but you can change the atmosphere in which you and your child live. Be in charge of your feelings. Take each day a step at a time and at the end of the day you can tell yourself, "Tomorrow will be better." If you had a good day then pat yourself and your child on the back. Job well done! Memorize this list of action items and you will be on your way to calming the rebellion in your child:

  • Be less critical
  • Find something that your child is good at doing and tell him.
  • Don't expect your foster children to have your values.
  • Make it fun - for you!
  • Don't have any expectations, then you won't be disappointed.
  • Keep going forward!
  • Try something new, something you enjoy!
  • Give calming activities for your child.
  • Check with the Doctor for medication.
  • New opportunities for creative activities - purchase if you need to.
  • Stay in shape. Exercise for 10 minutes, 3 times a week and take a daily rest.
  • Get support. You can e-mail me for support if you want!

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