How Should I Discipline My Foster or Adopted Child?

Part 3 of 3

Today, as we wrap up the series discussing the behavior of foster and adopted children, we are going to turn our focus to discipline.  Many times foster and adoptive parents bring a child into their home and are surprised by their child?s difficult and challenging behavior. Sometimes parents overlook the behavior because they feel compassion towards their child and the hard beginning they endured.  Other parents try to apply traditional disciplinary techniques and get frustrated and locked into control battles with their child. Neither one of these discipline approaches tend to work well for the parent or the child.

If these two parenting styles do not work, what other options are there?  Fortunately, there is hope and another way that allows parents to discipline, nurture and have a close relationship with their child.  Instead of just a few simple techniques to extinguish behavior, this approach offers a different way of thinking.  It is often called connected or therapeutic parenting, and the good news is, that it works to establish connection between the parent and child and raise children who are kind, caring and responsible!

Connected parenting is a loving, compassionate approach that takes into consideration the needs of the child.  As we discussed in my recent blog posts, there are often overlooked reasons behind a foster or adopted child?s difficult behavior that range from hunger, to trauma reminders, to sensory processing difficulties.  As parents become attuned and begin to meet the child?s underlying needs, the negative behavior may decrease.  However, despite the attunement and meeting of needs, parents are guaranteed that they will have plenty of opportunities to discipline and correct their child!

So, how does connected parenting work, especially in the area of discipline?  Therapeutic parenting is a lifestyle and mindset shift that often takes several years for parents to refine.   However, once you learn some of the principles you can start implementing them into your parenting right away. There are several defining principles of this approach that apply to discipline and correction. I?ve included six here:

  1. Redefine discipline– Parent?s views on child-rearing are often based on how they were parented.  They ?hear? voices from the past telling them that children should always obey without discussion and never question the parent.  Spankings, grounding and shaming may be common discipline tools.  Connected parenting offers a new way of looking at discipline that takes a holistic, compassionate approach to the child and thinks of discipline as a way to teach and train rather than a set of rigid rules to be followed.
  2. Plan ahead– teaching children requires that parents keep in mind the end goal and values that they want to instill in their children. They may need to slow life down to offer opportunities to read together, serve others, and work side by side.  Schedules, charts and routines provide the structure that help children feel secure and know what is going to happen next.
  3. Be a leader who establishes loving limits– God did not design children to be the boss. He gave them parents to guide, direct and lead them through life.  Well laid out expectations and guidelines provide boundaries that help children feel safe and know that someone cares for them.  Games such as follow the leader, Simon Says and short phrases such as ?mom is the boss? can help instill this belief.
  4. When a child needs to be corrected, Connect with kindness and love first– Connection takes the form of eye contact, a soft touch, or words that say ?I understand how you are feeling?.  The emotions of the child are validated.  The child feels heard and the stress response is reduced so the child can calm and begin to use the thinking part of their brain.  One tip for parents is to be aware of their body positioning. Getting down to or below their child?s eye level to talk communicates comfort.
  5. Specific Strategies– if the goal is to teach and train, harsh punishments are not necessary. There are several specific discipline strategies that parents can use.  I’ve included the IDEAL response by Karyn Purvis, a brilliant child development expert.

I-Immediate, immediately address misbehavior.

D– Direct, go to the child or ask him to come to you.  Speak directly about the issue.

E–  Efficient, use the least amount of words and firmness as necessary, don?t lecture or ask questions that you know the answer.

Action based, ask the child to redo the behavior or words in a more kind or respectful way.

L– Level, adjust the level of how you respond to the behavior.  If the child speaks unkindly, respond in a kind but calm way and ask the child to try again, if the child is in danger of physically hurting someone speak in a more authoritative voice and ask the child to stop immediately.  Remember you are responding to the behavior not the child. Ask yourself a scaling question.  On a scale of 1 to 10 how upsetting is the behavior? Make sure you are responding at the right level.

6.  When the time is right Discuss what happened ?When EVERYONE is calm and regulated, talk to the child about what happened. (Getting you and your child calm, may take 5 minutes, an hour, or it may need to wait until the next day.)  Ask them what were they thinking and feeling when the behavior occurred?  If another person was involved in the offense, help them develop empathy by asking them to put themselves in the other person?s shoes or guess what the other person was thinking or feeling.

Developing an intentional, structured but loving discipline strategy takes time and practice.  Be kind to yourself if you make a mistake and fall back into more traditional parenting techniques.  There is always time to go back and repair your mistakes.  Every child needs a firm, kind encouraging parent in their life. With learning and practice you can utilize connected parenting strategies and implement the kind of discipline that your foster or adoptive child needs.

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Renee works as a life coach and specializes in working with foster and adoptive parents.  She helps families identify areas of concern, provides training to help them understand the root cause of their struggles and through coaching, helps families apply proven tools and techniques, needed to address their underlying difficulties. You can find more information about her services at or you may contact Renee at  Her Facebook page is