I became a parent later in life and adopted a pre-teen. One thing I’ve learned, especially in the case of children from the foster system, is that they have experienced a wide range of rules, restrictions and discipline styles. It is important that you assume nothing and set clear expectations from the start.
Lesson #1: Don’t Use Their Past Rules To Dictate Yours
In the home my daughter lived in prior to adoption, she had a structured routine. There was order to everything from a laundry schedule to who sat in what position on the couch when watching television. I once posed a question if she would have acted a certain way if she were still with them. Her response was with conviction and clear, “I am not with them, I am with you now.” Adoption is a new start, new home, new rules and even while some rules may be the same or similar, they are your guidelines.
Lesson #2: Prepare Yourself for Challenges
While intelligent, she was not taught proper study habits in her first 10 years. She has a natural aptitude but when it comes to studying, scheduling, organization and discipline she struggles. The virtual learning over the past couple years has been particularly challenging. I still struggle to find the right balance between micro-managing to assure everything is current with helping her develop skills to implement her own strategies to thrive into adulthood. I do favor more assistance than a sink or swim strategy as I want her to succeed and build confidence, but it’s a gradual process of helping her learn to plan and coordinate her workload.
Lesson #3: Discipline with Love
Most of these kids have been let down multiple times by adults in their life. Parents or guardians chose alcohol, drugs or sexual partners over their best interest, many of them have been physically or sexually abused and abandoned by those meant to care for their well-being. As a result, it is critical that when disciplinary action is required (and it will be), all attention is focused on behavior. I try to use a cause and effect dialogue, always emphasizing that any discipline is an effort to prepare her for success in life and relationships. While behavior is unacceptable, a boundary was crossed or a commitment was broken, I love you and will always love you. They need to be reminded they are worthy of love and receive extra assurance that they will not be abandoned by you.
Give yourself a time out before facing a challenging conversation. When I need to have a hard discussion with my girl, I try to escape to my room or take a walk (if at all possible) beforehand. This allows me to work through my personal frustration, hurt or disappointment so I can focus solely on the content: what happened, why it happened, discuss the cause and effect and how that impacts her future or her relationships, determine if support is required to make changes going forward. Last, we discuss the disciplinary action. Some actions have established consequences, at other times we may agree on the correction course but whatever the end result, it is always concluded with no matter what, know that I love you.