It is important to have a structured plan to deal with behavior problems. A plan allows you to be consistent each time in dealing with an issue. Your foster child should know the consequences of his actions. A plan will help them from repeating the unwanted behavior. I have learned from my many years as a foster parent that in order to control problem behavior, there must be a plan. A very simple plan is better than no plan!

Do not ignore unwanted behavior. Some people say, “Just ignore the bad behavior and it will go away.” Wrong! These children are in your home because they refuse to follow the rules anywhere. These children came from a home where they may have been allowed to do anything, being totally ignored by their parents.

Here is the plan I use:

(1) Identify the problem. This seems simple. However, I have heard parents respond to this question by saying, “I don’t know what happened, he is just misbehaving.” This response is no good. Be exact and know the problem. For example, say the foster child has stolen from your neighbor. It is called theft! Now that you know the problem, you can deal with it properly.

(2) Deal with the problem and give consequences. Discuss the reasons why stealing is wrong. Discuss the implications of stealing. Be creative. Tell a story about how someone who steals becomes a thief by reputation. You may say, “Do you want to be known as a thief?” Give them a reason why it is wrong to steal. Try suggesting that one day when they are adults their own children may steal. What will they tell their own child? You may be surprised at their good suggestions. Now for the consequences. Hopefully you have stated the consequences for stealing when the child first came to your home. If not, set the consequence now. For example, the consequence could be: You will now make restitution by returning the stolen item or paying for it, you will write an apology letter, and for a specified amount of time (hours/days/weeks/months/?) you will lose certain privileges (phone, shopping, visiting friends, TV, computer time, etc.) A consequence may also be to read one hour each day. You pick the books which teach honesty. The child could be asked to write out the state penal code on stealing.

You could try requiring the child to listen to one hour of instructional tapes each day. There are a lot of great tapes, stories, motivational messages, etc. Decide what the consequence is depending on the age of the child and the severity of the theft (was it taken by force, was it taken by deception, or borrowed with the intent of not returning?). Remember food, clothing, and shelter are necessities. Everything else is a privilege, not a free right (unless medically needed or required for safety purposes).

(3) End with praise. At this point you are thinking, how do I do that? Try to end on a positive note. For example: “You are a good student, put your effort into your schoolwork not into stealing,” Or at least “Let this be the last time this happens so that you can be the best that you can be.” Be creative, say something pleasant. This also helps you to maintain a good attitude. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. Otherwise you will begin to feel under attack each time there is a problem.