WACKY ADVICE A psychiatrist once told me forcing my foster children to drink skimmed milk was the reasons they rioted, trashed a room, threatened to “Get me, my husband, and eighteen month old son.” The psychiatrist, an expert on adolescent behavior, said “You deprived them of their mother’s rich golden milk.”
First, the kids lied, skim milk was only for my husband.
Second, mothers milk is thin and bluish.
Third, the same kids after being hauled off to a secure detention center started a riot there, broke a guard’s jaw, and the center served only rich, golden whole milk.
The psychiatrist listed a number of other reason the kid turned on us:
- We lived in a nice suburban house in a middle class town, some of the kids preferred inner city life.
- We had a dog, one of the kids didn’t like dogs.
- We had a cat, another kid hated cats.
- We treated our eighteen-month-old child differently than we treated our foster children.
The skimmed milk, however, seemed the major sin and he blamed me. He said , “Mrs. Levine, you are a trained therapist and you should have known better than to serve deprived and needy children skimmed milk.”
A foster child who didn’t riot had better advice. “Get mean, you treat us nicer than our parents and that hurts.”
He actually suggested “Whip us” and promised we’d have no more problems. We didn’t to that, but we did get tougher. We got particularly tough on bad language, something we had not responded to strongly before the riot. In the process, I learned a valuable lesson that today’s talking heads would do well to think about. Violent language expresses hurt; when not responded to the hurt like a festering boil grows bigger and more painful. By ignoring language–which another group of therapists had suggested, we were not attending to the hurt in a way that was helpful. Positive responses also hurt for then we were nicer than their parents and that also hurt.
Our foster children had lots of anger hiding deep hurt and shame. Anger is a wrong begging for correction. When anyone feels hurt, release comes from having the hurt acknowledged. The acknowledgement can be just saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it–positive attention. Anger is also a response althought a negative on. Ignoring the child’s anger or hurt is the worse way to respond. When we didn’t respond to a verbal outburst, we were dumping salt in our foster children’s wounds. A double dose of salt was the fact we were nicer than their parents. So we listened to the advice to get tougher. We clamped down on and virtually eliminated all violence to property or people.
Curiously, it was not enough to pretend to be angry. I don’t like being angry, but once we launched the rules about language, I quickly learned I had to be actually steamed before enforcing the new rules. If I wasn’t steamed, the kids would escalate the nasty talk until I got steamed.
The speed with which these street smart, rebellious kids learned to watch their mouths in front of my husband and myself amazed me. We didn’t care what they said among themselves or anywhere else. We eventually cared for over 300 kids–we were a short-term home and had four to six kids placed with us for an average of six to eight weeks. Of all our foster children, I remember only one who didn’t clean up her mouth–she was also turning tricks in our staid middle class neighborhood and ran away as soon as she had enough money for train-fare to a more desired destination. I think she was picked up in Florida.
A new parenting book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chou has lots of people stirred up. She suggests, and I agree, American parents are too indulgent and not demanding enough. Here is an article about the book for the World Street Journal in case you haven’tread it. Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior – WSJ.com.
Ms Chou is accused of being abusive by the hoards of soft love parenting advisors. She is harsh but not abusive. Moreover, she also claims her book was intended as tongue in cheek; in her subtitle she admits what worked with her first daughter did not work with her second child. She admits her second child humbled her in the same way my foster children humbled and taught me. I was a soft love parent before becoming a foster parent. Like Thomas Gordon of Parent Effectiveness Training, I thought all parents should treat children like therapists. Gordon believed life punished and parents shouldn’t. Not useful. Children need socializing and that sometimes requires punishment. Children respond extremely well to loving discipline; punishment should not be a dirty word.
The key is loving and individualized discipline. One child may respond to a frown, another might need angry words. That is what I mean by individualised discipline. There must also be love and affection. A good marriage is said to rest on having five positive interactions for every negative one. I suspect the same holds true for nurturing a child. Meanwhile, I hope my parenting advice as found in both my books, When Good Kids Do Bad Things and Parents Are People Too is not wacky. It is from hard earned experience. Staying strong and hoping you are too. .