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Give choices to minimize behavior

The experience of foster care is jarring. Lots of involuntary change comes all at once, and that can create feelings of helplessness and anxiety. And those big feelings can boil over into a child's behavior.

Foster parents can help minimize those big feelings and scary behaviors by going out of their way to create choices for kids.


Kids in foster care have had their entire world altered, and they didn't have a choice.

Nobody asked if they wanted to . . .

  • Be removed from their home

  • Leave behind their siblings and pets

  • Live with a foster family

  • Switch schools

  • Visit their mom twice a week

  • See a therapist once a week

  • Have all 11 of those cavities filled

  • Get a new bedtime and new house rules

  • Eat a completely new menu for six months

They were not consulted when all those decisions were made. Not that they should be, necessarily, they are a child after-all, but that is a LOT of involuntary change all at once. It would be shocking for anyone.

When somebody else is making lots of big changes to your life, it can create a feeling of helplessness and uncertainty. Who's to say that decider is gentle and kind? Who's to say they are conscientious and share your concerns?

Nobody and nothing, that's what. And that would make me anxious for sure, and I have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. So just imagine what it might do to a child.

Foster parents can reduce those feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and uncertainty by ceding control of the minor stuff. Instead of just deciding yourself, lets kids choose!

Let kids choose:

  • What's for dinner

  • Which movie to see

  • What to wear

  • How to spend a Saturday afternoon

  • Whether to brush teeth now or first take a bath

Every opportunity you have to give children a choice, DO IT!

Being a decider creates a sense of control and exercises the  very parts of the brain that trauma tends to harm.

Now, when you get into the habit of giving children choices, there are some side effects that you should be prepared for.

When they get a taste for control, kids are—like all of us—going to push the limits and see exactly how much control they actually have. They're going to experiment. And this will mean you have to draw the line and protect certain decisions as your own. No, we cannot have cookies for breakfast. This is why we recommend offering a finite set of options, like: what would you like for breakfast: cereal, pancakes, or waffles?

Kids are going to labor over the tiniest little decisions, and it's going to make you late. It's going to make things take longer than they should, and that needs to be okay. If you rush them, you're going to undo all the good that choice-giving does. Nothing creates more anxiety in children than being rushed.

You've gotta be willing to let let the pace of your parenting slow down to the speed of a child's processing. Move through life at their pace rather than trying to force them to move at yours. It will be uncomfortable at first. But over time you may find that a slower pace awakens a calm in your heart too.

So, give kids choices to minimize the behaviors associated with anxiety and be prepared to slow your life down to the speed of a child's brain.

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