The Family Manual - Idea for Foster Families

I was hired recently to conduct a training session for 40 foster parents who were in dire need of some help managing the challenging behaviors of their foster tweens and teens. Some of the stories the foster parents shared with me following the two hour session were heart-breaking: teens attempting to run away, intentional thefts, and even attempts by some teenagers to hurt others. Hearing the histories of some of these kids was equally painful. So many of them have been through incredibly difficult experiences, it’s no wonder they strike out and want to hurt others.

During the question and answer period following my talk, one foster mother shared a solution that she has used with great success. Years ago, this resourceful woman created a family manual. Once the family began using it, things changed for the better. Now, she uses it over and over with each foster child she brings into her family. 

That’s right; the official family manual is presented to each
child who joins her family. It is filled with a variety of information, but there are two very important chapters: one is the family’s history; the other is filled with the norms and expectations of everyone in the family. The history chapter is complete with photos of all past and present family members and their stories. When a new foster child joins her family, their photo and story gets added too. The other chapter lays out all the expectations, practices, procedures, and rules and boundaries for all family members. It also describes the consequences that would be enforced if the rules are broken.

I could imagine this family’s manual, specially bound and resting on the living room coffee table, ready for the next child who would come to live in that home. This mom told me that the child would be given the manual shortly after they arrived so they could read it and get a sense of how things worked in this family. She would also make sure to take the time to answer any questions the child might have.

Do you have a child – or two – who comes to visit or stay with your family? Will you be welcoming foster children or opening your home to adopt children soon? Do your children or step children come for the weekend or for week-long stays? Do you have grandchildren who come to visit for extended stays? If any of these situations pertains to you, have you ever taken the time to give the child a history of your family or set them up for success by laying out expectations for everyone?

Famed psychotherapist and founder of the school of individual psychology, Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937), taught us that children and teens just want to fit in. They desperately want to belong and to find their place in their family. What better way of respectfully helping a new family member to fit in then to fill them in on who’s who and what’s what? Can you see how the possibilities of creating your own family manual might help the children in your care behave more cooperatively?

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