Challenging Children - Lessons of a Foster Carer

As a foster carer, single mum and classroom assistant, Pauline Ockerby has learnt some hard lessons in parenting, and shares her strategies for a stronger family.

Pauline has been fostering for 15 years and has one natural son, Thomas. Pushed to compare bringing up her own son with looking after foster children, she would say that life with a surrogate child who is often desperately damaged by their experiences is the more challenging.

“When they’re kicking off and unresponsive to normal motherly love, you have to keep reminding yourself that it’s not them being naughty, it’s their form of self defense – they just don’t know what ‘parenting’ is!”

Clear boundaries help, but so does overlooking the little things disruptive children do wrong – pick your fights and the pressure on you and your child eases. Challenge every minor misdemeanor and every day will be another long battle.

Parenting is one job for which we normally receive no training, indeed many of our difficulties stem from being thrown in at the deep end. Foster carers, however, are given ongoing training throughout their careers, helping them to cope with the particular problems children in care might bring. If Pauline had to single out one, it would be the training course on valuing diversity which she took most away from.

“My son has Tourette’s syndrome, so I knew what it was for a child to be bullied. And my foster children have been picked on at school, even by parents, just for being in care. When he was eight, one of my children was the only one not to receive a party invitation, and it’s wrong to single kids out this way. Just empathising with a child helps you see past things or behaviour which might make them seem different.”

Pauline handles difficult children knowing she has a fantastic support team behind her, and her son, who’s now 19, has been encouraging and helpful with her foster work. But she also knows when to take time out herself.

“If I feel myself getting worked up I just take ten minutes outside, in the garden or even in the car, and take a few deep breaths. A couple of times the kids have come knocking on the car window saying ‘we’re sorry…’ and we forget it ever happened!”

Moving on is a big part of being able to live together as a family, for Pauline and her children. “Like last night, two of the kids had a huge row, right up until bedtime, then this morning I tickled them awake like it never happened – you have to be able to move on and never, ever hold a grudge. They’re only kids.”

The final word from Pauline on discipline issues with challenging kids?

“Remember, you are the adult; getting drawn in to screaming matches won’t get you anywhere, so make sure you stay in control of yourself.”

Find out more

Fostering: The Fostering Network

Fostering Information Line: Useful information for anyone thinking about applying to become a foster carer.

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