Child with Family in Field 1 - Establishing Yourself as a Parent

Establishing Yourself as a Parent


The Spruce – April 4, 2017

by Carrie Craft

Your Role as Mom or Dad

So, you’ve gone from an empty house to a full one. Now what? When it comes to foster and or adopting a child, especially an older child – setting roles, rules, and boundaries can be tough. This is especially true if you’ve never parented before or if you are a young parent. Believe me, the kids smell fear!

Lots of people want to be the “cool” mom or dad on the block. From my experience and from the families I’ve seen and worked with, the kids need and cry out for real parenting. Don’t be afraid of this role and don’t be afraid of feeling like the kids don’t like you from time to time.

There is a huge difference between being a buddy or friend to your children and being a parent. Parents –

  • Meet needs,
  • Set boundaries or rules,
  • Allow consequences to occur in order to teach a life lesson

When it comes to parenting, especially with older kids, it is very important to establish your role as a parent as soon as the children walk in the door.

Meeting The Child’s Needs First

Meeting Basic Needs

  • Physical – Whenever a child enters our home, after introducing myself, I always ask the child if he is hungry or thirsty. I hope that this sends the message that I care and will take care of him. It also tells him that I will meet his physical need for food. As you begin to foster or adopt children who have been neglected, you will see that food is sometimes a big issue.
  • Emotional/Mental – This is also a very emotional time for children, and each child handles it differently. Some kids like to talk while others want some space and time. I usually make myself available by being close but not intrusive. Also, never make a promise you can’t keep like, “Yes, we’ll see your big brother this weekend,” when you have no clue where his big brother is located. Instead ask the child to tell you about his big brother. Asking open questions help you get to know the child and for the child to see you as a caring adult.

Setting Boundaries and Rules

When it comes to setting boundaries and rules of the home, I establish these with the kids on the very first day. I think this gives the kids the immediate feeling of structure and predictability. Some rules are set in stone and can not be negotiated, like safety rules; other rules can be handed over to the kids for their input.

Allowing the kids to participate in setting family or home rules gives them a chance to feel like they have some power during a very controlled time in their life. One way we do this in our home is with a family meeting in which we ask each member of the family to write down three rules they think our family needs. You may want to put some guidelines on this before beginning this activity. For example: “I think anyone named Timmy should sleep in the doghouse.” This may not help Timmy feel real welcome! I then type them up and hang them on the refrigerator or family bulletin board. Other helpful hints:

  • Wait a few days before doing this activity with new foster children to give them a chance to settle in and feel somewhat comfortable.

  • Make sure to state that Mom and Dad have the final say on any and all rules. Don’t give up all your aces!

  • When rules are broken say what you mean and mean what you say. A cliche yes, but good advice. If you waiver, the kids will have a difficult time respecting you or your word.

  • Discuss issues with your spouse or significant other often. Make sure you are on the same page when it comes to rules and discipline. If you feel Max needs to miss his soccer game while your husband doesn’t agree, make sure you discuss this before telling Max he’s on the bench.

  • IF you do disagree don’t argue about it in front of the kids. Many children are masters of manipulation. This is a strong survival skill in some children. If they see you disagree this may give them the sense that there is room to “divide and conquer”.

Allowing Consequences

Consequences and discipline, these are our teachers, even today. We all know the consequence of staying up too late, and most of us have learned this lesson. We are to teach these same life lessons to our foster and adopted children with the same tools – consequences and discipline.

Natural Consequences

Allowing whatever may happen to happen. If your child forgets her homework and you know that means detention, let her serve detention. She will hopefully learn that being organized and prepared before school is important. Also, realize that she will NOT learn each lesson right off.

We’ve had our adopted children for several years. We are still struggling to teach the boys lessons that they have endured the natural consequences of, several times.


This is when you as a parent need to come up with a creative way to make the discipline fit the crime. If, Sally is constantly picking on Max, how about Sally having to do Max’s chores for the day? We did this when our youngest boy was into tormenting our daughter.

Learn more about parenting with consequences by taking training. There are so many good ones out there. I really enjoyed Common Sense Parenting and learned a lot about discipline and how to teach through discipline and allowing consequences to happen.

It’s not always easy allowing our children to fall, but it is necessary in order for them to grow.


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