Two boys in foster care just visited our home to help prepare them to stay with us in about a week. Harry Potter, age 6, and his little brother, Explorer, age 5, are pretty gosh darn adorable… and overflowing with energy!
These sweet boys have lived in four – yes four! – foster homes since they came into care just six months ago. I’m sure their excessive energy, tantrums, and other behaviors have been challenging, but my guess is that the need for constant, line-of-sight supervision is what really tired out the foster parents. We’re super happy that the current foster family has asked us to do respite so that they can re-charge their batteries and continue on with the placement. These boys need stability in their lives!
Children can need line-of-sight supervision for a variety of reasons. They may get rowdy and knock over lamps, use the couch as a trampoline, and accidentally launch projectiles at the tv – in other words they have not yet developed safe indoor playing skills. When toddlers engage in this behavior, it’s age appropriate and fairly easy to redirect. My friend who has an older, developmentally-delayed son who gets too exuberant says she feels like they are always five minutes from an emergency room visit. Whew! Imagine constantly being on edge, feeling disaster is lurking just out of sight.
Other children need help with social skills and need adult intervention to help them have good interactions with other kids. They might be prone to fighting or hitting or saying mean things when they get irritated. As foster parents, our job is to see when a child is beginning to become agitated and either help them calm down, think through their actions, or remove them from situations.
Another reason for line-of-sight parenting is sexualized behavior, which can occur if a child has been sexually abused and hasn’t yet learned the rules of appropriate sexual behavior for children. Children may masturbate or try to touch other children. A child who is masturbating can be given a choice of going to their room as sexual self-touching is a private activity or the child can play in the living room without touching their privates. A child who tries to touch another child is reminded to keep their hands to themselves. The trick is to not shame them while ensuring no other kids are touched in appropriately.
When we are parenting kids who need line-of-sight supervision, we use a tag team approach. My hubby, teenaged kids, and I take turns watching the little ones and ensure the adults get some down time. Why? Frazzled parents have a harder time keeping calm and being a good role model. We never have our teens watch more than one, and usually only if we’re near by. For example, 15-year-old Savvy might do a craft project with a child while I prepare dinner. If an issue comes up, I can easily intervene. Such a method teaches the teens how to interact with others without putting too much responsibility on their shoulders. At the same time, the little ones see a “cool,” older kid practicing good behavior and they naturally want to emulate them.