Discipline & the Special Circumstance Parent

The story below is an example of something that special circumstance parents  – parents of special needs kids, behaviorally challenged kids, foster kids, and adoptive parents – go through every day – from friends, parents, co-workers, and even complete strangers.  Don’t judge my friend harshly.  She meant no harm, and I love her dearly.  This is only meant to share some of the realities of kinship/foster care, and parenting special needs children.

This week was my bestie’s first real meeting with the kids. She met us over at the new house (where we intended to do #SundayFunday). It was only their second time visiting the new house, so they were running, screaming, and jumping. In short, it was chaos.

“Hey, you need to settle down,” she told them.

“That won’t work,” I advised her.

A short time later, “Hey, I don’t put up with that stuff in my house, and I’m sure Lisa won’t mind if I smack your butts in her house!”

My husband laughed. My older daughters just shook their heads. The kids just ignored her.

“That won’t work,” I advised her.

A bit later, she gets down on their levels. She lowers her voice. She attempts to look them in the eyes (Trey doesn’t look people in the eyes): “You need to calm down.”


At that point, J, sensing that I was getting a little stressed out, decided that, with all the moving we needed to get done, we were probably all best off packing up and doing other stuff, like shopping for necessities.

In the car, my daughter looked at me from a shotgun. “It was so adorable how she thought she was gonna be able to control them, wasn’t it?”

Inappropriate shade-throwing aside, it was both adorable and totes not adorbs.

Here are a few things you should know about special circumstances and discipline:

Circumstances matter

My special ones might behave entirely differently at a place they are used to.  At our old house, it would have been easy to set them down and calm them.  In a new place, with new people, there’s too much going on, too much excitement.  It’s why I put them in carts when we do shopping, even if they are big enough to walk, even if it means I have to buy less and make multiple trips to a store every week.  It’s why we won’t be visiting your home or any other.  We love you, but your home isn’t safe for my kids.  Or maybe I mean from my kids. You may have baby gates, and door locks, and outlet covers, but it isn’t their home and that matters.

We’ve already tried it

Time out?  Tried that. Spankings? Pointless.  Tried that. Speaking loudly?  They’re louder.  Speaking quietly?  They ignore that too.  Many of us have had children who are older than our special circumstance kids.  They are well-behaved and listen. That wasn’t a fluke.  Once upon a time, a co-worker who was expecting his first child actually told me, “Lisa, I want to be the kind of parent you are.  Your kids are smart, polite, and they’re good kids. That’s parenting done right.” (Some days, I could really use a dose of that.  Is it pretentious to hang that on my wall somewhere?)

There are reasons that stuff doesn’t work

ADHD.  FAS. Oppositional Behavioral Disorder. Autism. Previous abuse. Previous neglect. The fact that they’ve been pulled away from everything they knew before.  These things matter and they affect behavior.  When you judge a special circumstance parent, you don’t always know the situation. You don’t know what that child came from.  Before you decide they ‘just need a good spanking’, maybe you should consider if perhaps they had one too many severe ‘spankings’ in the past.

We’re trying other things

My special child goes to 1, sometimes 2, behavioral therapy sessions a week.  He’s already doing much better.  But if SPECIALIST who deals with these issues for a living, and has devoted their lives to it, can’t “fix” it over the course of several months, what makes you think you can fix it with a few commands?

Special kids need special handling

Time-out and spankings don’t work on my kid.  Congratulations if they do on yours. My kid needs redirection, grounding exercises, and special techniques.  I handle my kid in a way that works best and gets the best results. Sometimes, that means I pick my battles.

Your judgement makes me second guess myself

I’m only human.  When you try to correct what’s going on, when you act like I’m just ignoring bad behavior, you make me second guess myself. I might react in a way that is counterproductive. I might seek an immediate result, instead of the correct one.

We don’t judge you

When you’re second-guessing your parenting skills, those of us with special circumstance kids will be the ones who support you and boost your confidence. When you don’t know if you’re doing anything right, we’ll be the ones in your corner cheering you on.  We know parenting is hard, and we know you’re doing your best.


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