Ask Dr. Phelps: How can I get my toddler to stop biting?

Guest blog column by Dr. Pam Phelps of The Creative Center for Childhood Research & Training Inc. and doctor of Early Education. Her posts answer parenting questions. 

Parent: 

Dear Dr. Phelps,

My 2-year-old son is usually very well-mannered and loving, but recently he has started biting. Usually it happens if another child takes a toy away from him, if he doesn’t want to do another activity, if he gets frustrated, etc. He bites his 5-year-old sister at home and has also bitten children a few times at school. Why did he start doing this all of a sudden? Is there anything I can do to help him stop?

– Biting the dust in North Florida

Dr. Phelps:

Dear Biting,

Big sister needs to hold her hand up when he looks like he is going to bite and say, “No, do not bite me” in a firm voice (not screaming). You should move in and help him begin to use some sign language or a few words such as “play” or “turn.” This can later be moved into, “I want to play” or, “Can I have a turn?”

Young children often bite and it is usually over a toy. Toys draw children into social interactions and young children do not have language skills that allow them to discuss problems.

In group child care settings children often bite because there are not enough of the same kind and color of toy and/or the adults in charge are not paying close enough attention. Children need to be taught how to solve these conflicts. When adults are attentive they can intervene before the bite happens, modeling and scaffolding a positive social exchange. Time-out teaches nothing. A child on time-out knows no more when the time-out is over then he/she did before it started.

Finding Hannah

Guest blog post by Ms. Taylor*, a Florida teacher.

Hannah* was my little helper at school. Only a first grader, she was smart and always wanted to hand out papers, get supplies, anything she could do to help. Her hand always shot up to answer questions. She told me she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.

But then she changed. She didn’t want to help me anymore and stopped raising her hand. When I tried to engage her and called on her, she said she didn’t know the answer. One day she was in the bathroom for a long time before lunch so I went to check on her. When she came out her eyes were red and she was embarrassed – she had been crying. I noticed during class that she would snap a rubber band on her wrist – hard enough to leave little red marks.

I just felt something wasn’t right. I asked her if everything was ok but she said she was fine. I asked her how her mom was doing, what she did over the weekend, things to try to get her talking about her home life, but she gave me one-word answers, always telling me she was fine.

It hurt me to see her this way. Where had my helpful Hannah gone? I figured the Florida Abuse Hotline would think I was crazy if I called. What if her dog died or her parent lost their job and they had to sell some of her belongings. I had no idea why she had changed so drastically. But my heart ached for this child – something just wasn’t right. So I filled out the online abuse reporting form (www.FloridaAbuseHotline.com).

Our school had a DCF Abuse Hotline community trainer come out to the school about eight months ago, so I knew that even if my report didn’t start an investigation that maybe it would supplement a previous report. Or maybe someone else would tell them something in a month or so and then it would start an investigation. I knew that even if it ended up being something like her dog dying, that I did this out of love and concern for the child. I suspected something was wrong at home and it could be abuse or neglect.

I’ve seen glimmers of my old Hannah back, but she isn’t like she used to be … yet. But she seems to be getting better every day. Yesterday she raised her hand during circle time! I hope that my report helped her, but I know for a fact that it didn’t hurt.

If your school or organization would like a DCF Abuse Hotline community trainer to provide a training, please email Ashley_robinson@dcf.state.fl.us. 

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons. 

My take on foster care

Blog post by Kristen Bolander, a foster, adoptive and biological mom in North Florida.

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

Baby Adorable and I blogging away

I had the pleasure of babysitting a tiny little bit the other night. The baby, who I will name Adorable, is adorable and in foster care. As I snuggled Adorable to death I was reminded of all of the emotions that come over you as a foster parent. This is Adorable’s foster parent’s first foster kid. Not only that, but they have a 7-month-old bio son themselves. They took in an addicted baby when they have their own child to raise.

We have all seen those blog posts about how hard it is to be a foster parent, and how it’s worth it, and all. This is my take on it…

 

 

As a foster and adoptive parent I get comments everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

“God bless you for doing that.”

“I’ve always thought about doing that.”

“I could never give a kid up.”

“When the time is right I am going to foster.”

“I wish I could do that.”

“You’re such a great person for taking in abused kids.”

“There is a special place in heaven for you.”

“You must have a heart of gold.”

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour.  All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

We heard all of the above comments at the beach in one hour. All in front of my kids which gets old for all of us.

While I always appreciate any encouragement I can get, I hear these same phrases so often that they have become blanket statements for people to say, when they want to express their admiration for someone but don’t know how. I smile, make a joke about how I just drink a lot of coffee and have a bunch of bad ideas and walk away before anyone can bother to ask more questions like, “Are any of them related?” (Please, do not ever ask an adoptive parent this question in front of their children – use your head people.) 

My feelings about foster care aren’t about how hard it is to give a kid up, though it can be very difficult. For me, what has been hard is looking the kids in their beautiful eyes and thinking about what has been, and what could be. Those incredibly long nights, when you are awake with your addicted baby who is screaming from withdrawal are hard, really hard. That time when you look in your child’s eyes and you see the resemblance to their bio mom and a moment of fear flashes through your mind of, “What if they turn out like that?” and you can do nothing but pray and hope. Those moments when your child is screaming to go back to the person who hurt them.

Those foster care classes where they give you the reality of foster care but then try and let you know how rewarding it can be, they cannot prepare you for it all. Sometimes it’s not rewarding. Sometimes a child will come into your home and you cannot help them. Your skills and love do not match their needs, and you have to find that child another home. Sometimes, or a lot of times, you lock yourself in a bathroom and cry because you are so overwhelmed by the kid’s behavior, or the thought of what happened to them, the thought of losing them or everything. Being a foster parent is overwhelming, and emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s not hard for me to love another person’s child; if you’re a kid in my home, you’re my child and I love you, though many times I may not like you. It’s hard to deal with bad behaviors and it’s hard to accept that people abuse children, but that’s what foster parents do, day in and day out. All while caseworkers, attorneys, and Guardian Ad Litem’s, come in and out of the home, make phone calls about you, and scrutinize if you have taken out your bathroom trash that week or not.

I don’t watch TV because it’s a great way for me to avoid the news and reality of the world around me. I don’t get newspapers, I don’t follow politics, and I don’t really care about much going on around me. But abuse, I’m not in the business of ignoring reality.  I copied this from www.adoptuskids.org.

“More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Most of these children are living with foster families, but some also live in group facilities. Each year more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care without being adopted. Today there are 104,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted ranging in age from less than a year old to 21.”

250,000 kids come into foster care each year, and you know where they end up? In the homes of tired people, emotionally exhausted people who just want to sleep through the night, people who have raised more kids than ‘The Duggars’. Those foster parents, when approached by strangers giving blanket statements, “I don’t know how you do it, I could never do that,” smile and give some generic answer, just like I do, smile again and move on. But in truth most of those people who say those seemingly nice statements have no clue how much we foster parents give, and love. They have no idea how much time and energy we invest into helping mold the most vulnerable members of society, who will one day grow up and have a choice to make about how they want to treat their children. We work, day and night, to ensure that our kids aren’t treated differently, that they get the special services they need, that they feel loved. We have to think about child abuse all day, not just when it pops up on the news for three minutes. It is our kids’ constant reality, and now ours. If you get upset when you hear something terrible on the news, truly stop, and think about how foster parents have to take that reality on 24/7 until the child, or children can adjust.

Today, go thank a foster parent. Don’t give out any more blanket, “Oh you’re such a great person” statement. Go DO something for them. Foster parents are helping to change the entire world of the children in their homes. That’s a big freaking deal. Take them a meal, send them a gift card, or write them a thank you note. What we do behind closed doors is epic, even if you can’t see it. But to us, it’s all worth it, knowing that even if that kid was with us for just a few days, we helped make their life a little better.

I love being a foster parent. I know foster parenting is not for everyone, but if you have honestly been considering it, here is a video that my husband Willy and I are in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwIA8y-YjY8

“She said I could change the world”

KirkWe are excited to announce that Kirk A. Brown will begin as the Department of Children and Families Extended Foster Care Director on April 11. Upon his arrival, we want to share the inspiring story of how he got here:

Kirk Brown is passionate about helping kids get out of poverty and move their lives toward an educated future. Currently as Senior Vice President of Programs and Business and Development at HANDY (Helping Abused Neglected Disadvantaged Youth) Inc. in Broward County, Brown encourages youth in foster care to graduate high school and move onto higher education programs.  As DCF’s Extended Foster Care Director, he will guide youth as they transition into adulthood from the foster care system.

Brown grew up in a chaotic situation, and like many of the youth he helps, he had no original intentions to receive a college education. When he was 16 he moved from Jamaica to America and attended high school. Lacking a support system and the encouragement to strive for a higher education, Brown remembers feeling lost and faithless in the world. It wasn’t until he met his high school pre-law teacher that his story completely changed. “She gave me the most self-esteem I had ever received in my life,” said Kirk, “She said I could change the world.” His teacher acted as Brown’s first mentor in his life, giving him information on how to apply to college, receive financial aid and even helped him experience his first mock trial, which inspired Brown to pursue law school.

From then on, Kirk Brown’s future brightened. He not only graduated high school with outstanding grades, but went onto earn two undergraduate degrees at the Florida Atlantic University. After graduating in 1998, his schooling continued, as he now holds a Masters in Social Work degree from Barry University.

His inspiration to go into social work sparked one day when he was driving down Atlantic Boulevard and spotted the spitting image of his 16 year-old self. “It pulled on my heartstrings,” Kirk said, “I remembered being just like that kid, lost and hopeless, and that’s when it all connected for me. He even had on a Coca-Cola shirt just like one I had in Jamaica.” After picking him up and taking the boy to McDonalds Brown realized he couldn’t possibly leave him on the street. “I asked around, ‘Who fixes this problem?’ and I was told DCF.” Shortly after, Brown applied to the Department of Children and Families so he could fix situations like the lost kid he saw.

Kirk Brown’s first position at DCF was as a Family Services Counselor Supervisor. Through DCF and HANDY, Kirk has already improved so many young Floridian’s futures. Now back at the department, we are eager to experience the great work he will continue to do in the lives of our community’s youth. 

Welcome to Our Family, Elie!

Guest post by Heather Rosenberg, a foster and adoptive parent for almost five years. This is the third post in her blogging series.

photo 4

Warren and Elie, both born of Heather and her husband’s hearts through adoption.

After many emotional conversations, we both came to the conclusion that we could not break up siblings, and we would be the resource for the new baby if it were to be sheltered. We prepared our home for a new child and told our employers the news. Experience had shown us that you take a lot of time off with a new child (and both of us said goodbye to the possibility of any sleep ever again). Even though these adoptions were an emotional and physically draining rollercoaster, Bethanie, Dianna and Karen all played instrumental roles in our decision making process. These women pour everything in their job for the kids on their cases and helped us to recharge and stay in it for the long haul. I am forever grateful for these ladies.

The day we made the decision to take Elie into our home, Bethanie called with the exciting news of her early birth! My 3 year old and I went to pick her up. Upon our arrival we instantly fell in love with this little squishy baby that would find shelter in our home and love in our hearts. It was difficult to watch Elie’s parents struggle in changing the course of their destinies, but they began to understand that their children were going to be well cared for with our family. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you foster sometimes because you are so uplifted and encouraged by the gains the children in your home make but find such despair in knowing that their family story involves so much loss and pain.

photo 2

Adoption Day with the advocates who helped during the journey. Thank you!

A few months ago the judge announced the arrival of our Elie for the first time to the world and in the process made us a legal, forever family of five. Today our house is a little messier, our schedules are a little more hectic, we have less disposable cash and much more laundry to fold, but our family is exactly the way it was meant to be! The journey has not been easy for us—Evan and I have fussed and whined at and to each other. We’ve had sleepless nights as one or more of the kids have been sick, or teething, or experiencing night terrors for the first time. Our marriage has had to grow with our growing family.

I think back to the beginning of our foster care journey and I can’t help but think how much life has changed for my family in those short five years. We have three forever children now, have fostered a dozen children along the way and have made many friends who have fostered or adopted. But we also have seen the amazing capacity of the human spirit to thrive and rebound, and we’ve met three wonderful women who worked very hard to ensure the safety of one child, but ultimately ended up creating a loving family for his sister too! I think about all of this and know that my life is as it should be.