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How Do We Help Our Foster Child?

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From South Africa: Hello. My fiance’s mother passed away last year from cancer, so we took his 8 year old brother into foster care. At first it was fine, but we are having problems with him lying a lot. He says he lies because he does not want to get into trouble, although we have explained many times that he will be in bigger trouble if he lies. He recently started swearing at the older kids at school, when I asked about it he lied about the words he used and who he said it to.

His mother never really applied rules in the house, but he has gotten used to the fact the he does not get to do what he wants now.

He did see a therapist earlier in the year and she said he is just sad, but will be fine. We have tried everything. Talking to him, taking away things he loves, standing in a corner, spanking etc. But none of it seems to work. He gets a lot of love and attention at home, so there is no shortage there.

He has been having a bad attitude the last few weeks, so as if he is trying to be in control (bossy and rude). He is also very angry, his teacher let me know that he would become white in the face with anger at school. He is not like that at all at home.

What can we do? We hate punishing him, but he must learn that his actions have consequences. I know things won’t get better overnight, but we want him to heal from his mother’s death. We know he is sad, because he often cries at night when he misses her. Should we take him to a therapist again? How can we make him understand that we want to help him and that he should stop lying and trust us?

How Do We Help Our Foster Child?

Answered by on -


What a difficult situation. I applaud you for taking this boy into your home and your heart. You are suddenly parenting a child who is dealing with both loss of his mother and the changes in expectations for his behavior that came with coming into your home. I’m sure he is struggling. And i’m not at all surprised that you are struggling too.

Kids grieve in many different ways. It is not unusual for anger to be mixed in with the sadness. It is normal for him to feel angry about the loss of his mom, upset that his life has been turned upside down, and unable to manage his many emotions. Please don’t feel that at times you aren’t up to the task.

So, yes. You should go back to therapy, not just for him but for your whole family. A family therapist will help you all (you, your fiance and the boy) understand the changes that are necessary to keep him physically and emotionally safe. Therapy will give him a safe place to express his feelings and to hear your love as well as your concerns about how to help him. A therapist will also give you new tools for providing him with the loving discipline he needs.

There is no way you could have been prepared for this sudden leap into parenthood. Give yourself, your fiance, and the boy the gift of the support and practical help a therapist can offer.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Do We Help Our Foster Child?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). How Do We Help Our Foster Child?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Nov 2018 (Originally: 3 Dec 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Nov 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.