Learning to build positive relationships

Family is a big part of life for Danielle Schmidt, a foster parent (what we call a Parent Therapist) with Quinte Children’s Homes. When Thomas first came into her care, that close family relationship was something he had to adjust to.

Then nine years old, Thomas had been in the foster care system for several years. Shy and withdrawn, he had a lot of aggression issues and building relationships wasn’t something that came easily.

Thomas came to QCH because he needed specialized care and a lot of attention. Now 11 years old and equipped with new coping skills, he’s learning to make positive connections at home and in the classroom.

Balance at home and in school

There were just three people in Schmidt’s home when Thomas first came to live with her: Thomas, herself, and another foster child. That gave Schmidt a lot of time to focus on Thomas and what he needed.

“One reason why he was acting up was to get attention from people,” Schmidt recalled. She says that he also turned feelings of frustration into physical and verbal aggression, something that had to be addressed at home and at school.

“I learned to pick my battles,” Schmidt explained. “I ignored small things, like yelling, and focused on significant things, like when he reacted with violence.”

Finding a place within a family

Schmidt says keeping life predictable and balanced has been helpful for Thomas. “It’s very scheduled during the week,” she said. “On weekends, however, he can relax with no nagging and no schedule.”

This lifestyle brings a good mix of structure and one-on-one fun time. “I think it’s become very important to him,” Schmidt observed.

As Schmidt and Thomas bonded, balance became very important; instead of being removed and disconnected, Thomas became increasingly possessive.

“He wanted to set boundaries on my personal activities, and it took some support for me to push outside of those limits,” Schmidt recalled. “With another person from QCH, we’ve tried to emphasize that it’s OK to miss someone, but that there are appropriate ways to do so.”

One of the ways this was reinforced was to recognize both inappropriate missing and appropriate missing. Schmidt underlines that this reinforcement wasn’t about consequence.

“The intention wasn’t to discourage him from missing me, but to reward him for acting appropriately,” she explained. Appropriate missing might be recognized with a day trip with just the two of them, she said, while inappropriate missing might be acknowledged with one-on-one time at home.

“My family is very close and open, and they’re also a part of Thomas’ life,” she said. “I think he admires the way my family interacts, so even when it’s just us, we do a lot of activities together.”

Preparing for school next year

After a year-and-a-half at Applewood Academy, Thomas is preparing to return to the public school system next fall. In our next post, we’ll look at some of the success he’s found in the classroom this year.

Learn more about our Parent Therapist program

Learning to create positive relationships is one of the life skills we focus on at Quinte Children’s Homes. For more information about our treatment program, or to learn how you can become a Parent Therapist, please contact us directly or connect with us on Twitter.

* The names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.*