After tea tonight Holly complained that one of her ears wasn’t hearing very well. I suggested that she use a couple of cotton buds to have a clean when she had her bath with Louise and Louise raised her eye brows and smiled. I asked her what she was smiling about and she said that she had chatted to Holly earlier about using a nasal spray which clears sinuses and can help with blocked up ears. Holly had flatly refused to use this however had never done so before! I laughed and asked Holly how she knew that it was a bad idea when she had never tried it. She shrugged and I shrugged back. We laughed and then she asked me to do my impression of a baby crying (apparently one of my specialties). I told her I would do her a deal in that I would do my impression five times (something which she apparently finds beyond hilarious) if she would try the nasal spray once. She thought for a second and then said “DEAL” and we shook on it.
In the past getting Holly to do these things has often be constructed around a deal. If she wants more cake we ask her to do a bit more exercise as it is our job to keep help her body healthy. If she wants more screen time we broker a situation where she might have more today but less tomorrow because the world offers so much more than YouTube. Having made a few of these deals over the months it has occurred to me, just like in business, that it is a great strategy if both parties are in it for something. Now, I fully accept that you may be fostering a child or young person who it appears you cannot do this with and that any deal is very one sided. Whether someone wants to do a deal with you is a good indication about how they feel about sharing power back with you. If you find the strength to persevere I would argue that it is something that you should continue to strive for. There is a simple reason for this: that it promotes relationship and it shows that you want to give power to someone in a safe way. When we barter with Holly it comes from a recognition of each others needs and a want to give the other person their request through our respect to them. Once a good deal is done a fresh understanding of each others needs is available and the bond of reciprocal appreciation to help each other is firmed up.
I was encouraged to hear a carer in training last week speak about what time her teenage foster daughter should come in from a night out with friends. Rather than giving an answer the carer instead asked her what time she thought was reasonable on a school night. This simple but brilliant move meant the power was handed back to the young lady and she actually offered a time half an hour before the one that the carer was going to suggest! This approach meant that both parties were satisfied and the young person felt like they had met the carers need and their need also. Winner!
For many foster carers, when we reflect on our own upbringing we recognise that we were usually told what to do rather than having a mutual power divide in which we could learn through making choices and mistakes. How much more oppressive it must be then, for many of the children in our care since they have never had any power and how wonderful it is for them to have some through simple techniques like this. Certainly we are seeing the benefits and I hope as you think about your next negotiation that you find the right words to build your relationship.