How to Connect With and Empower Foster and Adoptive Children w/ Jenifer Beaney

Inside: In this episode, Jenifer Beaney and I dive deep into the challenges of parenting foster and adoptive children. Jen, a mom of four from the CTC community, shares her journey with her adopted 16-year-old daughter, once deemed a ‘lost cause’ by social workers, the tough times they had at first, and How giving her a voice has changed her trajectory.

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Ever thought of fostering or adopting? 

For most of us, the thought terrifies us. For some, they’d like to but are not sure they are up to it.

All of us know, though, that it would be a challenge. But imagine if you could sit up tall and say, “Heck yeah! I’m up for it. Bring it on!”

This week on our Calm the Chaos podcast, I spoke to Jenifer Beaney, a CTC community member and a mom of four. One year ago, Jen said just that when asked if she would take her then 15-year-old adoptive daughter after being sent back to the foster home for bad behavior for the 12th time in just 8 years.

She was described as more challenging than any other kid: way off track, too much to handle, a lost cause, you name it. And that came from the professionals in the system that were meant to help her.

But when others gave up and turned their back, Jen was all in. She accepted the challenge and tried a different approach – the Calm the Chaos way. And guess what? It worked!

Jen got through to this child, helping her feel seen, heard, and understood without trying to change who she was.

Now, this teen is successfully balancing both high school and a Community College Cosmetology course. Quite the transformation for a kid who, only about 9 months ago, had 5 suspensions from school.

Want to hear how Jen and her daughter transformed from being near strangers – with the kid only communicating through screams – to a deeply connected parent-teen duo? 

Her daughter recently said: “Mom, thanks for giving me a voice.” 

That’s where their journey led. Bet you’d love to hear the whole story.

Let’s dive in!

Jen Was Destined for Her Daughter

When she adopted her 15-year-old daughter last year, Jen was already a member of the Calm the Chaos community. 

By then, she had been successfully applying the program to every member of her family for some time – her husband, her 20-year-old stepson, her 13-year-old Autistic son, and her youngest 7-year-old son.

When they first got married, Jen and her husband discussed adopting a teenager from foster care. They both had friends who had been in foster care and knew that many of those children simply aged out and were forgotten. 

Jen and her husband believed they were uniquely equipped to parent a teenager. She felt that Calm the Chaos had prepared her to parent even the most challenging child (as my book’s subtitle suggests). So, in a way, we could say that Jen was destined for her daughter. 

Before this teen moved in, Jen ran into the woman the girl had been living with. She spent an hour ranting about nothing except the problems the girl had and how she didn’t know what to do with her. 

She mentioned everything: disrespect, defiance, a lot of lying, being spacey, manipulation, school refusal, in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, runaway attempts, fighting with other kids… (I’m almost sure the list was endless.)

She concluded by saying that there was no hope for the girl and remarked, “Well, I’m sure I’ve scared you off by now.” 

But Jen responded, “No, not at all! We want her with us even more now because we know how to handle this. There’s nothing this girl can throw at us that we aren’t prepared for or willing to learn how to navigate.”

Bring on the Challenge, I’ve Got This

How many of you wish you felt that confidence, that ease, and that resilience? Imagine thinking, “Yes, I’ve got this. No matter how hard it is, bring on the challenge?”

Seeing Jen respond like that, after all the work she has done implementing the framework, filled me with pride. 

As I explained in the very first podcast episode – this program is for those kids that many label “challenging.” But we don’t see challenging as a bad thing. 

A challenge is something that helps us grow, shifts our beliefs and understanding. We believe challenging kids are exactly who they’re meant to be, and it is us who can be challenged by and learn from them. 

They just need someone to recognize the incredible individuals they are, someone who can see both the flip side of their struggle as their strength, who can listen to and amplify their voice. And that’s precisely what Jen has done. (Tune in for the full episode on YouTube and watch Jen sharing all the details.)

Adoptive Children, Calm the Chaos, Dayna Abraham

Everyone’s Voice Matters

Don’t get me wrong – Calm the Chaos wasn’t a magic wand that turned her daughter into a happy family member the moment she entered their house. (If only.)

At the very beginning, she was a girl who would scream and yell whatever she wanted to say.

It was clear that she had learned over the years that the only way her voice could be heard was by screaming, trying to get as loud as possible. She would assume no one would listen and become defensive and defiant. 

But Jen knew not to take it personally. To hear the words rather than the loudness. She guessed her daughter had never really felt heard before. 

So, they explained one of their core family values: everyone’s voice matters. This aligns with one of the foundational Calm the Chaos principles – that everyone gets a say.

Now, you might not always agree. There’s room for compromise and adjustments down the line. The important thing is that everyone’s voice gets heard.

No, it wasn’t a magic bullet. She didn’t immediately stop screaming. (That would’ve been too easy, right?)

So they crafted a simple in-the-moment plan based on the Calm the Chaos 4-step framework: if she felt the need to scream or raise her voice, she’d say, “Hear me!” In response, they’d stop what they were doing, turn to her, make eye contact, and reply, “We’re listening.”

She had been on the defensive for so long that it took some time. But after seeing it in action, after her opinion was heard time and time again, as she felt more comfortable and confident in them, she reverted to old habits less and less. 

Trust and Connection Come First

This led Jen to realize the key that would unlock her daughter – the single piece of advice she would give to new foster or adoptive parents:

Trust and connection come first. 

That should be the only priority at the beginning. Indeed, when you welcome a child into your home through fostering or adoption, your priorities need to shift in ways you never imagined.

You’ll be told that routines, schedules, and house rules are important – and they are. But the truth is: all of these take a back seat to the trust you’re trying to build with this new addition to your family.

Many of these children come with walls built high and fortified, constructed from past traumas. Their level of trust is almost non-existent.

For instance, at the beginning, Jen’s daughter admitted she was testing her new parents’ boundaries to see how long it would take them to abandon her. Because she had been abandoned so many times before, she may as well get it over with. 

When her daughter didn’t even unpack her clothes, Jen saw under the surface – to the fear she’d just have to pack them again. This wasn’t lazy or disrespectful. It showed she wasn’t ready to unpack her emotional baggage either. 

So, if a child isn’t ready to emotionally commit, they aren’t ready to commit to the day-to-day mechanics of fitting into the family. 

Only after she felt genuine safety and trust did Jen and her husband start to address the ‘other stuff’. Jumping into routines before building trust would simply be counterproductive.

The Hair Code of Mother-Daughter Trust

Adopted and foster kids’ trust can’t be won over with rules, consequences, or punishments.

At the very beginning, they need a presence they can count on. They need to know you will be there for the small everyday things.

It could be breakfast together every morning or the assurance that someone will be home when they return from school. These tiny anchors can make a huge difference, but a little letdown can leave them feeling betrayed. 

Small gestures of daily connection can also pave the way for them to open up to you. But you can’t force or dictate the terms. There is no point going all out buying cookie decorations if they’ve no interest in cooking. 

Instead, Jen followed her daughter’s lead and found a unique way to bridge their communication. 

You see, whenever her daughter felt nervous or unsure, she’d approach Jen and stroke her hair. Jen sensed it was reassuring for her, so she encouraged it. 

With her daughter’s burgeoning interest in cosmetology, she started braiding Jen’s hair. 

And while they sat, not looking at each other, she started talking. Small things at first, simple questions about her and the family. But, soon, the braiding turned to curling, and the time allowed for deeper issues to be discussed. 

This became their silent code. A brief braid hinted at a light conversation while curling heralded a more extensive heart-to-heart. This activity became their special thing, not just for her cosmetology practice but as a means of deeper connection. 

Using this subtle language, Jen’s daughter found a way to communicate when words fell short. Rather than directly expressing her fears or anxieties, she’d simply suggest, “Let’s do your hair.” 

And in those moments, amidst braids and curls, trust grew stronger, one strand at a time.

Never Ask, Just Listen

Jen’s “challenging” daughter has challenged her to be patient, to be an open door, inviting her (but never pushing her) to come in, to believe in a person no matter what. 

The one thing she wanted to share with other parents of foster or adoptive children is the lesson she learned the hard way. 

Never ask them to share their story.

Because it’s their story.

Sometimes, we think we need to know it in order to understand them, but we don’t. They are telling us what we need to know (even if it isn’t in the way you’d like them to). 

Let the burning curiosity to know what happened in their past go. It overshadows the real aim – to provide love, understanding, and a safe space.

You would never casually talk about childhood trauma or bad experiences. In fact, it can take adults years to be willing to share.

So, before you ask, remember – they’ll share when they’re ready. It’s essential to let them know that you’re there, ready to listen whenever they choose to open up.

Because the true connection is not about knowing their past first. It’s about being there for them now, in the present.

So, if you have an adoptive or foster child, or even just a child who is shut down or defiant, tune in for the full interview and let us know how much her story has touched you.

This is a topic that is not talked about enough, so share your thoughts about this episode on social media.

Or, if you are going through similar challenges, let us help you find your confidence and calm so that you can also help your kids find their voice.

Remember, you are not failing, and your kid is not broken.

And you have 100% got this because you are no longer alone. 


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Calm the Chaos Parenting is a podcast offering parents practical tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of raising strong-willed, highly sensitive, and neurodivergent children.

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