Being a foster parent comes with many rewards and obstacles. One of the obstacles that many families face is supporting children with behaviour that challenges.
Unfortunately, many children in the foster care system have been through difficult and traumatic experiences, which can often manifest in various responses being presented. As a foster parent, you are a significant person in the team around the child, so you will be gaining understanding as to the reasons for behaviours being demonstrated and helping children to navigate their emotions and develop strategies for managing their trauma responses.
The training you receive at Fosterplus will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to understand and support children and young people, and your supervising social worker, alongside the wider team, will be there every step of the way to support you. Below, we have outlined some key strategies that we consider as supportive for helping children with managing their emotions.
1. Create a structured environment and schedule
Children need a home environment that provides safety, predictability and consistency. Children in care who have experienced a lot of instability already can find change, unpredictability and transitions unsettling and anxiety provoking, which can be demonstrated in how they present. If your foster child knows what to expect, whether that’s dinner time at 5pm or a film night on Saturday, they will feel safer and more at home. So, try to make your home life as consistent and structured as possible by creating appropriate schedules and giving children plenty of notice whenever possible.
2. The ABCs of recording behaviour
The ABCs of recording behaviour was created by psychologists to help parents understand and manage behaviours in children. In particular, children who have had traumatic experiences. As a foster parent, this strategy can help you explore and understand the emotions or circumstances that are ‘triggering’ behaviours and how best to support a child through establishing more positive responses.
Looking beyond the behaviour and understanding the causes is the first step in helping a child. There might be a history of abuse, bullying, or neglect, and each child will have had different experiences and process these differently. There may be a pattern that emerges as to triggers or scenarios that cause a child to become dysregulated.
The next step is recording how it manifests – what behaviours does your child show? They might have a loud outburst, act aggressively, or they might be unkind to other children. If you are fostering siblings, for example, you might notice one child doesn’t treat the other fairly.
The final step involves recording the natural consequences of their actions and seeing how they work. Over time, you will get a better idea of what works for your child and what doesn’t. It will allow you to explore how a child responds to strategies to support them back to a more regulated emotional place. It’s all about understanding the reasons behind the child’s behaviour and figuring out ways to support and encourage them into a better direction.
3. Breaking down tasks
Some days it can feel near impossible to get your child to complete a task. A simple but effective trick is to break it down. If you’re having a day full of chores, don’t give them a huge list! Instead, ask them to do little tasks throughout the day and reward them with words of praise and gratitude.
Breaking tasks down is especially important if you are a short term foster parent, as your foster child won’t know your usual routine. Breaking it down will make it easier to understand and won’t overwhelm them.
4. Consistent rewards and consequences
Inconsistency can slow any progress from even the best behavioural support strategies. Children need a consistent home environment that doesn’t overwhelm or confuse them. This means being consistent with your boundaries, rewards and consequences.
It is important to choose your battles, however try to be consistent in the boundaries you set for your foster child and offer the same responses to behaviours they may display. The security of clear and consistent boundaries will help your child feel safe, and enable a child to develop awareness of the impact of their behaviours.
5. A family safer caring plan
It is much easier to manage a child’s behaviour when they know what to expect. This is why exploring with a child how the household is managed to ensure everybody is safe can be important. By creating an agreement that everyone is aware of, you ensure everyone in the home knows what is expected of them. This can be created alongside your family book to help settle a child into your family.
6. Be patient
It is important to have a lot of empathy for children you are caring for, and recognising that any behaviours they present are responses to trauma and the emotions this creates for a child. It can take a lot of time for a child to trust you, feel settled and start to respond positively to the amazing support you are providing as a foster parent. Be patient with them, as well as yourself, and ask your social worker for advice and support where needed.
7. Be a role model
One of the most powerful ways to encourage positive behaviour in children is by being a strong role model. Instead of getting frustrated or raising your voice, be a calm and understanding presence. Children need their parental figure to be consistently emotionally and physically available to them so be present for a child without the distractions of modern life and encourage conversation. The more your child witnesses this behaviour, the more likely they are to emulate it.
Supporting a child or young person with their behaviour isn’t always easy, and remaining committed through the process requires your own resilience as progress can take time. With these seven strategies, though, you will be on track to guiding children in the right direction.
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