This is a guest post by Sherry Fleydervish. Sherry is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago, IL. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection in Lincoln Park. Read more about Sherry at IFCcounseling.com. You can find Individual and Family Connection on Facebook, too!
Four Ways to Respond When Your Foster Child is Misbehaving
Understand Your Foster Child’s Past.
Children entering foster care have experienced stressful situations that have shaped how they perceive the world, especially adults. If your child has never lived in a stable environment, they may be responding with anger or distrust to your home. Creating an environment where your child feels safe and secure can make tremendous changes in their behavior. Allowing them the opportunity to share their past with you can be beneficial for you as a parent, as well as for your child. Ensure your child hears that their past is an important part of them, but remind them that your job is to keep them safe in your home. Be sure to move at your child’s pace. You may be the first adult they are confiding in, so make sure to validate their emotional experience.
Recognize the Stressors in Your Child’s Life.
Foster care is stressful, confusing, and full of unexpected change. They may be struggling to navigate visits with their birth parents, interactions with their caseworkers, relationships at school, or just missing their previous home(s). Your child may be feeling overwhelmed and struggling to communicate about these stressors, try to help them find the words. Educate your child on the common stress responses, such as intense anger, irritability, and even mistrust. There may be a link between your child’s misbehavior and the stressors in their lives.
Build on Your Child’s Strengths and Coping Skills.
Your child couldn’t have gotten this far without developing coping skills. What does he or she do to relax? Maybe read a book or ride a bike? Remind your child that they have already developed skills that they can use to help themselves calm down in times of stress. If you notice that these skills are no longer useful, offer them other coping skills such as listening to music or teach them breathing exercises. Be patient with your child as they find what works for them. As you explore and build on your child’s coping skills, remind them of their strengths. Your child may be feeling discouraged as they develop coping skills that help them, so try using encouraging statements like “I can see how hard you are trying” to reassure them.
Prepare Your Child for Transitions
It is likely that your child was not mentally prepared for the transition to your home. The sudden change may have caused anxiety or confusion that could be contributing to the behavioral challenges you are noticing. Children entering foster care may have lacked control over their lives thus far, therefore it can be your job to help them gain a sense of control over every day changes. For example, if transitioning from video games to bedtime is a challenge, ask your child how you can help them move to the next activity. Offer your child reminders 10 and 5 minutes before the transition period to minimize any surprises. When possible, arrange for a few minutes of down time before transitioning. These simple changes can tremendously help your child develop a healthier relationship toward change.
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