Denise Stevens

 

Children in foster care can, at times, exhibit maladaptive behaviors, usually tied to feelings they have that they don’t understand, can’t express and/or are unable to handle without help. In some instances, the best way for foster parents to help is by listening to the children, being consistent and available and being a steadying influence for them, along with ensuring they receive the mental health care they need.

But I want to talk about normal behaviors that all kids have, and caution foster parents not to categorize these behaviors as somehow worse because a child is in foster care.

“Normal” behaviors for me, when I was a teenager, were talking back, showing anger when I didn’t get what I wanted, being resentful and sullen, isolating myself in my room at times, slamming doors, not talking to anyone and at times just being generally annoying to anyone around me. These are really quite normal behaviors and feelings for most kids at some point, as they test their boundaries, begin to identify more with their peer group than their family and experiment with attempts at independence from parents and other adults.

You may see a lot of these same behaviors, and others, in the kids you foster in your home. I know, from years of working with foster parents and even with residential group home staff, that there is a natural tendency for caregivers to almost automatically view these behaviors as infinitely more devastating and meaningful, solely due to the child’s status as a child in foster care. Don’t fall into this trap!

I’m NOT at all saying that you should ignore, discount or be unconcerned about these types of behaviors. There is a very fine line between effective, supportive assistance shown toward a child versus an overreactive, impulsive response that is not well thought out.

What I AM saying is this: Some behaviors displayed by kids in foster care are part of the normal process of growing up, and would have occurred whether the kids were in foster care or not. So, if some of the behaviors are normal, then try not to perceive those behaviors as worse than they are just because out-of-home care is involved. And don’t ascribe more significance or meaning than is warranted to a behavior that is developmentally normal for all kids to exhibit.

Once you’ve taken a deep breath and a minute to really observe and think about a child’s behavior in the context of the moment, choose your response wisely, so that both you and the child in care can learn, grow and benefit. And remember—kids in foster care have normal feelings and behaviors just like kids who are not in foster care; sometimes all they need is someone to tell them exactly that.