Woman comforting child

When I worked as a foster home licensing worker several years ago, I used to get calls from frantic foster parents. They would tell me “Johnny’s” or “Ellen’s” behavior for the past few weeks or months in their home had been “wonderful”, “perfect”, “so easygoing”, but now things seemed out of control. The children in their home in foster care, whose behaviors were seemingly so good for a while, now included things like cursing and yelling, kicking the walls, talking back to teachers and maybe even getting suspended from school. The foster parents were upset at these displays and didn’t seem to know how to handle the situation. Many of them asked for the children to be removed from their homes because the foster parents could not deal with the behaviors these kids were now exhibiting.

Whenever I got these calls, I would remind the foster parents that we had previously talked about some kids having a “honeymoon period”, where their behavior is unremarkable, and they are compliant with directives and agreeable to whatever is asked of them. I would remind the foster parents that we talked about this state usually not being a permanent state, as some of these children are traumatized and probably have many underlying issues. Also, some children were most likely too scared to not do as they were asked, not knowing what would happen if they acted out in any way.

The most important thing I would mention to the foster parents is this: I told them they could either view this change in behavior as the most terrible thing to ever happen, or they could take it as a compliment from the children. I would then explain that some of these children were actually paying the foster parents a compliment, by feeling comfortable enough, safe enough, secure enough to let some of their emotions out (the most prevalent emotion being anger). These kids knew in their hearts that they could get angry and display maladaptive behaviors, and the foster parents wouldn’t harm them for doing so. In other words, they trusted the foster parents, knowing they would not be locked in their rooms or not fed dinner or kicked out of the house or beaten or verbally abused or shunned because they showed some anger or rage. In reality, deep down, these kids were asking for help with their anger and rage by displaying it to people they trusted. In addition, some of the kids were “testing” the foster parents to see if they were “like all the rest” who gave up on them and had them removed, or were they the kind of foster parents who would allow kids to express their anger and help them handle it.

Children who show you the angry, hurting side of themselves are children who trust you and want you to be the home that helps them with their emotions. They wouldn’t test you if they didn’t want you to pass the test. Believe me. I know.

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