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9 behavioural management strategies for parents and foster carers

Tuesday 11 December 2018

One of the biggest challenges you may face as a foster carer is managing a child’s behaviour. Coming from a troubled environment, many foster children can exhibit disruptive behaviours when they’re placed with a new family, and this can be difficult to deal with.

However, with the right strategies, a positive approach and continued support from your Supervising Social Worker you will hopefully be able to manage, and ultimately develop the behavioural habits of children in your care – putting them on the path to developing important life skills and developing a positive and fulfilling future for themselves.

In this guide, we offer 9 behavioural management strategies you can use to provide consistent, fair and effective parenting at home. They are:

1. Follow the ABC of behaviour management

With a view to better understand where misbehaviour stems from, psychologists created the ABC Behaviour Chart, which considers behavioural triggers, actions to combat misbehaviour, and the consequences of such behaviour. In this model, the ABC stands for:

  • Antecedents – These are the factors which influence a child’s behaviour and are often referred to as triggers. In the case of a foster child, an antecedent could be a neglectful upbringing or bullying, which has led directly to bad behaviour. By understanding a child’s family history, you’ll be better placed to recognise their triggers and come up with a strategy to deal with them.
  • Behaviours – The B stands for the behaviours you’d like to encourage or discourage, for example, swearing or hitting. There are many strategies for encouraging certain behavioural changes, which we cover more of below.
  • Consequences – The consequences of a child’s behaviour, either positive or negative, which directly follow an outburst. Both you and the child need to be clear about what the consequences are for misbehaviour, and you must take immediate action to ensure consistency.

The ABC model is helpful for foster carers who are aware that their child has behavioural issues. We’d recommend sitting down and mapping out each behaviour the child exhibits using the labels above.

Once you know what triggers your child’s behaviour and have a system in place to deal with the aftermath, you have a powerful strategy that will help towards positive behavioural change.

2. Set up a rewards chart

Childrens rewards chart

As we touched on above, a rewards chart is one such strategy which can promote genuine behavioural change – provided it’s used properly. This rewards the children for good behaviour or carrying out certain tasks, with an overall view to reinforce positive behaviour and achieve long-term change.

Rewards charts usually come in the form of a poster, but there are now smartphone apps which do the same thing. You agree with the child and list goals which you want the child to achieve, and they receive points or stickers which tally-up towards a reward.

This can be a great way of dealing with minor misbehaviour but may not be all that effective in dealing with deep-rooted aggression or serious disruptive tendencies.

3. Demonstrate complete objectivity

It can be incredibly difficult to remain calm, neutral and level-headed in the midst of an argument or following an act of disruptive behaviour on the part of a child. However, being objective is a useful way to calm a situation and can be a signal to the child that you have their best interests at heart and understand why they may be acting in this way.

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Taking an objective stance on misbehaviour is challenging, but an unbiased and calm approach can help remove any attention-grabbing elements from their behaviour. Furthermore, it may help you see what triggered the behaviour, so you can come up with an effective way to deal with it in the future.

4. Build a consistent approach to consequences and reward

Whether you are rewarding a child for good behaviour or trying to manage inappropriate behaviour, you need to be consistent. It is especially important to ensure that all children in your care receive the same treatment, and there is no favouritism.

Little boy being disciplined

A consistent approach to a child’s behaviour relies on your ability to follow through on consequences and reward. If you warn the child of the consequences you need to see them through, and the same goes for rewarding good behaviour. This can help you to maintain authority and fairness within your foster family, and better manage their behaviour in the future.

5. Create a family rules board

Before a child comes into your care, you should create a family rules board which sets out exactly what’s expected of the child, and what they can expect from you in return. Also, ask your looked after child to add suggestions to the family rules board, to ensure they feel part of the process. Sometimes, carers assume that a child will know what’s expected, but their previous experiences before coming into care may mean that they need a steer on what is acceptable and what is not in your home.

When creating a family rules board, be as clear as possible about specific rules and why they’re in place. This will not only help you manage their behaviour but can be a great tool to fall back on when reinforcing the consequences for misbehaviour. If it’s not on the board, they may be able to use this as an opportunity not to stick to the rules and question you on this, so be as clear and comprehensive as you can.

6. Selective ignoring

Children sometimes act in a certain way to seek attention, for a whole host of reasons and when you react, this diminishes your authority and suggests to them that they have some control. In the case of minor attention-seeking behaviour, it can be useful to ignore this, simply by going about another task as normal or communicating with the child about something else.

The trick here is to not rise to the behaviour, disregarding it as if it never happened. Of course, this takes a lot of discipline, but it can be an effective way of preventing minor disruptive behaviour. This is only recommended for minor misbehaviours, however, and more serious disruption or aggression should be handled using different strategies.

7. Be receptive to positive behaviour and offer praise

Praise and positivity can be one of the most powerful tools in reinforcing good behaviour at home, so it pays to be receptive to your child and offer positive feedback when it is warranted. Sometimes, foster children lack confidence and a sense of self-worth, so praise and positivity can work wonders in changing their attitude and behaviours.

However you offer praise, be it through a rewards chart or a verbal “well done, that was fabulous” your words could say more than you realise, and could really help the child to feel that what they have done is positive, it matters, and they achieved something remarkable.

Foster parent praising child

8. Agree on rules and consequences with your partner

With a view to follow point four and make sure you’re consistent with consequences and rewards, it’s vital that you, your partner and other older family members, such as siblings, are aware of the house rules and the consequences for certain behaviours. Be open and honest about how you’d like things handled, and make sure everyone agrees.

If a child is told one thing by one family member and something else by another, it could undermine your authority and could result in further behavioural issues, as well as confusing the child and making things unclear for them. That’s why it’s important that everyone is on the same page, preferably before the child moves into your home.

9. Demonstrate model behaviour to maintain positive influence

Young children are hugely influenced by their surroundings and people they share their lives with, so a positive outlook and good home-life habits can quickly rub off on them. How you act at home can have a big impact in terms of their attitude, behaviours and habits, so try to demonstrate and model positive behaviours in everything you do as this will be observed and hopefully modelled back by the child.

Training for new and experienced foster carers

We offer our foster carers free training and fostering support so all our children are receiving the best care available. This high quality training is ongoing and starts when you start as an National Fostering Group carer. It’s also available if you’re an experienced foster carer looking to transfer fostering agency to NFA Group.


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