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Positively Managing Problem Behaviour

Posted 7 September 2021

In August, a mural by the illusive street artist Banksy was vandalised only days after its creation. Part of the artist’s ‘Great British Spraycation’ series, the design in Lowestoft depicted a rodent reclining in a deckchair and sipping a cocktail. But it didn’t last long. Soon it became the latest Banksy to be defaced, with everyone left wondering, “what sort of behaviour is that?”

The reason why one act of vandalism may be considered acceptable and another despicable is complicated, but the fact remains – some behaviours are positive, while others are problematic. Sadly, foster children may have more than their fair share of the latter. So, how can we positively manage problem behaviours and help them live their best life?

Behaviour is a part of our identity, part of us. It may be learned from role models or life experiences, a reaction to feelings, or a result of circumstances. While there is often no quick fix for problematic behaviour, there are several ways that can help.

A great start when a new foster child arrives is to have a set of your family rules on display. Some children simply won’t know what is generally expected behaviour-wise and none will know what is individual to your home. Take a while to run through things, explaining what is and isn’t acceptable and, importantly, why. If you can turn your rules into a list of ‘dos’ rather than ‘don’ts’, they will sound far more appealing! Make sure your foster child knows these rules are for the whole family and if possible, ask them for a suggestion or two of their own.

Having made the boundaries clear, remain consistent. When we’re busy, tired or stressed we can all react too harshly or let things slide for an easier ride. This is completely understandable, but not helpful. Changing rules and expectations may leave foster children feeling confused, insecure or manipulative. It is important that you and, if applicable, your partner are consistent in applying the rules. In the same way, consequences of keeping or breaking boundaries should also be clear and consistent. In the long run, this will benefit everyone.

Remember also the value of praise, it is priceless. Always be ready to tell a child they did something well, even if you find yourself having to say the opposite a lot. In fact, especially then! No matter how small the act, praise for a positive behaviour can be a real mood and self-esteem booster. Little, but genuine words can have a big impact.

For minor attention-seeking acts, selective ignoring can help. For many reasons, foster children can demonstrate problem behaviour purely for your reaction. However you react, you will be reinforcing their mindset. If appropriate,ignore the behaviour by continuing another task or talking normally to the child about something unrelated.

Finally, modelling positive behaviour is one of the most effective ways we can encourage it. Children of all ages will watch adult behaviour and learn – nurture is powerful! If you do happen to get something wrong, don’t panic - they will also learn volumes from the way you apologise and handle the situation.

We’d love to hear from you if you have any top tips for positively managing problem behaviour, or simply want a bit more advice on the subject. You’re amazing, stay positive!