Tips for new foster carers: Reasons behind 'challenging' behaviour

Wednesday 15 September 2021
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We look at the reasons behind the complex behaviour of foster children - and ways in which their carers can offer support

There’s a misconception that ‘bad’ behaviours by young people in care mean they are ‘naughty’.

Marie, one of our foster carers, explains: “When a child is acting out, people judge them. They don't realise it’s not their fault. People don’t look at the background and what has happened to them. They see bad behaviour. They don’t realise there’s always a reason for it.”

What causes these behaviours?

According to Adrienne, Team Manager of fostering in Action for Children’s North West fostering service: “Traumatic experiences can impact brain development and your ability to process emotions. Lots of our young people will identify with being angry or sad, but nothing between.

"They experience things they don’t know how to label and as a result, they are unable to regulate these emotions. It’s important to remember the child isn’t being naughty. Rather, they’ve got big emotions and can become overwhelmed.”

Young boy looking sad

How can carers offer support?


When it comes to building trust, Adrienne stresses the importance of patience.

“Our young people have been let down by adults, usually parents. These are the people we should trust most in the world. As a result of past experience, a young person has difficulty believing they are now safe.

"While foster carers can make a massive difference, the results may be small to begin with.”


It’s important to communicate about behaviour, not punish it.

Adrienne says: “If a child is sent to their room in isolation, they could feel rejected. Traditional parenting methods don’t work for foster children. They believe if something goes wrong at home, they’ll be moved again.

"Our foster carers use the PACE (Playful, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) approach. You can help young people identify their emotions by communicating. For example, ‘I can see you are struggling' or, 'How does that make you feel?’.”


Feeling a connection with their caregiver can be significant.

Adrienne explains: “We talk very much about holding young people in mind. This allows them to know that even if they aren’t together, their foster carer is thinking about them.

"We had a foster carer who drew a little heart on her hand and one on her little girl’s. When they were apart, she said they could touch the heart. Then the other person would know they were thinking of them. The little girl loved it.”


Language is something Adrienne points out as vital in building connections.

“It’s about how you interact with that young person. It’s important to use language to show them that they are part of the family. Take the word ‘placement’. When a child joins a family, it’s not their ‘placement’, it’s their home.”

When a child joins a family, it’s not their ‘placement’, it’s their home


Support for foster carers

Whilst navigating behaviours may have its challenges, foster carers are never on their own.

Adrienne says: “It is very much about us preparing foster carers for their role as best we can. We’re here to train, support and offer them advice. We very much provide wrap around support to all our foster carers.”