As many people may know, I am passionate about children in DSS custody/foster care & children who have endured trauma. Over the past couple years I have done tons of research on the foster care system, traumatized kids, and government policies regarding such. I have also been in school earning a degree in Social Work which has contributed to my knowledge base.
The more experience I get with this part of society, the more I am realizing that people truly do not understand how to handle children with extensive behavior issues. That bothers me. Or maybe it isn’t the fact that the knowledge isn’t there that bothers me, but it is the fact that they are not willing to question why the child is behaving the way that they are before coming down so harshly on the child..
Learned behavior is behavior that is learned over a period of time due to an experience(s).
The way I always explain learned behavior to people is when a child sees dad hit mom to get what he wants, then the child thinks it is okay to hit someone else to get what they want. The child does not have the understanding that the behavior is wrong.
As a foster parent, a teacher, or any position one may play in a child’s life, it is so important to understand how to work with traumatized kids.
Children’s behaviors have meaning. A behavior does not occur without meaning behind it. The child may not always be able to pair the behavior to the meaning in the mindset that they are in, but through time with therapy and people working with them they will begin to understand.
Say that you have a foster child in your home and you are having a lot of behavior problems with said child. His background is physical and verbal abuse in his biological home along with neglect. More than likely this child is not going to know how to communicate his feelings with you in a healthy manner. I would guess that he communicates his feelings with you through aggressive behavior, ways of disrespect, and verbal threats. Most people would classify him as a “bad child,” but someone with an understanding of trauma-informed approaches to behavior would know that he is not a “bad kid”. He is only expressing his feelings through the means that he understands. Now, to follow that, we are here to help this child learn the correct ways to communicate his feelings, but we also have to understand that this will not happen over night. Statistically, it takes six months for a child to recognize the behavior is wrong and six more months to correct the behavior. Of course that number can flex for each child. Therefore, behavior change does not happen over night.
Being a foster parent, a child care worker, a teacher, or positions similar to, can be tiresome, but it is also so rewarding. We have to remember to give these kids grace, to love them, and to teach them in ways that they will understand.
A lot of times consequences are just not the answer. Grounding a kid for getting an attitude will never correct the problem. It will never teach the child how to correct their behavior and find a way to express their feelings and emotions in ways that are acceptable and ways that work for them.
Guys, I encourage you all to take a step back in a moment of crisis or a heated moment. Evaluate how you feel in the moment. Evaluate how the child feels. Wait until you feel level-headed enough to talk to the child in a loving manner and then conversate with the child. Find out what is driving these behaviors. What is the child feeling? What happened to the child today to spike these feelings? Did anything happen to the child today that upsetted him/her? Figure it out without demeaning the child. When the child has talked through the problem at hand with you, then go from there. Talk to the child about how next time the situation can be handled differently. Rather than you telling the child how to handle the situation, let the child strategize with help from you if needed.
“Next time something like this occurs or next time you get upset, what can you do differently?” The child might say they will want time to their-self to think, or time listening to music, or to go on a walk. Encourage the child to remember that thing they choose and to utilize it. When the child is calm enough, encourage the child to come to you and talk the problem out, and figure out how to better handle the situation next time it occurs.
Guys, kids who have been through trauma do not live the American Dream. They cannot be grounded or punished and then expected to not repeat the same behavior. The mindset is different because of all they have experienced.
This is an incredibly brief description of how to help yourself help these kids. I really really encourage all people who work with children to gain some background and training in how to work with these kids. Therapeutic Crisis Intervention training and CARE training, both from Cornell University, would be a WONDERFUL place to start. Ask questions. You can ask case managers, social workers, or other trained professionals who are involved with your child(s). Don’t be afraid to ask. It is fulfilling to be asked knowing that these children have people who care. Even greater, pray for God’s guidance when handling these situations. He can do far more than anyone else could ever do.
So, all foster parents, teachers, child care workers, don’t be discouraged. You ARE making a grand impact on these kids lives. Remember, the work that you do is for the Lord. Rely on Him to give you strength and wisdom to get through each day and not only to get through, but to thrive.
You ARE making a difference!!