Guidelines for Trauma-Informed Behavior Management in Foster Care

Here are some guidelines for behavior management in foster care. They are only meaningful when imbedded in a context of training, supervision and support.

Discussion with boy

1. This approach to behavior management is based on the understanding that problem behaviors are the child’s attempt to manage intolerable emotions such as fear, despair and hopelessness. Because the child does not trust relationships and thus has trouble asking for and accepting help; because he or she has an overly activated nervous system; and because he or she has not learned emotion management skills, the child reacts to set backs with behaviors that help in the moment but have long term negative consequences.

2. The most powerful way to change behavior will be through forming strong relationships, creating attuned communication, creating a sense of self worth, and modeling and teaching emotion management skills.

3. Interactions with the children display the qualities of playfulness, love, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy.

4. Whenever possible parents promote attunement with their children. When there is a break in attunement, the parent address it and reconnect.

5. Parents understand that they need to help the child regulate his emotions, by remaining calm themselves, using soothing words, and naming and validating feelings.

6. Many children are shame based and do not feel worthy of life. Parents are aware of the pervasiveness of shame, are careful not to shame the child, and understand the paralyzing effect of shame.

7. As the child begins to feel safe and to belong, her need for problem behaviors will decrease.

8. Building the relationship is more important than changing the behavior. In fact it is necessary before the behavior can change. Prioritize alliance, not compliance.

9. Behavioral difficulty is handled through re-direction and persuasion. Consequences are not be threatened or imposed. Children can be kept closer in (i.e. kept to house, in sight of parents) when they have acted out, but are constantly be re-evaluated as to whether this is still necessary.

10. Points Levels and behavior charts are not used.

11. As soon as the child is back on track after any incident, they resume normal activities.

12. Children who are having difficulty are kept closer to parents. They should not go on trips or off on their own.

13. When a child is agitated, escalated or out of control, all parent efforts are directed towards helping them calm down. This can be done through listening, validating, taking a walk, quiet, adult closeness and calmness. There is no discussion at this time of consequences or better ways to handle things. These can be discussed later when the child is calm.

14. If a child has a major problem, they are given a restorative task consistent with the problem they had. The task includes the elements of learning, making amends and reconnecting. In other words, they are given opportunities to repair damage done, make amends to people hurt, restore damaged relationships, and do something nice for the family.

15. Until the child has completed their restorative tasks, they don’t participate in extra or just-for-fun activities. They are part of all regular activities. This means all regular therapy and school unless parents determine it’s unsafe for the child to be in these activities.

16. When the child has completed their restorative task, they return to all normal activity.

17. Isolation to any room is not used. Children become regulated in the presence of regulated adults.

18. Restrictions can be used (car, pool, etc). These are used when a child is not safe while doing these activities. They are for short times such as a day or two and constantly reevaluated.

19. Children can be asked to leave the family area (if possible, with an adult) to calm down or re focus, and then return in a short time (5-15 minutes), but this is done only rarely- children are most likely to calm down when close to calm adults, not when sent off by themselves.

20. Structure is extremely important and the children need a highly structured day with planned activities, and they are helped by knowing what will happen next. Families maintain order throughout the day by such mechanisms as plans, describing what will happen next, taking turns, quiet time, and game playing. Alternating quiet activities with more energetic activities helps the kids contain their emotions. When kids are unsafe, keeping them to a small circle of activities and people is helpful; taking them to events like large family picnics may be a set up for difficult behavior. Choices are limited. Free time, alone time, and going to bed are particularly difficult and are supported by the adult. Events in which there is a lot of noise, confusion and stimulation (such as shopping) can also be difficult for some children. The adults try to structure the child’s day so he experiences success, not put him in situations for which he is not prepared. Routines, rituals and ceremonies are very helpful in establishing a safe structure in the home.

21. Bedtime and hygiene are particularly sensitive times for children who have experienced trauma. Problems in these areas are not be addressed through punishments or rewards. The children are supported through parent closeness and creative interventions such as music, night lights, bubble baths, etc.

22. When a child’s behavior begins to deteriorate, the first question to ask is: is she feeling safe? The second question is: is she over stimulated?

Would you like a behavior management guidelines sheet that is written for foster parents?

Here are the guidelines

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