Behaviour tips for foster carers and adoptive parents

Knowing how to approach behaviour is a challenge for any parent. But as adoptive parents and foster carers, you may face the added challenge of caring for children who’ve experienced adversity, trauma and uncertainty.

Spot changes in behaviour

You may remember challenging behaviours when your child first came to live with you. If your child is feeling anxious at the moment or experiencing difficult circumstances, they may revert to some of those habits.  For instance:

  • Hiding.
  • Becoming withdrawn or clingy.
  • Being argumentative, fidgety or crying.

Behaviour is a way of communicating needs and expressing emotions. It’s similar to the ‘flight or fight’ response we all experience in moments of stress.

Go back to basics

If you recognise old behaviours, try the responses you used when they first appeared. You may have to change them to make them age appropriate. For instance:

  • Create new, predictable routines. Try to stick to these.
  • Plan ahead where possible and make sure your child understands why you’re making decisions.
  • Use a visual ‘timetable’ showing what will happen during the day. Split it into chunks and use pictures for younger children.

Talk, listen and acknowledge feelings

Speak to your child about how they’re feeling about whatever is happening in their life right now.

  • Acknowledge their feelings and make time to listen.
  • If your child doesn’t express their feelings directly, show you understand. Say things like, “I can see that your worried about this” or “I wonder if this is making you feel scared?”
  • Reassure them that it’s OK to feel this way, and that you’re there to listen.

Plan calming activities

If your child feels anxious or stressed, give your child opportunities to feel calm throughout the day. You could try:

  • Low-key games and puzzles.
  • Craft activities.
  • Mindfulness or yoga.
  • Physical activities to release energy.
  • Listening to music, singing or playing instruments.
  • Building dens inside or outside.

Maintain connections

Maintain connections can help give a sense of stability.

  • Where possible, arrange get-togethers with extended families, friends and schoolmates.
  • Organise activities with friends: writing letters or working on projects together. You can use apps like FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp to stay in touch. Some schools may have their own networks for students.


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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

More on understanding emotions and behaviour

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