Support your child to show positive behaviour with these effective behaviour management strategies.
Behaviour management can help children learn how to act appropriately by giving them structure and guidance. Positive behaviour management strategies work by rewarding good behaviour instead of disciplining for doing something wrong. Rewards can be as simple as praise, a popular activity, or a favourite meal.
Behaviour is one of the ways children communicate. Reasons for challenging behaviour can include poor health, lack of sleep, emotional upset and changes to routine. With coronavirus causing widespread upheaval, parents and carers might find all children in need of a little extra behavioural support right now.
Children in the foster system often have extra hurdles to overcome. They may have developed coping strategies that kept them safe or helped them survive in the past – that can become problematic in safer circumstances.
One of our Compass Fostering carers, Sara, says some of her foster child’s challenging behaviours surface when he’s feeling wonky. “It’s much easier to manage this behaviour with a calm and positive approach,” she says.
Try our top five tips for developing your own positive behaviour management strategy.
1. Have open conversations
When your child acts out, talk about their behaviour. Explain what you expect, and help the child understand the consequences of their actions. Try asking for what you do want rather than what you don’t.
Listen closely to what they say. Try to view the world through their eyes, and wonder out loud what you think might be happening. A lot of young people won’t yet have the language to communicate difficult thoughts, worries and feelings, but you can model how to talk about these subjects. Over time, this helps your child learn how to communicate using words rather than difficult behaviour.
One of the most stressful situations for foster children is contact with their birth family. Sara says that a child’s behaviour can change dramatically for a few days before and after, but that talking about it can really help.
Many family contact visits have now moved online – which works great for some children, but for others can mean bringing an abusive person into their safe base. If this could be a trigger for your child, consider taking the video call in a quiet corner of a park, on a walk, or in the garden.
2. Set clear boundaries and be consistent
Children need boundaries to feel secure, and that’s especially true for children from unstable back-grounds. Be clear about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and be consistent about rules and consequences.
Answer any questions they have honestly. Explain that their safety and wellbeing is the most important thing, and that’s why it’s important to have rules and stick to them. Some children from chaotic back-grounds (where there were few or no rules) will need a bit of extra support to understand and adopt new limits.
3. Give your child choices
The ability to choose empowers children to make their own decisions and take ownership over them. An easy way to give children choices is to give them options to choose from – they get to pick, but you decide the options!
Let them pick a playtime activity out of several, give them two choices of what to have for supper, or let them decide when to do things – would you like to do your schoolwork and then have a snack, or have a snack first?
4. Lead by example
Everyone struggles to adjust to new realities and unknown situations – something which the coronavirus pandemic has made clear. Let children see you experiencing your emotions and dealing with them in a healthy way. Talk together about what is difficult right now and encourage them to suggest ideas for how to manage things better.
Sara says that during the current coronavirus lockdown, she checks in with her foster son every day. “If he’s not feeling great, he lets me know. We have chats about why this might be, and I think that helps.”
“I’m honest with him too. If I’m feeling it a bit that day then I’ll tell him – I’ll keep it light but it’s important to let children see you as human.”
5. Deal with aggression
When your child is acting aggressively, try to think about the message behind the behaviour. Keep the focus on why they’re feeling bad and try to create a safe space for them to express themselves.
When they’re calm, remind them that you are a team, managing their emotions together. It may take some time for your child to open up, so be patient. Encourage them to find words to express what they’re feeling. Slowly, they should start to trust you and develop better ways to communicate their feelings.
Trust yourself when something feels off, says Sara. As a foster carer, you will learn to recognise behaviours in your foster child that some other parents may brush off as ‘normal’. Stand your ground and reach out for support when you need it.
“Talking to other foster carers and getting advice about behaviour is something I do as I have a great sup-port network,” says Sara. “Other carers say ‘right now you need to give him time, sit him down next to you, put a film on and don’t speak – let him talk to you,’ and that’s valuable advice.”
At Compass, all our foster carers receive training and support for behaviour management to help deal with the sometimes challenging emotions and behaviours of the children we welcome into our homes. If you’d like to make a difference in the life of a child and in your community by becoming a foster carer, request an info pack to start your journey today.