david grislis


It is considered quite common for children and adolescents who are in foster care or someone’s adoptive care to exhibit behaviors that might be challenging for their foster parents. Sometimes these behaviors can be fairly severe or dangerous.

It’s important to understand the potential is there for troubled children in any adoption or fostering situation. If that scares you, consider not adopting or fostering children at all, or none over a certain age. The reason being, under these situations, it becomes easy for parents to become upset or overwhelmed, and an attitude from foster or adoptive parents of negativity, unwarranted punishment instead of support, and other attitude conflicts might make conditions even worse instead of better for the children experiencing emotional issues.

Most of all, do not sign up to help children unless you are willing to stick with it. The majority of these kids have faced abandonment at least once, if not over and over and over again. The only way to help them heal is to commit to them and make your home a stable, constant factor in their lives.

These children have witnessed certain behaviors from their parents and those behaviors will also depict themselves in these children, behaviors such as:

  1. Depressed mood
  2. Acting out sexually
  3. Showing signs of anger
  4. Signs of aggression towards other people or animals
  5. Having problems with communicating with others
  6. Difficulty communicating or connecting with others
  7. Harming themselves
  8. Showing signs of emotional instability
  9. Property destruction and/or theft
  10. Self injury
  11. Poor impulse control and/or not understanding the consequences of their actions.

If your foster child shows any of these behaviors or any other behavior of a similar type not listed here, then it is your responsibility to make sure that you help him or her to manage their emotions.

Tips for handling challenging foster and adoptive kids:

  • Calm down. The first step is to take a deep breath and relax. Understand that anger, fear, and other forms of behavioral issues come for fear, anger, or both. This isn’t about you personally, and to be the best parent you can be, you need to be calm and stable.
  • Be firm about your rules. Make sure your guidelines for the house are known right away, and be consistent with enforcing them.
  • Be understanding. There can be a lot of trauma in their past, and harsh punishment and unforgiving strictness can be a trigger for those traumas. You have to help them grow and learn, and sometimes that takes a softer hand and not just second chances, but third, fourth, or even tenth chances.
  • Be gentle. You may be perceived as a threat, because you are unknown, and they have been through threatening situations before. Keep an open and honest style of communication. Avoid sarcasm, anger, threats, or physical intimidation.
  • Reward positive behavior.
  • Follow through, every time. Show up, every time. Be there, every time.
  • Be trustworthy. As these children came from the environment where their own blood relatives did not care for them appropriately, abandoned or abused them, it’s not surprising they would show a lack of confidence in you. Imagine being in their position, and thinking “If my own parents didn’t care for me, why would I ever believe these strangers will?” or “These people don’t care for me at all, and I can prove it. If I show them a little attitude they will kick me out, just like everyone else.” or “I don’t want to get my hopes up and then fail or be disappointed.”
  • Show them that you will not abandon them: The most common feeling that these kids have is thinking you will leave them eventually, or that you are not going to stick with them ‘til the end. You have to show them that no matter what they do, you will always be with them. If they show you anger, show them love. If they show you lack of response, try to communicate with them even more.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help: there are resources for your children, resources for you, educational programs, therapy options, support groups, and more. Don’t take on the burden alone.
  • Learn what you can about their past. To better control the situation you must understand what the child is going through or what he or she went through in his or her past. Most children that come from foster homes are the victims of child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, bad orphanage care, bad mental health of their parents, parents with addiction problems, or issues of abandonment. It is necessary for the foster parents to understand their foster child’s psyche and attempt to put themselves in the mind of the child and what he or she is going through.

Some children may not have health records, adoption or fostering records, and some may not be willing to talk about their past. Get what information you can out of the case worker, and be observant with your child to fill in as many blanks as possible.

Most of all, remember that the most valuable asset to any child, biological or adopted, young or old, trouble or well-adjusted, is love. Loving a child can be the biggest adventure and the most healing thing you ever do for any person in your life. Embrace that, and you’ll get through the tough times just fine.