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Vol. 16, No. 1 • November 2011

Advice from Youth on Responding to Challenging Child Behaviors

In the last issue we asked young people in foster care “Did you ever act in a way that was really challenging for your foster parents? What’s the best way to handle this kind of behavior?” Here’s what they had to say.

—John McMahon, Editor

* * * * * * *

First Place

by Sara, age 17

I was sneaking out. I had been doing it for a while, thinking my parents wouldn’t find out. One morning my foster mom came and told me to get up. I could tell by her voice she was not a happy camper.

The thing I remember most is that I was not scared. She always told me she would never yell. She kept her word. She sat me down and had a very strong, sturdy talk with me. She explained the danger I put myself in, how I lost trust and, yes, she was disappointed in me. I believe the way that Mrs. Pat handled the situation was very smart, and safe. She also explained that she had alarms put on the windows and made a rule that no doors are to be closed, unless we are getting dressed.

She and Charles see a light in me no one [else] has in my whole life... They have encouraged me “to be who you are, not someone you’re not”....

The best advice I could give [to a foster parent] is to get your thoughts together, talk to the child. Show that you are disappointed, but also show that you are still there and you will not give up. . . Actually care for the kids. Do not give up, even if it is a difficult problem.

Sara ’s essay won first prize, for which she was awarded $100.

* * * * * * *

Second Place

by Stuart, age 17

Life had taught me the people who survive are the greedy and the selfish. I believed I stood alone against the world. . . . I hated what I couldn’t understand, and “love” was something I could not relate to. . . . Right and wrong did not exist in my decisions—it was all about the money.

Most foster parents would have probably confronted the issue. With some people this would work, but not me. I became defensive if confronted about anything. My foster parents didn’t confront me. All they did was simply show me what love was—not by words, but by actions. They didn’t give it a name, but now I knew what people meant when they mentioned this “love.”

Today I still dislike the word, but I know it’s real. My point is that sometimes confronting an issue, regardless of what it is, will just make the foster kid defensive. Simply show them, let them see with their own eyes. After all, this is how we grow and learn.

Stuart’s essay won second prize, for which he was awarded $50.

* * * * * * *

Third Place

Kathy, age 15

My challenge was trying to open up and talk to my guardian. This may not sound like a challenge, but it was and is, because my guardians could not get to know me or find out how to help me. . . .

Now I can sit down and talk to my guardians. My guardians helped me by showing me I could trust them; also they sat down and talked to me when I needed them. My social workers and court counselors also helped me through my journey. They showed me that they would stick up for me, no matter what. Everyone took the time to get to know me and see that I am a funny person, so that when we would talk it was not always so serious. They did not make me feel like I was being interrogated and I was able to relax a little.

I know every person is not the same, but I hope I will be able to help children and teens like me find their voices in a great team of people that they can trust the way I trust mine. I wish this so that we can all get the help we need and find a family that is best for me.

Kathy’s essay won third prize, for which she was awarded $25.

* * * * * * *

Behaviors that Challenged Foster Parents

The young people below each received $15 for having their work published.

I tried to isolate myself as soon as I arrived in the foster home. But every day I had to help the others tend to the garden, or tend to the yard, or do something in the house. I made it clear I did not want to help. My foster parents responded by yelling, screaming, threatening my extra-curricular activities, and worst of all, forcing me to do MORE work. In my opinion that is the worst way to react to a child going through the emotional stress I felt at the time.
—Tiara, age 16


If the child acts up, take a toy away from them (their favorite toy).
—Janice, age 12


I thought I was the boss of everyone. When decisions were to be made I wanted it to go my way. If they were not my way I was almost always disrespectful. The best way [to respond to] this or any other behavior is for the parent to listen to the kids and talk to them before taking action.
—Andrew, age 17


I have been having an attitude for the longest [time]. It’s even hard for me to handle sometimes. . . . As soon as I changed I saw a better outcome. The best way for the parents to handle their child’s behaviors is by putting punishment in place. But before punishing, talk with the child about their behaviors.
—Lauren, age 17


I would hit my mom, talk back to her, and throw fits. These would happen when I was feeling mad. . . . I think parents should handle the situation by asking their child to remain calm. Talk firmly to them. . . . Always show the child understanding and love. I think this plan will go well! —Leeann, age 11


My possessive behavior: I always claimed something no matter what it was—clothes, food, toys, even junk. My adoptive family pulled me to the side and told me that it was OK to let go of some items. Letting go of the old things can make room for new and better things. Now I am a little better at not claiming everything. My advice for parents dealing with this type of behavior: pull your child aside and talk to them. Help them recognize it and help them fix it before it gets out of control.
—Rachel, age 17


My foster mom told me to lay down and try to sleep. I sassed back. That got me revved up, and I started fussing and screaming. I was like the Incredible Hulk. She tried to calm me down. But that made her frustrated and her calm state was gone. Well, the first thing to do is stay calm. Then you’re in a good state. Don’t just jump in and try to take charge. Let the kids calm down and be in a good state also. Take big, deep, hard breaths. The small soft ones don’t get your aggression out. If you do this, you should have control over the problem.
—Zach, age 13


“You Lied”

by Samantha, age 16

You lied, you lied
You promised you’d be here to keep me safe
To guide me through my darkest of days
You said you’d be here when I needed you most
But now the words sound like a ghost
I trusted you to take care of me
But now you’re gone, can’t you see
My life is messed up in so many ways because you lied

How could you do that to your baby girl
Your Lumpkin, your life your world
You lied, you lied

All I ask is why
You took a child’s daddy
Did you even try to see
How much we needed you
All you made us go through
You lied, you lied

Why?! Daddy, I trusted you.
How could you do that?
You were a dad, a son, a big brother
Do you see what you did to your own mother?
She went through so much to make sure you had food and water
She put a roof over your head for forty years
And now you have accomplished her fear
What did she do to you?
A little louder dad, I can’t hear you, why? Why? Why?
You didn’t even say goodbye

I miss you dad
Don’t you miss me?
Do you see what I’ve become
Do you even care?
What did we do to deserve this?

You lied, you lied


Fostering Perspectives Winter 2011-12 Writing Contest

First Prize: $100

Second Prize: $50

Third Prize: $25

If you are under 18 and are or have been in foster care, please send us a letter or short essay in response to the following:

Who would you invite to a child and family team meeting?

Why would you invite this person/these people?

Important Background
Child and family team meetings (CFTs) are meetings where DSS brings family members and their community supports together to create, implement, and update a plan with the child, youth, and family. CFTs seek to ensure child safety and build on the strengths of the child, youth, and family and address their needs, desires, and dreams. People invited to CFTs by the child or family can include family members (e.g., siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles), neighbors, friends, mentors, pastors, and others.

Younger children are welcome to submit artwork on this theme/topic as well.

Deadline: February 2, 2012

Anyone under 21 who is or has been in foster care or a group home can enter. E-mail your submission to [email protected] or send it via U.S. Mail your entry to:

John McMahon, Editor
Fostering Perspectives
Jordan Institute for Families
1459 Sand Hill Rd., No. 6 (NCDSS)
Candler, NC 28715

Include your name, age, address, social security number (used to process awards only, your confidentiality will be protected) and phone number. In addition to receiving the awards specified above, winners will have their work published in the next issue of Fostering Perspectives. Runners-up may also have their work published, for which they will also receive a cash award.

We’re Also Seeking Artwork and Other Writing from Children and Teens in Foster Care
Submissions can be on any theme. Submission requirements described above apply. If sent via U.S. Mail, artwork should be mailed flat (unfolded) on white, unlined paper.

Copyright 2011 Jordan Institute for Families