Foster parents often struggle to cope with the controlling behaviors of their foster sons and daughters. These behaviors take many forms. Maybe your foster child can’t seem to compromise about anything. Maybe she needs to win every game, or struggles with even simple rules. Teenagers who refuse to negotiate with adults and reject even the most well-meaning guidance often have control issues.
Understanding the roots of controlling behavior in children and teens can make you better able to cope with it and, over time, help modify it. A lot of times controlling behavior stems from feeling out of control. Youth in the child welfare system typically have had many experiences in which their lives have been out of control. They may have witnessed or been victims of frightening trauma. They have been separated from their parents and siblings. They may have moved from one foster home to another for reasons unclear to them. They may have changed schools many times and suddenly lost contact with both friends and caring adults.
Foster children who have had these experiences crave stability and certainty in their lives. Because their external world has been so turbulent they turn inward for a sense of control. They try to take charge of everything and everyone. Sadly, these efforts at controlling their world often result in frustration and chronic behavior problems. Even the most reasonable requests from a foster parent or teacher can lead to major confrontations.
Over time, as he or she begins to feel safe and less out of control, your foster child will likely become less controlling and more able to accept the guidance from his foster parent(s) and others. This can be a slow process. Trust is earned as a child learns that he is not going to be uprooted, that the adults in his life are safe and that life is becoming predictable.
There are strategies foster parents can use to help the child who struggles with control. Keep the rules as is, and enforce them firmly, consistently and with patience . Whenever possible provide your foster child with two good choices and let him “win” by selecting the one he prefers.
Pick your battles carefully with a child who struggles with control. Let him be in charge of things that he is capable of handling, such as selecting what color he wants his room painted or whether she wants to wear her hair long or short. Being given some age appropriate control over somethings will help your child
Most importantly, keep in mind that “this too will pass” to some degree when your child feels more safe and secure in your home. As a foster parent, you can help your foster child learn to trust adults and give them more control over his life.