Every child in foster care has a trauma history. Something has taken place which made it unsafe for them to remain in the care of their family. And, they have moved to a new home to live with a new family. Many children in foster care have made multiple moves between foster families and group care. These events make up a foster child’s trauma history.
As a result of trauma, especially when it occurs over time, children develop coping mechanisms. These are survival behaviors which help them endure the stress they are under. For example, a child with a history of physical abuse may become aggressive toward others in order to cope with fear of being hurt by others. A child who has had multiple moves may become withdrawn and unwilling to interact with their caretakers.
When a foster child joins your family, they may bring these survival behaviors with them even though your home is safe. They may continue using certain survival behaviors such as aggression even though they are in no danger at your home. They may avoid interacting with others although you are eager to care for them.
Coping with these survival behaviors can be frustrating. It helps to remember that your foster child learned these behaviors to feel safe and survive. Often their actions are not intentional misbehaviors. In their world these “bad” behaviors were functional. They helped them cope with a difficult and often frightening environment. Keep telling yourself that your foster child’s challenging behaviors aren’t personal even when they feel that way.
With much patience and plenty of corrective experiences children are able to give up survival behaviors and learn healthier coping mechanisms. This can be a long and difficult process which may be helped by working with a trauma-competent therapist. As a parent, you have the opportunity to provide a safe environment in which your child can heal. The everyday experiences you provide through your care give them the opportunity to view the world as a safer place. Your patience with and understanding of your foster child’s difficult behaviors will help them learn more positive ways to interact with others. And, they will learn a very important lesson about trusting the people who take care of them.
Written by Diane Kindler