Kids from Tough Places: Difficult Behavior and What to Do About It


There’s a widespread misunderstanding that kids in care are ‘bad kids’ who act out. While many kids from foster care have challenges with attachment and trust and other emotional disabilities, at their heart they are kids who don’t always know how to receive the love they desperately need. This misconception that kids in foster care are “bad kids” is what spurred us to select the theme for this year’s fundraiser… “Hidden Gems.”

We believe that hidden inside every child are beautiful gems - talents, character traits, unique abilities, passions - just waiting to be uncovered and polished by caring adults. Behind many bad behaviors lives a kid who is craving love.

One important thing to keep in mind is that each and every behavior has a purpose and a function, they are an external expression of an internal emotion. Kids who’ve experienced trauma often have big emotions they don’t know how to express, which leads them to act them out.

Sad little child, boy, hugging his mother at home, isolated image, copy space. Family concept

So how do you handle difficult behaviors?

Start paying very close attention to what situations and environmental components precede specific behaviors, and work to prevent the behavior by making modifications. Does he throw a fit when he’s hungry? Does she get antsy when she eats food dye? Does he panic in large groups? Once you recognize the causes you will have a better understanding of your child and can make reasonable changes to prevent poor behavior.

Some prevention tools include:

  • Carrying protein rich snacks
  • Serving organic foods
  • Avoiding large groups
  • Keeping a specific schedule
  • Using connection techniques

Instead of constantly punishing and telling your child no, try providing opportunities for redirection or a “redo.” If you have a son who just spoke to you in a disrespectful manner, calmly reply saying “the way you just spoke to me made me sad, can you try again?” If your daughter is pestering her sibling, try to redirect her attention to you or an activity in another room.

Since behaviors can be a kid’s way of expressing overwhelming emotions, you need to care for him in the moment then correct the behavior. Remember, the behavior is not who the child is, simply what she is doing. Offering redirection or redos isn’t honoring the behavior, but instead starting the process of relearning more appropriate behaviors.

Create teachable moments for your kids who struggle with behavior. The behaviors he has now were learned, which means new behaviors can also be learned if taught in the context of a safe, healthy home environment.

Your goal is to identify the need or emotion a behavior is addressing and teach a new skill for managing that emotion or meeting the need. Bad behaviors won’t change unless they are replaced with a good behavior to meet the same need. Teach your son to ask instead of yell. Teach your daughter to ask for time with her sibling instead of pestering. The key here is to work on maintaining your calm. Kids respond to your emotions and the calmer you stay, the more likely you will be able to calm them down. You serve as your child’s emotional thermostat.


Learning to manage behaviors can feel like like a solo journey. But, you aren’t alone! Follow the Project 1.27 Facebook page for ongoing tips about parenting kids from tough places as well as training opportunities. We pray God guides you in uncovering the hidden beauty in your precious child.

P.S. In case you haven’t heard, we need your help! We’re collecting photos of all the Hidden Gems in your life -- adopted, fostered, biological -- we want to see what makes the kids in your care special! Submit them using our secure form and be entered to win 4 free tickets to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

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