Promoting Positive Behaviour


  1. Introduction
  2. Helping the Child/Young Person to Settle in
  3. Ways to Encourage Positive Behaviour
  4. Understanding Challenging Behaviour
  5. Dealing with Unacceptable Behaviour
  6. Calming a Distressed Child/Young Person
  7. Serious Incidents and Physical Intervention

1. Introduction

Children learn how to behave by watching, listening and talking to the adults who care for them. Children develop their morals and values from what they observe of how adults treat others.

Children need clear boundaries and consistent rules. You should have high aspirations of a child/ young person placed with you and be clear about what is acceptable and not.

You are expected to understand, manage and deal with young people’s behaviour including encouraging children to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict. Islington Fostering service offers the Fostering Changes course to help carers develop their skills in helping children manage their behaviour.

2. Helping the Child/Young Person to Settle in

Since your foster child is new to your home they will not know or understand your rules unless you explain them. You will need to be mindful of the child’s background and early life experiences when setting boundaries and expectations. 

It is important that the child is treated consistently by everyone who is dealing with them, particularly when there are two carers.

Everyone needs to agree on an approach and stick to it. Depending on the age of the child it is useful for them to be involved in conversations about what behaviour is accepted and when appropriate to consider possible consequences. Ongoing communication is really important and can be helpful as you start to get to know each other.

3. Ways to Encourage Positive Behaviour

It is easy to only notice difficult behaviour, but by praising good behaviour it encourages the child/young person to do this more. This is an effective method of managing behaviour used by childcare professionals. 

The child needs to be aware of what they did well and when and should be told as it is happening, not later or after the event.

You should record behaviour to help you and other professionals understand it.

There are many techniques for helping to manage children’s behaviour but remember, children and young people respond best to people that they like and respect and regardless of which technique you use, a positive relationship is the key to helping them to behave positively.

One technique is the use of star charts which can be effective for young children. They must be set up as a reward for the hard work a child puts in. They must also be geared to a child’s age.

Older children and teenagers can have similar systems. It may be useful to talk to them about what they would really like and set something up that rewards them for positive behaviour.

As a child/young person gets older they need to understand the consequences of their behaviour and take some responsibility for it. You might find that giving rewards at both agreed and less specified times when you think that they are deserved can be the most effective way to encourage good behaviour. It is also useful to try and talk to a child when they are calm about a situation that may of happened, to not only try and understand it but agree how it may be different in the future.

4. Understanding Challenging Behaviour

A child/young person placed with you may be at a low point in their lives. They are vulnerable and may 'act out' their feelings.

This may show itself in ways such as bed-wetting, stealing food or money, being rude or aggressive, destructive or running away.

You should talk to the child/young person to check out their reasons for the behaviour and discuss the situation with the child’s social worker and your Supervising Social Worker to agree how the behaviour can be best managed.

Sometimes the child or young person might not understand the reasons that things are going wrong for them and they might need your help to make sense of what is happening. Children who experienced emotional trauma may not be able to respond to reasoning or guidance in a positive way. Patience, acceptance and consistency by the foster carer is most important.

Remember that children and young people often do things wrong because of their age and understanding and these things are hard to help or to iron out. Examples of this might be clumsiness, sleeping in and being grumpy. On the other hand, their experiences might leave them behaving badly and until you both recognise this, it will be hard to change.

All children need rules and boundaries but these should be focused on keeping them safe.

Try not to burn your bridges with threats and sanctions- use these little and often and when you feel they will be most effective.

Praise and positive responses often go a lot further than sanctions.

Remember that body language and the tone of your voice can sometimes make things worse, e.g. if you raise your voice this may also do so.

5. Dealing with unacceptable Behaviour

Most children present behaviour that needs to be responded to with some form of discipline at some point. Because of their formative experiences, some children may display very challenging behaviour.

Foster carer training, support and care planning should equip you with a range of positive strategies for managing challenging behaviour and discipline that is appropriate. Remember, in managing any unacceptable behaviour, it is the behaviour that is not acceptable and not the child.

Within the Foster Care Agreement signed by you, you have agreed not to use any form of corporate punishment The term ‘corporal punishment’ should be taken to cover any intentional application of force as punishment including smacking, slapping, pinching, squeezing, shaking, throwing missiles, rough handling and all other humiliating forms of treatment or punishment.

Similarly, restriction of contact visits to and from the birth family and friends must not be used as a punishment, nor withholding receipt or sending of letters or phone calls.

Children and young people must not be stopped from getting in touch with their social worker, Children’s Guardian or Solicitor.

There are many different techniques used to help children and young people with behavioural problems. Examples such as positive reinforcement and contracts are all based on some sort of negotiated agreement between a carer and child or young person.

In order for the technique to work the adult must give clear messages, be consistent, be persistent, watch what happens, draw conclusions, and decide what must change.

This guidance does not prevent a person taking necessary physical action, where any other course of action would be likely to fail to avert an immediate danger of personal injury to the child or another person, or to avoid immediate danger to property. 

6. Calming a Distressed Child/Young Person

Sometimes children become so excited that it affects their behaviour. You may need to take them to one side and tell them that they are going to remain there until they feel able to behave properly. Time-out must be age appropriate and should not be used to increase distress in a child.

A bedroom is not an appropriate place to use for punishment or time out.

With many children it is sometimes easier to remove yourself from a situation to prevent further escalation and promise to return when they have calmed down.

Looked After Children should not receive any physical/corporal punishment. The Foster Care Agreement you sign when you became a foster carer says that this is not acceptable. The children you will care for have frequently suffered Sexual, Physical and Emotional abuse.

Therefore it is important that you teach children about love and care rather than anger and violence. It is the behaviour that is not acceptable, not the child/young person.

7. Serious Incidents and Physical Intervention

If a serious incident such as an accident, violence, assault or damage to property takes place, you should do what is needed to protect children/yourself from immediate harm, and then notify the fostering service immediately.

You should not use any form of Physical Intervention except as a last resort to prevent you or others from being injured or to prevent serious damage to property. Some carers receive training on understanding behaviour and physical intervention but the rule above still applies in these situations.

If any form of Physical Intervention is used, it must be the least intrusive to protect the child, you or others.

At no time should you act unless you are confident of managing the situation safely, without escalation or further injury.

You should endeavour to deal with as many as possible of the challenges that are involved in caring for children without the involvement of the Police, who should only be involved if:

  • An emergency occurs that requires their immediate involvement to protect the child or others;

  • You have been advised to do so by the fostering supervising social worker, or out of hours fostering social worker.

If any serious incident occurs or the Police are called, the child’s social worker and your Supervising Social Worker  must be notified without delay. You may be asked to provide a full written report of the incident and actions taken.