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How to Block the Persistent Child

Updated on June 12, 2012

Foster Parenting Tips

Children who come into foster care often have many issues and behavior problems. One of these is the tendency to become very persistent, even pestering about requests or what they perceive as “needs”. Such a persistent child quickly becomes a very large burden, tiring the foster parent to the point where they may not even want to care for the child any longer.

Persistent children likely have learned their behavior from their family of origin. They may have learned that if they pester enough, the adult gives in to their request. These children also often escalate their intensity as a means to further pressure the adult. This can be tears, yelling, accusing, screaming, etc. Some other children may have a mental health disorder that creates the behavior, but the effect is the same.

The way to deal effectively with this behavior lies in following a few basic steps. The first is to thoroughly assess the initial request. When we do not take time to really attend to the child when they make a request, we may inadvertently begin their process of whining, begging, etc. Often, once this begins, it is hard to stop it. Attending means that you stop what you are doing and fully engage with the child. Look at them; gain eye contact. Ask a few clarifying questions. Realize that for many children, what they are really asking for may be hidden. Sometimes a child demanding a cookie may really be asking for some positive attention or a hug.

Next, consider your answer based on your assessment. If the request is reasonable and can be satisfied, the process has ended. But if the request is not reasonable and is to be denied, take a moment to consider how you will respond. Try hard to give your response in a very emotionally neutral, direct, and simple manner. It is often helpful with children who have mental health disorders to be prepared to make an explanation of your denial of their request in the same emotionally neutral, simple, but firm fashion.

The last step is the one that most people have the hardest time with: physically turning away and not engaging the child any further. Break eye contact and turn away as soon as your denial and explanation is complete. The child will likely continue to try to engage you. Do not respond. They may escalate their behaviors. If they become overly loud or begin to posture physically, you may address them again, but not concerning the original request and denial. Address only their current behavior. Apply what you normally would do to control the acting out behavior, but remember not to mention the denied request again.

These steps are most effective if you use them consistently and execute them the same exact way every time. Any alteration in the technique, even small (like an irritated tone in your voice) will guarantee that the effort will fail.


1. Attend to the request properly.

2. Assess and consider your response.

3. Give the response in a firm, simple, and emotionally neutral fashion.

4. Turn away and do not engage any further.



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