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Interrupting, Blocking, and Managing Acting Out Behavior in Children

Updated on May 22, 2012

Foster Parenting Tips

If you are a foster parent, you likely have had your share of children who act out. Though each child is different and their reasons for acting out are different, the process of acting out essentially is the same for every child and situation.

In most cases, whatever the real reason or level of stress, frustration, or mental health symptom presented, a child begins their acting out when they have their self will denied. This can be a denied request, a blocked behavior, or a perceived sleight from the adult caring for them.

Some children rise quickly to the acting out behavior, while others go on a slow burn and escalate their efforts over time. They key is for the adult to respond as quickly as possible, in the correct fashion in this process. You must learn their particular pattern and early signs of escalation towards the acting out. This takes time and very close observation, but if you learn it, it will pay off in the future.

As soon as you see that the child has started their process of acting out, you must intervene consistently the same way each time they begin to act out. Try to use the same exact words, with an even, unemotional, but firm tone. Do not engage with the child about what they are getting upset about, as this will escalate them further. Give the child your directive in a very simple fashion, such as: “Go to your room for a time out”. Make your “time outs” age appropriate. An hour for a teen is about right. The child will likely balk at this, and try to engage you once again in debate. Repeat your directive (same words, same even tone) twice more if needed. If the child still is not in their room, then begin to take away privileges, one at a time, in twenty four hour increments until you get compliance. Be sure to use the same unemotional, firm, simple approach.

In some rare cases, a child will push this process right to the limit. What do you do if you have taken everything away, and they still are not compliant? Then you may need to refer to your behavior treatment plan to see what steps are recommended when a child is totally out of your control. This may mean getting police help and a trip to the crisis center, or even hospitalization.

Following the time out hat the child has become compliant with, invite the child to speak with you about the issue and the acting out. If they do not want to talk, let them know that they can stay in their room until they are ready to speak about it, but they must debrief with you at some point. If the child begins to act out again during your attempt to debrief, return to the basic process all over again.


1. Learn and know the child’s individual early signs of acting out.

2. Intervene as soon as possible.

3. Use firm, unemotional, simple directives.

4. Repeat directive twice more if needed.

5. Add privilege removals in 24 hour increments until compliance is gained.

6. Debrief following the time out served.


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