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How to Get Less Upset About Children's Upsets

Updated on June 25, 2012

Foster Parenting Tips

Any foster parent who has had children in their home for very long fully understands how frustrating and emotionally tiring it can be at times. Sometimes, a child comes into your home that is particularly “high maintenance”. This is the child that always seems to be upset about something, or seems to “go off” at all of the most inconvenient times.

Such is the nature of foster care. Foster children are usually quite damaged, and have many, many issues that they need to work through with your help and patience. In a clinical sense, a foster child needs to have adults around them that have the ability to keep some important emotional distance from their daily crises. Often of course, this is hard to do. You may not even know how to do this. The following is a brief explanation of how to “normalize” the upsets.

By “normalize”, we mean that the child’s upsets, tantrums, and crises are expected as part and parcel of being a foster parent. Normalizing means that when the child becomes upset, we as adults do not. This is, of course, easier said than done. We first have to understand why we become upset when the child is tantruming. Part of what makes us human is our ability to empathize and share emotion. When someone we care about or are responsible for is upset, it impacts us with emotion as well. Usually, the child is directing their frustration at us, and once again, because we are human, we tend to become emotional when under attack. We also are trying to do a good job, trying to help the child to be happier, and simply get tired and impatient sometimes.

While it is important to be able to responsive in a compassionate and appropriate fashion, it is also important not to feel too much of the child’s upset emotion. If we consistently get upset every time the child does, we will burn out. When we are able to keep our emotional balance and control when the child is upset, we are actually helping them to learn a healthy way of functioning. In order to “normalize” the upsets, and have the emotional distance to preserve our own sanity, we have to work hard to do several things. First, remember that your staying emotionally balanced (calm) is a treatment technique all on it’s own. Secondly, understand and remind yourself that while the child’s frustration, anger, and tantrums are directed your way, they likely have very little to do with you. It is more likely that the child’s basic disability, mental health diagnosis, or family history is the true source of the upset. Third, have a standard response and put in place standard consequences any time the child becomes so upset that they become out of control. Last, remind yourself that when the child is upset, it is an opportunity and duty for you to treat the child as part of the mental health team.


1. Children having frequent, even daily crises is a basic part of foster care.

2. Normalizing the child’s upsets is important for the child’s improvement and your own emotional well being.

3. Feeling emotions when the child is emotional is normal, but too much emotion on your part is not only not helpful, but can be damaging to everyone in the family.

4. Make the four steps reflexive when the child becomes upset: stay emotionally balanced, don’t take their upset personally, have a standard, reutilized response to the upset, and take the opportunity to treat.


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