Foster Child Behavior Management
Everyone has a history, and our history shapes us and affects how we interact with others. For many children, their history has been very difficult. As helpers, we are often in a position of being recipients of emotions and behaviors from the children we are trying to help. When children come into contact with us, they may begin to transfer to us. What this means is the child begins to react to us as if we were a person from their history. If we begin to react back towards them, this is called counter transference. Transference can be used therapeutically, while counter transference is not helpful or healthy.
There are several reasons why a child transfers to us. First of all, transference is most often an unconscious thing; the child is not aware of what is happening. A child may have been reminded of an old hurt or a person in their past due to a particular situation, and that is why they begin the transferring. It also may be that the child is unconsciously trying to work through old issues with a person in their history. Understood this way, you can begin to see how we respond to the child can become therapeutic.
So how do you know when a child is transferring to you? Your first tool in determining this is your own emotions. Often, when someone is transferring to us, we may feel under attack, or have some other very strong emotion. The emotion we feel is not always negative, it can at times feel positive, at least at first.. Take for example, when a child becomes quite (unnaturally) affectionate and wants to be with you a great deal. At first, it seems quite pleasant, but then it quickly feels either oppressive or “too close too fast”. We may even get a sudden thought or feeling that the child is really reacting to someone other than us, someone from the past. Transference can occur in any situation, and may be brief, or may be a regular event.
How do we know when we are counter transferring? Again, your emotions will tell you a great deal. Actual counter transference gets carried out with our behaviors toward the child. When a child we are helping elicits very strong emotions is us, we need to be on our guard about counter transferring. If we step into the role of that person from their past and begin to behave the same way, we are now counter transferring. If we find ourselves reacting instead of responding to the child, we are likely counter transferring. Counter transference emotions (and behaviors) can be either negative or positive. For example, if we find ourselves very upset and yelling at the child, we likely have already counter transferred. On the other hand, if we have strong emotions to rescue or otherwise overindulge the child, we also may have already counter transferred.
As professionals, we all are vulnerable to counter transference, and we need to be open to hearing from colleagues that we may have fallen into the counter transference trap with a child, and then take corrective action to end the counter transference
So how does a helper make positive therapeutic use of transference? When a child transfers to us (behaving toward us the way they behaved towards an adult in the past) , we can give them a disciplined therapeutic response. Basically, this is a response that is unlike the response they got in the past from the adults in their history; it is a considered, measured, firm, and kind response. This promotes healing by blocking the transference. The child may become upset by this, and their upset it is an unconscious attempt to push us into counter transference. Don’t counter transfer. It can be helpful to gently and tactfully make the child aware that they are transferring. For example: “It seems that you are very angry right now, but I am not sure you are really angry with me.”
We can also accept the child’s transference as a healing tool. When a child who has been deprived of the proper affection and parenting begins to come to us for these things, we may allow this in order to “feed” the child the developmental stuff that they have missed out on. This will help to heal and mature them.