Reframing Challenging Behaviors: Understanding the message behind the action

Reframing Challenging Behaviors: Understanding the message behind the action

Behaviors are how we communicate our needs. Our behavior often reflects the world in which we live. Think about foster youth, among the most vulnerable in our society. In their ever-changing world, survival means learning how to meet ordinary needs in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Many of our youth in foster care exhibit challenging behaviors.  But, what if we were to reframe these behaviors? Rather than view them as a testament to their deficits, we can and often should view these behaviors as a testament to their resiliency. They show a keen ability to adapt in the face of nearly insurmountable adversity.

Unfortunately, it is how their behaviors are viewed that can often prevent our youth from finding a forever family. When looking at the youth we serve, we are seeing a glimpse of where they have been. If, however, they are placed in a home where they are provided what has always been deprived, youth in care can begin to change the lens through which they view themselves and the world around them.

We at Sierra Forever Families believe that each and every one of our youth are adoptable as they are, and healing happens when youth find a loving and supportive forever family. When youth can begin to depend on others for the consistent provision of their basic needs, they are given the opportunity to refocus their energy on attachment, bonding, and self-discovery.

Youth who have never known otherwise may fight to maintain the version of themselves and the world that allowed them to survive, for no other reason than the comfort of familiarity. Through compassion and understanding, we can show them that letting go feels better than holding on.

When our youth exhibit a certain behavior, they are not pushing us away–they are calling us in. By learning to see the message behind the behavior and adjusting how we engage with youth who have survived trauma, we can show them what should have been, and what could now be. Through this approach, our youth can have every opportunity to realize a new worldview where the hope for the future overcomes the pain of the past.

MichaelGWritten by Michael Goularte, MSW

Youth Permanency Worker, Destination Family


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