Foster Parenting Adventures: When Children Lose Control

When you have a child who has trauma in the past, you just never know what is going to spark a memory or a thought that will spark something within them that causes them to lose the ability to maintain composure. As a certified therapeutic foster parent, I’ve been through a lot of training, during which I was introduced to the idea that you will be attacked, your house will be trashed, you may have a need to call 9-1-1, you may have a false claim of child abuse of some sort filed against you, etc.  The training was intense. I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed at the real-life examples the various trainers were sharing, and couldn't comprehend how I could possibly remember all the information I needed to know to be a successful foster parent. You just have to hope that the worst-case scenarios don't happen to you

I have been a foster parent for exactly one year. In that time, I have had seven or eight different kiddos in my house for respite care and had two “incidents” where a child tantrumed to the point of needing to be put in a hold.

The first one was with a boy who has a history of tantruming daily, so his was not a surprise. The second one was last month, by a girl I’ve had about twelve successful visits with in the past few months.  Unfortunately, it was a doozy of a tantrum that involved quite a bit of non-essential damage-ripping papers, throwing books and clothes, and a little over-the-top ridiculousness –she dumped a bag of cat food in the middle of the room and then threw handfuls of it at me across the room, repeatedly.
The thing about the therapeutic kids  is that they just can’t necessarily control themselves. There is just something not connecting correctly in their brain and, as such, there’s not really much you can do for them when they cross into tantrum mode.

This tantrum went on for a couple hours in the am. At some point, she was in the bedroom, had already torn up everything she could- there was nothing left in the room, the bedding was in a pile in the corner, she had broken a piece of the bed frame (by jumping on it in just the right spot) and she was just exhausted. Containing her to the room was the best thing that I did that morning. She was great after she cried and we hugged and I assured her I wasn’t mad and wasn't going to punish her and we talked about what was right and wrong. She cleaned up the room with my direction and then we went to the kitchen and made lunch together.  Life was just fine...

Lunch was great, we watched a short cartoon, cleaned up our plates and got comfy on the couch to watch a movie and take a rest as we had discussed. Unfortunately, she still wasn’t quite right….and she started another tantrum. This one was throughout the house, I couldn’t quite get her contained to one room and the whole house took a bit of a beating. The training I was provided  tells us that we don’t ever unnecessarily touch the kids in the program. We don’t hug without permission, and then it’s a side hug only.  We don’t grab their arm if they are preparing to strike at us, we just deflect or step away. There’s just so many rules!
I feel like I did a stellar job of following the things I learned in training. It went on for hours and hours...But at some point, I reached my limit and had to call  the emergency hot line. I was told later that I did an excellent job, very calm and soothing voice reinforcing that everything was okay and I wasn’t going to be mad. One of the quotes they told me later that made them feel really confident that I was doing well was that I was heard saying something like, “ it’s okay if you hit the TV with that plastic wand (a cat toy) because I know you are not going to hurt yourself doing that and I just want you to feel safe. I won’t be mad at you if you continue but I’d really like you to stop and use your words.”
Patience was mine that day!!

Eventually I had to put her in a therapeutic hold as she was getting to the point where she was nearly hurting herself running from room to room, sliding under the coffee table, throwing sharp things, etc. After a few minutes, she stopped struggling (but not before getting the chance to bite my arm) and just broke into tears. And from there, she took a nap and was fairly normal the rest of the evening and into the next day.
At some point, she made some comments to me that I had to report to her case worker– and that led to me testifying in court last month. Such a sad, crazy experience that I hope I don’t have to repeat anytime soon.  It’s just heartbreaking to see kids going through such a traumatizing and scary event. I don’t think this is anything they can control or understand. It’s just a part of their life. And we think we have it rough...


  1. It has to be a frightening thing to see a child out of their mind with rage like that. YOu are SO patient to not lose it, too!


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