FOCUS on Foster Families - For Providers

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3. Understanding child development and managing feelings


SESSION PARTICIPANTS: Foster-Adoptive Caregivers
SESSION TIME: 100 minutes

  1. To set clear expectations for youth and be consistent with consequences
  2. To be able to develop a firm, yet nurturing parenting style
Materials for the Participant’s Folder:

  • General welcome and facilitator introductions
  • Introduction of today’s topic on child development and emotion management
  • If conducting in a group format, ask each member of the group to share the following:
    1. Name
    2. Child(ren)’s ages
    3. Are you fostering or adopting the child(ren)? If adopting, where are you at in the process?
    4. One parenting goal the group member has for today’s session (Note: The facilitator should give participants a few minutes to think about the goal before asking them to share)


Say: Parenting foster children can be challenging at times. Foster children have experienced many transitions in their lives and need security, consistency, and nurturance. As foster or adoptive parents, your foster child’s behaviors and reactions may be inconsistent with what you had imagined or incongruent with where they are developmentally. Today we will talk about your child's developmental stage and how you can tailor your expectations to meet your child where they are.  

  • SayChild development is the path of growing up and it involves learning and mastering certain skills or tasks. We like to call these tasks developmental milestones. I want you to take some time to explore the chart below to understand what milestones your child should reach and what you can do as a parent to help get them there.
  • SayWe are now going to watch two videos that will help us understand child development and ways we can respond to the child in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • Say:  Problem solving around difficult behavior and setting realistic expectations is an important part of creating a positive home environment.


  • SayCommunication and problem-solving are key skills related to dealing with a tantrum or other challenging behavior.
  • AskReflecting on both videos, what are your thoughts on how the parent(s) responded to Isabelle? How would you have responded to Isabelle when she was being defiant?
  • SayRemember Dr. Mogil’s steps. Calm yourself down before you respond to your child. Let’s use the SNAP worksheet to help problem solve ways to respond to your child’s behavioral problems.
  • SayThis is a great problem solving tool that requires us to utilize the skills we have learned (child’s developmental milestones) as we consider what we will choose to do about a problem that we are trying to solve. As a foster parent, you will be creating a new family and problems may arise that can cause conflict in the home. We emphasize a team approach in solving problems as a way of not only bonding with your family, but also making sure that every voice is heard. Please identify a current problem in your home. Examples could include your child having difficulty cleaning their room or doing their homework in the evenings.
    • We use the acronym S.N.A.P. to help us problem solve in four steps:
      1. State the problem
      2. Name the goal (realistic and specific in one sentence)
      3. All possible solutions (make a list of all the possible actions you could take; when done as a family encourage the caregiver to have options proposed by both the caregiver(s) and the child. The goal here is to be creative, so even wacky solutions should be included in the list).
      4. Pick the best one and try it out (evaluate the pros and cons of each option, reach a decision about which action you want to try, try it and review it)
  • Example of S.N.A.P.:
    • State the problem: Leaving toys out in the backyard
    • Name the goal: By the end of the week all of the toys will be put away in the backyard
    • Actions:
      1. Use a magic vacuum to scoop up all the toys
      2. Put toys away after you play with them
      3. The whole family helps clean up the toys in the backyard on Fridays and gets pizza as a reward
      4. One person cleans the backyard every week
      5. Buy storage bins and leave them in the backyard to remind us to clean up the toys
  • Pick the best one and try it out: The whole family helps clean up the toys in the backyard on Fridays and gets pizza as a reward
    • Encourage the caregiver to share this tool with their family. Ask them how they feel about teaching it and how they think their child might respond.
    • Encourage the caregiver to check out the FOCUS for Foster Families App and the game “Bear Necessities” as a great way to introduce problem solving to children.
  • SayTaking into consideration developmental age, let’s watch this video from a therapist who works with foster youth and learn how to be consistent, firm, and predictable as parents
  • Description: Dr. Erin Dornan addresses setting up clear expectations for youth and being consistent when it comes to consequences
  • AskDr. Erin Dornan emphasizes being firm, consistent, and predictable. What is a discipline or consequence you can set in your home that embodies those three qualities?

Say: Now that we have a better understanding of where your child is developmentally, let’s take a look at ways we can better understand his or her emotions and cognitions. First, it’s important to remember that it is normal for foster children to have behavioral problems due to the transitions and the trauma they have experienced. Behaviors are shaped by thoughts and feelings and we will focus on better understanding the underlying feelings/emotions that shape these behaviors. We have created a tool to help put words to both you and your child’s feelings. This is a helpful tool for families to communicate their feelings to each other.

  • Say: Kids may have negative reactions to the adjustment of living in a new home. This video with Dr. Audra Langley of TIES for Families will help us understand that a child’s feelings/behaviors are not to be taken personally, but instead understood. The tools below will help you understand your child’s reactions to things.
  • SayThe Feeling Thermometer helps you communicate and track your feelings each day. It measures feelings on a scale of comfortable (green) to uncomfortable (red). Using the thermometer, you can measure the intensity of your feelings and note how different intensities affect you.
  • Ask: Where are you on the Feeling Thermometer right now?
  • AskHow do you know when you are moving up the Feeling Thermometer?
  • Refer to My Child’s Emotions handout. AskWhat are cues that your child gives you when they are moving up the Feeling Thermometer (green to orange)?
  • Ask: As a parent, your emotional state has a big impact on your children. How do you bring yourself down the Feeling Thermometer? How do your foster children come down the Feeling Thermometer?
  • Say“Green” is the place where you feel comfortable, relaxed, calm, and at peace. There are a lot of ways on this list to get to green.
  • AskPlease circle ways you and your child can get to the green together or individually. How can you support each other to get to the green?
  • AskWhat are ways you can “get to the green” in your family that is not included on this list?

Say: Family meetings are a great opportunity for open communication among family members. They are also a perfect time to discuss upcoming events, address conflicts, or clarify expectations for youth. The worksheet below summarizes how to ensure your family meeting goes smoothly. Bring the Feeling Thermometer and introduce it to your children at the next family meeting. Let them know this is going to be a new activity where everyone can express where they are on the thermometer every day!

  • Optional: view How to Hold a Family Meeting video
  • AskWhere can you hold this family meeting?
  • AskConsidering the information that we covered today, what would be a topic that you could discuss at the family meeting?
    • Examples include: Feeling Thermometer, getting to the green examples
  • AskWhat your thoughts on sharing the Feeling Thermometer with your child(ren)? What are ways you could teach it to your child? What are ways you could teach the getting to the green strategies during the family meeting?
  • AskConsidering your child's developmental stage, what are ground rules you can establish at the beginning of the meeting?
    • Examples include: Listening to others, being respectful of what each person has to say, etc.
  • Remind the caregiver of the key takeaways of this session:
  • Foster children have experienced many transitions in their lives and need security, consistency, and nurturance.
  • As foster or adoptive parents, your foster child’s behaviors and reactions may be inconsistent with what you had imagined or incongruent with where they are developmentally.
  • It is important for foster parents to meet their child where they are developmentally; a child’s chronological age may not match their developmental age.
  • In order to develop a firm yet nurturing parenting style, we need to understand our children’s behaviors and emotions. The Feeling Thermometer is a great way to be able to talk about emotions at home.
  • Utilize the Feeling Thermometer, Getting to the Green, and How to Hold a Family Meeting to help set up family rules and strengthen your parenting skills.
    • Ask the caregiver to set and share a parenting goal to practice during the next week
    • Ask the caregiver to discuss one thing they will take away from today’s session