The Behavior You See and What Lies Beneath

When my wife and I bought our first house nearly 20 years ago we faced the dilemma that so many first-time homeowners face. The house we could afford needed a LOT of work.  Our first home was nearly 100-years-old when we bought it.  Every time I looked into hiring someone to do a project I was always shocked to find out how much it cost.  I quickly learned that I could buy all the equipment I would need for the job, do it myself, and save a ton of money.  This also provided a really great excuse to buy awesome tools like nail guns and electric saws.  Let me just say, there is nothing quite so gratifying as owning a nail gun.  As any little boy will tell you, the best toys are the most dangerous ones.

However, there was one problem:  I didn’t know how to do any of the work.

Since this was well before YouTube, I accumulated a small collection of do-it-yourself books.  I would find myself in our kitchen with one of these books open in my left hand, with some sort of tool in my right, going through the step-by-step list of what to do.  I was also fortunate enough to have a few friends who knew more than I did to show me the way.

Over the course of our marriage we have actually renovated two different 100-year-old houses representing hundreds of projects.  No matter what the project, there has always been one thing that has proven to be true in almost every case:

Once we got into a project, there were ALWAYS unexpected things below the surface to deal with that the books never mentioned:

“Hmm – that’s strange.  There is an extra wire in this electrical outlet box that isn’t in the picture.  What’s that for?”

“Huh – it sure doesn’t seem like the distance between the studs in my wall are not the same as it shows here.”

“AHHHHHH!!!!  A dead squirrel just fell out of the side of the house when I took off that board.” (I don’t exactly know what “living daylights” are but I’m pretty sure I no longer had them after this experience).

Kids who come from foster care come from hard places.  They say things and do things that bring us great frustration.  We perceive these behaviors as rebellious and disrespectful and we respond accordingly with punishment that fits the crime.  But what if there is something below the surface of that behavior representing a much bigger issue.  What if their bedtime shenanigans have more to do with their feelings of separation and abandonment than they do with any desire to get under your skin?  What if their weird behaviors with food have more to do with the fact that they spent significant portions of their lives hungry than they do with willful disobedience.

When we get into our kids’ behaviors and go a little deeper, we might find some unexpected stuff that sheds a lot of light on why they do the things they do.  These things don’t excuse the behaviors, but they certainly go a long way toward explaining them.  And when things are properly explained, it’s easier to address the heart of the matter.

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview two people on the Foster Movement Podcast who know a lot about this.  Lauren Lawson aged out of foster care and is now a foster parent.  She lived this reality and is now seeing it in the children she parents now:

“If I see one of my little guys and they’re lashing out, sometimes it’s easy just as a parent, want to jump on that, squash the behavior, and tell them to knock it off. When the reality is, I don’t know what’s going on in their hearts. That may be their only coping mechanism because they miss mom and dad today.”

We also talked with Ryan North, the Executive Director of Tapestry, the Adoption and Foster Care Ministry of Irving Bible Church.  Ryan and his wife Kayla have trained hundreds of couples around the country to help others parent kids from hard places.  Ryan gives some really practical advice on looking beneath the behavior to find ways to help your children to heal.

If you are caring for children from hard places or know someone who is, this episode can help. You can subscribe and check it out HERE.

And don’t worry, there is no discussion of dead squirrels in this podcast (though I’m making no promises regarding future episodes).

This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to