Hello Cathy, we adopted our son seven years ago and he is twelve now. He has started running away, truanting from school, and telling everyone who will listen that he wants to go back in care. I was wondering if you had any advice for us?
CG: Dear Gaynor, I am sorry to hear your son is going through a bad patch. I’m afraid he’s of the age when he will test the boundaries. It is also the time when adopted children examine and question their history. What your son needs more than anything is reassurance that you are his permanent family no matter what he does. His real family – by law and in the role you play and the love you give him. Forget about promoting his birth family for now. He doesn’t want to hear about that. So many times I see adopted parents, wanting to be politically correct, promote the birth family to the detriment of what they are giving. He wants normality – a normal family that is rock solid and not going to give up on him. The reason he is saying he wants to go into care is because he wants to hear you say: ‘No! Never in a million years! You are our son. We are your parents. When you run away we will bring you home.’ You will all come through this as a family but your son still needs firm boundaries for good behaviour and I suggest you read my book Happy Kids for strategies on how to achieve this. Cathy x
Having just finished Happy Kids I was shocked how many E-numbers are in our food.
Emma H – Facebook comment
My son is 11 months old and he throws a tantrum when I say ‘no’ to him. If he carries on I put him in his cot, but I can’t just leave him to cry as the health visitor suggested. Can you help please? He has a tantrum when he wants to climb stairs and I say no, when I go out of the room, when he wants to sit on my lap and I can’t have him on my lap for some reason. Also, if I’m eating or drinking he has to have some of it and screams if I refuse. I’m not sure how I can go about showing him he can’t always have his own way.
CG: Hi Natasha. Decide what your son can have and what he can’t. Really think about this. Sometimes as parents, especially if we are stressed, we say no without really thinking about it. You should be saying ‘yes’ to him more times than you are saying no. If he really can’t have something or has to be stopped from doing something, then say no and introduce him to a different activity. At his age, distraction is the best policy. He is far less likely to have a tantrum if his interest is immediately captured by an alternative activity. Children of this age can become insecure and cry if their main care-giver (you) goes out of sight so don’t worry about that. Take your son with you if you can or keep talking to him while you are out of sight. It will be reassuring for him to hear your voice when he can’t see you. Many a time I’ve sat on the toilet talking to a toddler on the other side of the door! Cathy x
I bought Happy Kids for when I foster but it has helped me loads with my kids. I am a single mum to two children. I have read a few parenting books, yours is excellent and the technique works so well, I have been telling my friends too!
We have been fostering a 9 year old boy, S, for 3 months who has very challenging behaviour. He was badly neglected and has a lot of problems. We want to do the best for him but he takes over and tells me what I am doing is wrong. He is so young in many ways and grown up in others. He is on medication for ADHD. He sleepwalks and has nightmares. He smacks the younger children we look after and also smacks the dogs. I am wondering if we should re-home the dogs? I need some advice.
CG: Dear Marie, it will take time to correct all of S’s behaviour. From your letter I can see you have already achieved a lot with S so give yourself a pat on the back. Keep the boundaries for good behaviour in place and reward and sanction as necessary, as you have been doing using the 3Rs. Cleary S has had a lot of responsibly (and power) so make sure he isn’t ‘top dog’. Please re-read the chapter in Happy Kids called Difficult Children to correct this. S will have to learn to be a child and this will take time. The nightmares and sleep walking are classic signs of severe abuse and neglect. Reassure S he is safe with you and leave a light on low at night. I would also ask for a referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service which offers therapy for children like S who have clearly suffered a lot before coming into care. Re your dogs – they stay. There is no question of them going. Teach S how to respect the animals just as he is learning to respect other people. Reward and sanction him for his behaviour towards the dogs as you are doing with his other unacceptable behaviour. You have achieved so much in 3 months, and in another 3 months the child will be unrecognisable from how he is now. Let me know how you get on. Cathy.
I was so glad to receive your email. My husband and I were having such a tough time with S that to be honest were both feeling that perhaps it was time to ask for S to be moved to carers who were more qualified and experienced than us. However after receiving your email we have had a total turn around. Oh my goodness, you hit the nail on the head! The light has been turned on. We honestly did not consider or comprehend the idea that these poor children who have been so neglected and abused also get the chance to have power. This was exactly what was confusing us. Thank you for all your help. We are again feeling optimistic for our future with S.
Pause For Thought: Children will not remember you for the material things you provided but for the feeling that you cherished them.
Hello I’m big fan of you and your books. Right now I’m reading Happy Kids. I am worried about my two and a half year old brother who I look after while my mother works. He only speaks a few words although he understands everything people tell him. I have tried telling him words but he won’t repeat them. One day I repeated a word all day but he still refused to say it. The doctor said there isn’t a problem for a child his age.
CG: Well done for taking such good care of your little brother. That is very kind of you. I am sure your mother greatly appreciates it. I would take the doctor’s advice and not be concerned about your brother’s lack of speech. I assume his hearing was checked and found to be fine. In which case he will be hearing the words and it is only a matter of time before he starts to repeat them. Children develop at different rates and he is only young. I think it is a good idea not to make an issue of it. Just keep talking to him as you have been doing and I am sure it won’t be long before he is talking in sentences. However, if you and your mother still have concerns in six months time you could approach your doctor again.
Hi Cathy, I have just become a nanny. I love it but the little boy can be very cheeky and says things like ‘My mummy is the boss and only she can tell me what to do’, and if I’m singing a song to the baby, he says ‘She doesn’t like that song so can you stop singing it please?’ Today he hit his bother and when I asked him to apologies he raised his voice and said ‘Don’t look at me like that! I don’t like angry voices!’ despite the fact that I hadn’t used an angry voice, simply a firmer tone. I’m writing down everything in a diary to back myself up, but I’m worried that he will tell his parents things and twist it around. I’m telling the parents what the children have been doing every day, but there’s part of me that’s worried that his parents may misinterpret something. I think it’s mainly because he is used to having his mummy and daddy around all the time, and now I have come along. How would you deal with this situation?
CG: Congratulations on your new post. I am sure you are doing a great job although I can see why you are worried. You are right to be making notes of what the child says in respect of your care of him and his siblings. It is also appropriate to advise his parents. I think you can say to the parents that you feel he seems to resent your role so that if he does make an allegation they will have a better understanding of why. Foster carers see a lot of this type of behaviour and we always keep detailed log notes. You are right when you say that the boy is reacting because a nanny is now looking after him and not his mother. Even so he needs to learn that you are in charge and his comments are not acceptable. You can say this to him but it would be better if you and the parents sat down together to speak to him. Also, there are lots of useful tips and strategies in Happy Kids including a chapter especially for Nannies.
I am reading your book Happy Kids. It is the first book that has made any sense to me about raising kids. Thank you.
Youlla, Hong Kong.
I really got so much from your book Happy Kids. It has helped me with parenting my little girl and I have recommended it to my friends.
Dear Cathy I have a 3 year old daughter and I am happy with her behaviour. My father is very strict and doesn’t have much patience with young children. When we visit him he calls her naughty and shouts at her which leads to me arguing with him and saying “no she’s not naughty she’s 3”. I used to get hard smacks as a child and have memories of hiding from my dad behind the cupboard door. All my life I have lacked confidence and have very low self esteem. I don’t want her to have the type of upbringing I had as she is a confident happy little girl and I don’t want to destroy that. At the same time I don’t want to stop visiting my dad.
CG: Dear J, You are not alone in this situation, so many parents have to deal with their parents attitude to child-rearing. I fully appreciate your concerns and of course you are right in all you say. Your daughter is only doing what normal 3 year olds do. You don’t say how often you visit your father but I am guessing it is quite frequent. I think you need to explain to your father (again) that you are bringing up your daughter to be a confident happy child and the boundaries for good behaviour that your daughter respects are the correct ones. If he persists in interfering then I suggest you reduce your visits or even stop them for a while. This will give him the wake up call he needs. Clearly he loves you and his granddaughter but cannot see the damage he is doing. Let me know how it goes.
Hi Cathy, I live in New Zealand and have your book Happy Kids. It is very well written and I am using your useful tips. I have a couple of things I would like to ask you. The first is about the little girl, B, aged 4, I look after regularly on respite. Her mother sulks and it is rubbing off on her daughter, so that if I have a word with B or have to impose discipline she will stop what she is doing and sulk. My usual response is “B… stop sulking or I will put you in time out” but to me it doesn’t feel like the correct response. I have tried ignoring it but she will hide in a dark corner and not come out for a long time and I don’t feel right about that either. I am wondering what else I can do? The other issue is with B interrupting whenever I praise my son. I praise her too, often, but that doesn’t seem enough. I really hope you can give me some advice. Thanks very much
CG: Dear Kourtney, you are doing a good job and handling the situation firmly but sensitively. In respect of B’s sulking, I would make light of it by acting slightly surprised and moving on- e.g. ‘That’s a funny face, B..,’ then carry on with what ever you were doing. You are right when you say she shouldn’t be left hiding in a dark corner for any length of time, but if you are dismissive of her sulking – making light of it – this is less likely to happen as it won’t develop into an issue. In respect of her interrupting, I agree with your comments. Your son deserves his own praise. When B interrupts pause from what you are saying and without looking at B (thereby marginalizing her interrupting) say: ‘I’ll listen to you in a moment when I have finished talking to…..’ If she flounces off in a sulk, ignore it, and carry on as normal. But if she hides in a dark corner for more than ten minutes bring her out. As you have realized B’s behaviour is probably being learnt from her mother but it can be unlearned, although it will take time. Try the above, continue with the strategies you have been using and let me know how you get on. Cathy
Hi Cathy, I’m married with five children under the age of ten and we have had social services in our lives for just over a year because of the behaviour of some of my children. I would like to thank you personally because without your books, I would never have had the confidence to improve the way we deal with our children. I would never have heard of the 3R’s (Happy Kids) which works and is a wonderful way to deal with children. I hated the thought of the naughty chair or step. Now with the 3R’s put in place my home and family is very much calmer and more enjoyable. Before long we will be able to say goodbye to the social workers and move on as a family for a better future. Thanks to you and the 3Rs!
Pause For Thought: Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes, they forgive them.
Dear Cathy, I am a TA working with a 7-year-old boy – W – who suffers from ADHD and has shown very challenging behaviour. After replacing his computer time with board games his interest in activities has grown. He is calmer and more focused. He is using a routine I introduced – few work sheets in the morning, 15 minutes reading and some time spent in class. The school wants to get W back in class for the whole time. Do you think it is advisable to start each school day with some time in class rather than with worksheets? I would like to hear your comments on his behaviour. Best regards
CG: Dear Anne, Well done, you are doing a fantastic job by the sound of it. Your routine and methods have found a way in so that W can learn. In respect of the computer – children with ADHD often react badly to screens even for short periods – computer, TV, playstation etc. So you were right to replace this with a board game. In respect of reintegration into the classroom, this should be done in short periods at the same time each day. Routine is essential for a child like W… First thing in the morning for registration and first thing in the afternoon are good starting points. Registration is a controlled environment and W will be less tired and therefore less likely to react badly. This needs to be done as part of his IEP with the SENCO, class teacher, parent and anyone else involved aware. It is very important that children eat and drink regularly at school, particularly so with a child who has ADHD. Is W having water at regular intervals throughout the day and a small snack at morning break? If not his sugar levels will fall; he will become dehydrated and his behaviour and concentration will suffer. Lastly, can I suggest you revisit my book Happy Kids? I think you will find some chapters very useful now you are a TA to W. Very best wishes Cathy.
Hi Cathy, thanks for your helpful advice. I saw the school counsellor about W and what I got to hear touched me deeply: Little W struggles to come to terms with his father being in prison. He is overprotective towards his mother and constantly worries what she s doing while he is at school. He sees himself as ‘the man in the house’. His mind is so busy with all those thoughts, that he is pre-occupied on many mornings. His counsellor told me that little W is mentally tired of all the contradictions in his head and can’t be forced or disciplined on bad days. She also told me my task was to keep him occupied and comfortable rather than force him to learn. I find it a little sad that I was not told of his background in first place. It would have helped.
CG: Dear Anne, I guessed it was something to do with W’s home life, and yes, it is a great pity that you were not given this information at the start. Had you been the TA for a child I was fostering I would have made you aware and given you regular updates. I do not agree that W should just be kept occupied at school. He needs to learn and school is a safe and constant factor in his otherwise turbulent life. If I was working with him I would say something like: ‘I know you have a lot of things going on in your life. I know you have lots of worries, which I understand. But it is important you learn so you can get a good job and a nice home and car, and do all the things you want to.’ On a bad day he will reject this and say ‘couldn’t care a F… about my future’ or similar. But the message will be going in. In his quieter moments W will think about what he would like to achieve, via a good education, compared to what his parents have. On a practical note, it may be he is having contact with his father in prison which could tie in with very bad days. Sadly this child is typical of so many I see. Cathy.
Cheer me up because I had an argument with my brother about something and then I said to mum I hate living at home and she said well leave then at least it will be quiet without you. This is all true.
CG: Disagreements are part of normal family life. We all disagree with our loved-ones sometimes, and say things we later regret. Your mum was hurt by your rejection of the home she has lovingly provided for you. Parents aren’t saints; we just try to do our best. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. Sons and daughters aren’t always saints either, so I suggest you all apologize and make up. Cathy.
Inspired by your books I have taken up a volunteering position with special needs children at a local primary. I am working alongside the SENCO who only sees the extremely challenging children in school. Applying your 3R method, I have already managed to turn around two children in relatively short time. The school has been so pleased with the methods and my work that they have offered me a paid position. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a child who was completely out of control, enjoy listening, taking turns and behaving well. Some of the children have never experienced boundaries but soon learn that you do not set boundaries to get them into trouble but because you care about them.
Hi Cathy, my step-daughter (aged 3) came to live with us recently and she is taken out by her biological Nan once a week. She always comes back with expensive gifts which she shows to my son. This upsets me as I can not do the same for him every week as we’re a low income family.
CG: Dear Alison, foster carers are often put in the same position in respect of gifts and their own children and foster children. Natural families who are not parenting their child or children can sometimes feel guilty and over-compensate by buying expensive presents and rarely disciplining the child. This is especially difficult when the family, like yours, has other children who receive a normal amount of gifts, attention and discipline. Have you tried talking to your step-daughter’s Nan about this? If not I suggest that is the first step. You could say that not only is it causing a problem in your household but also her granddaughter is coming to view her (Nan) as the provider of gifts which is detracting from the true relationship she should be having with her. I have had to say something similar to the parents of children I’ve fostered. When the parents/grandparents realize that showering the child with gifts and giving in to all their demands is not helping their relationship they often cooperate. No one wants to be seen simply as the provider of material possessions. Talk it over with your partner and see if you can approach Nan. Let me know how you get on please. Cathy.
Hi, I am 12 years old and a foster child in a family I like very much, but they don’t always understand me.
CG: Dear Julia, there will be times when your foster parents don’t understand you just as you probably don’t understand them sometimes. My family and I are the same – it is part of normal family life. My advice would be to talk to them and tell them when you feel they do not understand your position. Good communication is essential in any family but sometimes we forget to talk to our loved ones and just assume they will know what we feel like. Talk to them and explain your worries and I am sure it will help. Cathy x
Dear Cathy, I have a 4 year old daughter who goes to nursery. She stays with my parents during week days as my hubby and I work. We visit her daily after work and bring her home at weekends. I am worried as follows: She is very stubborn and wants things done her way. She interrupts by screaming when my mum is talking to us or even visitors. When we attend family gatherings she will not answer when people talk to her. Is this normal for 4 years kid to behave? Really appreciate your feedback.
CG: Dear Lee. Please do not worry. Much of your daughter’s behaviour is normal for a healthy intelligent child of four. Although I agree that some boundaries need to be put in place. Make sure your parents have the same rules and expectations of behaviour as you and your husband do. If there are two sets of rules it will be very confusing for your daughter. Talk to your parents and find out what they expect in terms of interrupting when an adult is speaking etc. and make sure you are working the same way. I suggest you read my book Happy Kids and follow the 3 Rs. The technique I describe works wonders. Re your last point about not always speaking to people; that is normal. Your daughter is simply exercising her choice, or possibly she may be a bit shy. I wouldn’t force the issue. You can encourage her to talk to family members but don’t force it. Best Wishes Cathy
Dear Cathy. I am 14 years old and I am reading Damaged. My family and I have been fostering for 1 year. We have a little boy but he really annoys me. Because I’m the youngest so he thinks he can play me round.
CG: Dear Keeley, You will see from reading Damaged (and my other books) just what children in a fostering family have to put up with sometimes. However, there is a lot that can be done to help you: first you need to make your mum aware of how you are feeling. It is important. She will be so busy with fostering and running the house that she may not realise just what an effect fostering is having on you. Please tell her. Because the foster child takes up so much time often the natural children in the family get second place. As parents we don’t mean to do this, we just assume our own children are okay and concentrate on the foster child and all their problems. Your family needs to spend time alone – just a small time but on a regular basis. Also most fostering agencies now run a support group for the natural children of foster families where you can mix socially and discuss any issues you may have. Check out the one in your area, but first and foremost tell your mum how you feel. Cathy x
Hi Cathy, My daughter of two and a half years has started telling fibs. She smiles and laughs like it is a game. I would like to nip it in the bud if I can.
CG: Dear Barbara, I agree it is better to stop this behaviour before it becomes a habit, although I think she could simply grow out of it – as you say it is like a game; there is no malice behind it. However, like you, I would want to ‘nip it in the bud.’ I suggest you explain to your daughter that the problem with fibbing is that you won’t know when she is telling the truth; then if she persists, prove it by using a bit of psychology. I suggest the following: The next time she asks for something e.g. a sweet or TV time refuse it and say, ‘No, I don’t think you really want it.’ She will erupt and say, ‘Yes I do!’ You say, ‘But how do I know you do and it isn’t a fib?’ When she says indignantly, ‘It’s not a fib! I really do want a sweet/TV/go to the park.’ Say, ‘Oh, I see, well in that case you can have your treat, but you need to stop fibbing otherwise I won’t know when you’re telling the truth, will I?’ A few times of this and it will stop. It also works with older children whose lying runs deep. Cathy
Hi Cathy, I have been reading your blog and came across the one about the smacking ban. I posted a while back that I was going to stop giving my three girls light smacks and I haven’t smacked them since. However I was wondering what you would suggest when taking away privileges doesn’t work? My children don’t seem to care about this, especially my 4 year old, Katie. She understands why she is being told off but when I take away something e.g. TV time the following day she doesn’t make the connection. This sparks off a tantrum. Also, taking away TV time punishes my other children who can’t watch the TV either because Katie would be able to watch it. I was wondering what you suggest?
CG: Hi Nikki, Well done for not smacking. I have a few suggestions regarding your daughter’s behaviour. Have you tried rewarding her good behaviour? It may seem obvious, but so often bad behaviour is attention seeking which works because we react to negative behaviour and tend to assume good behaviour. That is okay – good behaviour should be the base line, but if a child is going through a particularly challenging time it is worth placing emphasis on the good behaviour as well as sanctioning the negative. The reward doesn’t have to be much, just a simple ‘Well done! Good girl,’ is enough. And don’t forget to praise your other children as well or you’ll have them playing up. Make sure sanctions are immediate and appropriate. Stopping something the same day is far better than the following day if at all possible. If it has to be the following day then tell the child why they are losing the treat, explain it was because of their unacceptable behaviour the day before. Obviously other children in the family should not be punished because one sibling has done wrong, so if you are using withdrawal of television as the sanction then the child who is being sanctioned should be withdrawn to another room, while the other siblings watch television. It made seem harsh but it is unfair to punish all siblings because one has done wrong; the children will see it is unfair as well. Let me know how you get on. Best Wishes, Cathy
I really wish you had written Happy Kids when my children were younger; mine are 24, 18, 14, and 11 now. The three eldest are boys my youngest is a girl. I could relate completely to the teenage section i.e. messy bedrooms, taking an hour to do anything they are asked! I really enjoyed this book. You explained everything so simply and easy to understand.
I have passed on your book Happy Kids to the parents and carers I work with and they have said they find it very helpful and have used many of the strategies mentioned. Keep up the good work!
Pause For Thought: Your children need your presence more than your presents. Jesse Jackson
Hi Cathy, My husband and I adopted a little boy over 2 years ago he has just turned seven. Although we have made progress in some areas of behaviour, the biggest challenge we face is his behaviour around other children. He is the only child in the house so he has children to play but they get fed up with his control. I am constantly having to explain sharing and taking turns (which is not much fun for the other children to listen to). I also take him to the park but even there he tries to control everything. I have found your book a HUGE help in understanding how and why he tries to control us at home. I have been able to help him learn acceptable behaviour and for me to stay calm! I have read your book over and over again. Thank you,
CG: Dear Suzanne, I think you are doing a great job with your son. Well done, and how wonderful that he has found love and stability with you and your husband. Only children, whatever their background tend to take longer to share control with their peer group for the obvious reason that for a large part of the day – at home – they don’t have to. This is nothing unusual and I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on his early year’s experience, although it will obviously form a part of his behaviour. First and foremost children of his age need love, warmth, stability and firm boundaries, all of which you are giving your son. My advice would be to continue as you have been doing – emphasizing sharing and playing nicely with this peers. I know it can appear repetitive but the children he is playing with won’t mind as you are teaching fair play. If he erupts when he has company then use the 3Rs as you have been doing. One child I fostered had to spend quiet time away from his guests until he eventually learned to play nicely. Good luck, and let me know how it goes. Cathy
Dear Cathy, I’m halfway through reading Happy Kids and have already tried the 3R’s technique with my 3 year old son D. I recently extended his time at Nursery and although he has been enjoying his time there, I’m finding he is very difficult to control in the mornings and evenings. He has started pushing me and I feel this is his way of getting back at me for being gone all day. I’ve been following your 3Rs technique and it has been working. It makes me feel a lot better than just getting stressed. The naughty step has never worked with D as he thinks it’s a really fun game and after work I don’t have the patience! I’m going to stick with the 3R’s technique. I’m much happier and confident that I can handle him and we enjoy our mornings / evenings together. Since applying this technique it makes my time with D enjoyable instead of manageable, so a very big thank you! With love,
Update: I haven’t needed to use the 3RS technique the last couple of nights as D is magically doing as he’s told straight away – after using your technique for just 3 days! I hope he stays so well behaved, but if he tests the boundaries again I know what I need to do!
Cathy, I am a step mum to a 6 and 7 year old who live with their mother. The 6 year old has come to my house with bite marks and bruises over her body and her mother has admitted to doing this. The mother has mental health problems. I’m concerned for the child’s safety and the child wants to live with us but the mother will not let us have her in our permanent care. I am not very confident in social services. What do you suggest my approach to all this should be. Please write back. Many thanks.
CG: Dear K. I am very concerned by what you have told me and it is essential you or your partner inform the social services immediately. Like you I am worried for the safety of the child. Please do not delay in phoning your local social services or if you prefer the NSPCC – 0808 800 5000. When you have spoken to the social services or the NSPCC I should like you to email me to put my mind at rest. Thank you. Cathy
Hi Cathy, I’ve just finished reading your book: Happy Kids. The 3Rs work on my son and my kids in the nursery school. Thank you so much! Kind regards,
Dear Cathy, I thought Happy Kids was excellent. I could relate to many of your examples and realised how I could/should handle some situations better. I have now implemented the 3 R’s with my daughters and pleased to say I do notice the difference. With best wishes and many thanks.
I have begun reading your book Happy Kids and have started putting into practice the 3Rs with my children. I have seen some encouraging results already!
Hi Cathy, I have nearly finished Happy Kids and am intrigued that some of the psychology and strategies you use are similar to the ones I used when I trained my puppy, although I never had the problem of him rushing to answer the phone! My children are proving a bit harder to train and I have struggled with finding something to use as a sanction. The sanction which has worked with my 4 year old son is his bike. I took it off him the other day and put into the garage. Initially I told him I would take it from him for 10 minutes when he was misbehaving but he kicked me so I told him it was gone for the rest of the day. Then he called me a “dick head” so it was gone for the rest of the next day. I know it’s only supposed to be 10 minutes each time but he was out of control and extremely abusive. However, having put the bike away, I had nothing to use as a sanction for the next day. When I asked him to have time out he refused and followed me everywhere, aggressively calling me names. Also, My 12 year old daughter has become fussy with food and now refuses to eat beef. She is a real animal lover I think this may have something to do with it. I am using the 3Rs with her but she can be stubborn and controlling and pushes me as far as she can. She does not like giving in and always has to have the last word. For example, I told her to go to her room, and she refused. So I told her if she didn’t do as I said I would take 20p off her pocket money. Have you any ideas? Thanks,
CG: Hi Catriona. It has been said by some psychologists that training young children and puppies is very similar. It sounds to me that you are doing a good job; persevere with your strategies. It is early days yet. In respect of your 4 year old son, putting the bike away for the whole of the first day was right, however, I would suggest bringing it out first thing the following day. As soon as he is awake (before the chance of any negative behaviour), make a big thing about getting the bike out and that he will be able to play with it. Ideally take him with you to get the bike out, or be with him when he gets the bike out, or let him see you get the bike out. By doing this he will feel he has a fresh start to the day and that he really wants to keep his bike for the day and the only way to do this is by being good. Of course, by reinstating the bike you can use it as a sanction again, if necessary. In respect of ‘time out’ you did right in removing yourself from the room as he wouldn’t go to his room to allow a cooling off period. If he follows you try to go somewhere he can’t follow you. Toilet maybe? Re the name calling. If he persisted and it was more than a burst of anger then I would impose another sanction e.g. loss of TV time. In respect of your 12 year old daughter. Many girls give up meat temporarily when they realise where it has come from – i.e. live cuddly animals. One of my daughters did and I did at a similar age, although my daughter ate sausages because they didn’t look like meat! As long as she is eating a healthy diet I wouldn’t make an issue of it. In fact, the least said, the soonest mended. I would make no comment but simply serve something different. There are a lot of alternatives to meat, and ready made meals that don’t use meat. Re her behaviour, yes, at her age stopping pocket money in small chunks is a suitable sanction. Keep going and let me know how you get on. Best wishes Cathy.
I am a huge fan of yours. I have a daughter who is 5 next month, and I am a single parent. We have a very strong bond and we just adore each other, and do all sorts of exciting and enjoyable things together, such as going to the theatre, and going on holiday. The trouble is I spend a lot of the time worrying about her, especially now she has started school. My family have commented that I over compensate for her father’s lack of involvement. I try to be a mixture of different roles, a mother, a father, a playmate. I feel guilty if I am not full filling those roles. We have a great social life with lots of friends who also have children, and live in a close knit community, so she isn’t short of play mates, but I would like her to be a bit more independent in her play sometimes, to ease the intensity of our relationship. Selfish though it may seem, I need a bit of me time, and to catch up with things as I work as well! Sounds awful, but I would like a happy medium.
CG: Dear Kathryn, I speak from my heart (and experience) when I say single parents often over-compensate. We try to make up for the absence of the other parent, and feel guilty for being unable to provide a two parent family. We feel that whatever we do is not good enough and beat ourselves up if we fall short of our targets and playing all roles. Don’t. It is clear from your letter that you are doing a fantastic job in parenting your daughter. She will grow up into a lovely young lady; someone you can be proud of, and it’s thanks to you. Allow yourself some ‘me time’. You need and deserve it. It is great that you have a supportive family and community. I think now your daughter has started going to school she will gain more independence and autonomy as her world widens. I cover this in my book Happy Kids. Her new found independence will not detract from the strong relationship you have with her but will be another step towards her growing maturity. Your dedication to your daughter during those important early years has set her well up for the future. Now you can start to concentrate a bit more on you. Cathy x
I finished Happy Kids a few weeks ago and found it just fantastic and also very proud. You’re so similar to my own mam. I was brought up exactly how you teach and it makes me so confident that my “one on the way” has a good start anyway!
I haven’t finished Happy Kids yet but I am reading at least 20 pages a night. It is very informative as well as making me think about how I was raised in a family of eleven children, and where the negative stuff may have come from. It’s all water under the bridge now but there certainly were a lot of tears way back when. I will have to chat with my 3 sisters when we are all together next month and apologize for some of the rotten things I did.
CG: Hi Linda, I am so pleased you are finding Happy Kids helpful, but don’t beat yourself up. We all have regrets from our childhood in respect of how we treated someone. Looking back I can now seen that I was mean to my brother if he didn’t do what I wanted. I think it’s a sign of a good family that we can all forgive and move on. Cathy x
Pause For Thought: Acceptable behaviour is the only behaviour that you will accept.
Hi Cathy, I am reading Happy Kids and finding it really useful. It covers some of the situations in my childhood and explains why I felt the way I did back then. Wow! At 62 that’s a huge wake up call! Also, I’m going to try out some of your techniques on my out of control teens at work. You are truly a blessing to me, that is for sure. Take care.
Just started the Happy Kids book and used the advice on getting a child to go to sleep. Just followed the steps and I finally fell asleep!
Hello, I’m reading Happy Kids and am hoping it will help my situation. I’m a single mother with 4 year old twin boys. They are not identical and are treated individually. I am thinking through the implementation of your suggestions before launch, as I want to be sure I’m giving my children the intended message. The problem I have is coming up with suitable sanctions. The threat of loss of telly time has no effect as they don’t watch at the same time each day. Do you have some examples of sanctions that might work for their age? Thanks,
CG: Hi Jenny, Clearly, as you already know, your sons need to be treated individually although they are twins. In respect of sanctions can you think of something each of them likes, that they would miss, if it was stopped for a short while? Remember to explain they will lose whatever it is when you Repeat your Request for them to do something or stop doing something. And obviously praise their positive behaviour. Let me know how you get on. Love to all Cathy x
Hi Cathy, Thanks for your reply. Today was our first day of our new regime! We had a happy day with lots less shouting, which is really good as that had become a daily feature for us. Thanks again,
Hi Cathy, I have a darling adopted daughter who is now 20 months old. She has now been with me for 6 months and she is amazing, but recently she has developed an unusual habit which I find upsetting. When I try to deter her from doing something e.g. breaking something or ripping up books, she starts hitting herself in the face or hits her head on the floor. I’m at a loss as to what is causing this or how to stop her. I tried comforting her and also ignoring the behaviour when it wasn’t too violent. I would be grateful to hear anything you have to say.
Peggy T, Canada
CG: Hi Peggy, please don’t worry about your daughter’s behaviour. What you describe is not uncommon. Children work through all types of weird and wonderful behaviour, even those in good homes, who are loved and well cared for. However, although this is a stage your daughter is going through – having found a new way to express her frustration, you would obviously prefer her to express herself in a different way, as this way could harm her. Don’t overreact when she starts hitting herself, just quietly pick her up, hug her and re-direct her to a better activity, exactly as you have been doing. Let me know how you get on, but I think you will find she will soon work through this. It sounds to me you are doing a great job of parenting your daughter. Cathy x
Hi, I have a child with behaviour difficulties, she is 12 now and this has been going on for 8 years. I had very very bad postnatal depression and the social work department who I turned to for help thought her behaviour may be down to the bonding issue. My daughter has been on a behaviour card since she started school and has never really responded to it. She does what she likes when she likes and has no care for any rules I set out. She is violent to me and her brother who she feels extremely jealous of as he is so well behaved. She is a compulsive liar to the point I hardly listen to her stories anymore as about 50% are not true. I am at my wits end and so are social work and the school. I have taken her for an ADHD assessment as she is disruptive and very hyper but they feel she does not have this. I’m at my wits end and if it wasn’t for my son I feel I can’t carry on any more. It drains me and I have so much anger towards her.
CG: Dear Pam, I am so sorry to hear of the problems you are having with your daughter. Personally I don’t think you or your daughter has a bonding issue, neither of you would have invested so much time in each other if you hadn’t bonded. I assume you have tried talking to your daughter and telling her she is loved and wanted, and explained about your illness. Even if you have done this it might be worth revisiting that time and explore any feelings she may have of being rejected. Having said that, while it is worth exploring the cause of your daughter’s behaviour, there is NO excuse for bad behaviour, and she needs to start conforming to your boundaries for good behaviour. I appreciate this may seem a huge task and I know what is involved – many of the children I foster arrive with behavioural problems. None has left with them though. I set out my tips and techniques in my book Happy Kids. Can I suggest you read it and then can get back to me? It can be borrowed from the library at no cost. I wrote the book because so many readers, like yourself, were experiencing behavioural issues in their children. There is a whole chapter dedicated to turning around a child with difficult behaviour so they conform to the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. If you would like further advice once you have read it please email again and I’ll get back to you. Very Best wishes. Cathy x
Pause For Thought: Spare the rod and spoil the child?
Dear Cathy, I grew up in a culture that believed a good spanking had its place in discipline. An aunt gave a niece a spanking on her sixteenth birthday. My own mother had a black leather strip. I was one of five kids born between 1956 and 1962. When were really naughty my mother would get out the leather strap (called plat-riem in Afrikaans, literally translated flat strap). Often that action alone served the purpose. Occasionally she gave the offending child a good spanking – I got a few, because I could be quite a handful. Another characteristic of my culture was to threaten children they would get it when daddy came home. In many houses daddy served as the ultimate disciplinarian. My dad use to cut some nice quince shoots in spring and keep them in his bedroom, on top of his wardrobe. When he had to fulfil his duty he would take you into the bedroom and deal with you. In your book you strongly emphasise the view of not spanking a child. In South Africa it is not against the law to give a child a spanking. In my school days it was common practice.
Thomas, S Africa
CG: Dear Thomas, thank you for sharing your experiences. Corporal punishment used to be used widely in the UK until the 1960’s when a more liberal attitude to parenting emerged, together with research that showed hitting children did not alter their behaviour in a positive way. Indeed, it was shown to create feelings of anger, resentment, hostility, and shame in the child, which you may remember from the physical punishment you received? I also personally believe it is wrong to hit another person whether it is an adult or child. I hope this goes someway to explaining my position on physical punishment. Cathy
Hi Cathy, your books have been a great help to me in getting over problems I have experienced. I am hoping you can give me some advice. My partner has a 2 year old son who lives with his mum in the week and stays with us at weekends. Recently he has not wanted to go to bed; he will scream and cry. When my partner finally gets him into bed he won’t settle and will wake four or five times in the night, sweating and screaming when he wakes. His mother has told us he sleeps in her bed at her house but he has always had his own room at ours. We have just moved house and he has gone from a cot to a bed. Do you think this could have something to do with it?
CG: Hi Jade, I understand your step-son slept well when you were in your previous house so I think his sleep disturbance is almost certainly due to the move and going from a cot to a bed. Children react to change in a number of ways, and sleeping disturbance is a common one, especially at his age. I suggest you and your partner continue with the bedtime routine that worked well before the move. If your step-son wakes, who ever normally settles him, should go quietly into his room, resettle him and come out. Do this as often as is needed until his sleeping pattern returns to normal. I am not a believer of children sleeping in the parent’s bed for lots of reasons. I cover cures for sleeping disturbances in my book Happy Kids, just out. I hope you find it useful. Very best wishes, Cathy
Hi Cathy, My little boy of 2 and a half is becoming very aggressive. I try not to smack him, but my husband does, and it is a strong smack. My child does not obey me at all, and has started to hit me, kick me and pull my hair very hard. I am just feeling in the middle. I try not to be as hard as his father because I am trying to keep a balance. My husband does not understand that he is being too hard on him. I want my child to listen to me as he does his father but without me having to use physical punishment. I don’t know what to do.
CG: Clearly you and your husband want to do what is best for your child. Your husband believes smacking is acceptable, probably because he was smacked as a child by his parents. Attitudes to child rearing have changed over the last 20-30 years and research has shown that smacking is not an effective method of correcting a child’s behaviour. Indeed the child often mimics the smacking by hitting others and showing aggression, as you are discovering. Smacking is an assault and although it is not yet illegal in the UK for a parent to give his or her child a light smack, it is illegal if the smack is hard enough to leave a mark. All children need boundaries and sometimes a parent needs to apply a sanction if the child oversteps the boundaries and is naughty. There are plenty of alternatives to smacking: time out, the lost of privilege e.g. television time or sweets, or even saying a firm ‘No’. Remember to praise your child when he is doing something right as so often naughty behaviour is attention seeking. If your husband is not open to discussing the disciplining of your son you may need to speak to a professional e.g. a health visitor. The welfare of your son is paramount and I am concerned that a two year old is receiving ‘strong smacks’.
Pause For Thought: Ignore negative behaviour as much as possible and praise positive behaviour. So often naughty behaviour is attention seeking.
Hi Cathy, I am a foster carer and a social worker recommended your books. We have had 19 children share our home in the last 18mths, and met some difficulties in the way. I have a 14 year old girl at present who will hopefully be with us long term. She’s a lovely girl but insists on piling make-up on, and getting it all over the bedroom, furniture and walls. I’ve talked to her and she agrees that it is not right, but goes on doing it. Have you any advice to help me deal with it? Kind Regards
CG: Hi Pat, I think there are two issues here. One is that your foster daughter is putting on too much make up, and two she is making a real mess in the process. I suggest we tackle the two issues separately. First – the application of makeup. Many teenage girls apply too much makeup when they first start using it, and often the last person they will take advice from is their mother or carer. Can I suggest that as a special treat or part of a birthday present you book your foster daughter an appointment at a beauty salon to have her makeup done professionally. Most salons and cosmetic departments in large stores will give profession makeup advice. I suggest you go with your foster daughter; it will be a fun activity for you both, and having heard the advice you can remind her of it later if necessary. Now to the second issue. While no one with children can expect a squeaky clean house, it is reasonable to ask a girl of 14 to show some respect towards your furniture etc which you have worked hard for. I suggest you have one area where she can apply her makeup. This could be a small table in her bedroom, or the bathroom, or even on the kitchen table – what ever is most convenient for you all. It should be an area that is easily wiped down. Clearly this ‘house rule’ must apply to all young people in the house who use make up. If she still continues in the behaviour you will need to be firm and (a) warn her of a sanction and then (b) impose it if the behaviour continues. Making her clear up the mess can be very positive, and if bedding or similar is damaged past the point of repair e.g. by having nail varnish split all over it, then it is reasonable to stop some of her pocket money towards the cost of new. However you will need the consent of your social worker to do this. Hopefully it won’t come to this. Good luck and let me know how you get on. Cathy x
I have a 10 year old girl and I am a single parent. I would like some tips on how to tell her what to do so that she doesn’t get into a mood with me. I have a set time for her to go to bed which is 9pm. I go up with her to cuddle her and give her a kiss, sometimes she will go off to sleep with no problems and other times she is up and down. Also I sometimes have a problem when I ask her to do other things like tidy her room or help me clean up. Thank you. Love
CG: Hi Katie, my book Happy Kids (January 2010) will give lots of helpful tips for handling situations like the ones you describe – which are common to many parents. It sounds like you are doing a great job bringing up your daughter and I think the bedtime routine you have established is excellent. On the nights your daughter won’t settle, keep returning her to her room. On the first occasion say briefly that she needs to go to sleep now, kiss her and come out. On the second and subsequent times, return her with minimum fuss and no talking. You will find that after a few nights when she knows you mean what you say, she will not keep getting out of bed because there is no point. If she does persist then at her age you will need to impose a sanction – loss of television time or whatever sanction you use. Likewise, if your daughter refuses to do other things you have asked, as long as your request is reasonable (you can’t expect a ten year old to clean the whole house) then repeat your request and if she still refuses, warn her a sanction will be applied and then apply it. Good luck and well done. Cathy x
Dear Cathy, Reading your books has made me think about how to handle some of my daughter’s behaviour. I have picked up on some of the things you do with the children you look after and have started to apply them with my child. I can’t wait for your book Happy Kids to come out so I can try more of what you do as it seems to be working. Thank you for that. Love
Hi, I love my kids but I get fed up of telling them either not to do something or to do it and them not listening!
Claire (and many more).
CG: Many parents (and other child care workers) know the feeling of repeating the same thing over and over again, and being ignored. A technique I have used (recommended by the psychologist of a child who had selective deafness) was to touch the child as you make the request – lightly on the arm or shoulder, make eye contact and say: ‘Tom I am asking you to clear up your room. Now do it straight away please.’ Or whatever your request is. By personalising your request and directing it to one child at a time there is less chance of it being ignored or consigned to the group as can happen with a more generalised: ‘Time to get ready’.
Hi Cathy. I was badly abused as a child and went off the rails but have finally sorted myself out. I have a loving partner and two small children who are two years and four months. My problem is I’m worried I won’t be able to protect them. I trust very few people, and I also let my two year old get away with a lot of things. I don’t like anyone telling him off and I tend to give into him very easily .He isn’t a bad child but when he is naughty I find myself making excuses for him. I even argue with his dad if I think he has been too hard on him. I’m sure it’s because of the abuse I suffered which involved physical violence. Even though I know no one will ever do that to my children I still resent them telling him off. My other problem is I try and give my children everything I can. At Christmas I spent a lot on them even though my daughter was only about a month old. I have already started buying for their birthdays and Christmas as I want them to have all they can. I don’t like being away from them although my two year old does go to nursery twice a week but I really miss him. I guess what I want is some tips on how to find a balance. How can I show my son some of his behaviour is unacceptable without thinking of the past? And how can I stop myself from believing that material objects are what they need? Sincerely
CG: Dear Gemma. Thank you for sharing this with us. You already realise why you sometimes spoil your children and possibly over-compensate because of your suffering as a child. You also recognise it is about getting the right balance, but how difficult it is sometimes – for all us bringing up children. If you are too lenient it is because you want to keep your children well away from the abuse you suffered as a child. But please believe me when I say that setting boundaries for children is a world away from an abusive childhood. Boundaries are necessary to raise socially acceptable children, and they also show the child you care; that you love them enough to go to the trouble of making sure they stay safe and do the right thing. I would never condone smacking a child, and indeed foster carers are not allowed to smack. If a child is behaving badly, I first ask them to stop the unacceptable behaviour, and explain why. If they continue, I ask them again to stop, adding what will happen if they don’t. Sanctions should follow as soon as possible so don’t stop pocket money at the end of the week; it is better to stop television or play station time that evening. There is nothing wrong with missing your two year old when he goes to nursery; it shows you care. When my youngest started nursery aged 3, I cried every morning after I’d said goodbye. If you were saying you never let your child out of your sight I would say you are being-overprotective and need to seek advice. But that isn’t what you are saying and from your letter you come across as a very caring and loving mother who wants only what is best for her children. I think you have done incredibly well to come to terms with your past and I know your children will appreciate your care and sensitivity, even when you have to tell them off! I hope this is of some help. You really are doing a very good job of parenting. Cathy x
I have always said there should be an instruction manual handed out whenever a mother leaves hospital with her newborn baby…perhaps a troubleshooting guide if something is not working! I think you should write a book for parents (and carers) about raising children. I would find it very helpful. There are many parenting books on the market written by so called ‘experts’, but I’m not sure many of these authors have looked after children and put their theories into practice. You have had the experience of looking after over 50! I think a book like this would be appreciated by many as your experience would be a realistic view of the many different issues that can arise when bringing up children. If you do consider writing a book like this could you please have it published in the next fortnight???!!
Carey, Sydney, Australia
CG: Hi Carey, I have just finished writing a book about raising children and it is with the publishers now. More details about publication (sorry it won’t be within the next two weeks) will be posted on my website when they become available. As you suggest the book draws on my experience and includes strategies and tips for encouraging happy, contented and well-behaved children. Thanks very much for your interest. Best wishes, Cathy
Hi Cathy, I just read Hidden and felt compelled to thank you. I am a single parent with a 13yrd old son. We have a happy wonderful life, but as you know children can be very challenging. From reading your books I have gained an insight and compassion into how children think, and the fragile nature of their emotions. I have come to realise the importance of communication and making a child feel loved and safe. After reading your books, I am now a lot calmer and am conscious all the time of my son’s feelings. Reading your books, especially Hidden, has enriched my relationship with my son. Thank you once again
Robyn N, Sydney, Australia
Hi Cathy, I know I have emailed you about your books in the past but I wanted to contribute to the forum. I became a mum for the first time when I was just 18 years old. I used to be very impatient and quick tempered with my daughter, due in part to my own young age and just not having the patience or experience that an older person might have had. When I had my second child I was 21 and I started reading books like yours. Thanks to these books I have become a lot more laid back, patient, consistent and, I believe, a much better parent. I no longer smack my children and I am glad I changed my behaviour before my children got older. I now have three girls, aged 5, 2 and 5 months and I have only just turned 24 years old. Reading books like yours really does bring home how even the smallest things we do as parents can affect a child far more than we realise. I want to thank you for giving a very real insight into how our actions affect our children, and how we should really appreciate and enjoy our children. They are very valuable. Keep up the brilliant work!
I was wondering how your foster kids cope with all the moves some of them have to make. My husband and I moved house with our two boys last year. My youngest son (aged 4) has become very clingy and has started wetting the bed. My eldest son (7) is now very rude to us and blames my husband and I for making him leave his old school and friends. We had to move because of my husband’s job but that doesn’t seem to make any difference.
Essen, Bristol, UK.
CG: Dear Essen, as adults we can under-estimate how unsettling it is for a child to move house and leave behind friends and all that is familiar. Ideally, a child should be prepared in advance for a move by talking to him or her about the move and why it is necessary; visiting the new home and discussing how they would like their bedroom decorated, and also visiting the new school. I appreciate this isn’t always possible but once the move has taken place, as in your case, there is still plenty you and your husband can do to make the boys feel more settled. Make sure the boys understand why you moved, you could have assumed they understand, but this may not be so. Talk to them and listen to their worries and concerns, then try and help them to integrate into the new community. Are there clubs or out of school activities they can join? Are there similar aged children in the same road who can be invited round as well as new friends at school? Encourage them to keep in touch with their old friends, particularly in the early months, just as you will doubtless be keeping in touch with your old friends. In respect of behaviour, remember that the behaviour which was unacceptable before the move is still unacceptable. The boundaries and routines you had in place before still apply. Don’t allow your son to use the move as an excuse for allowing his behaviour to deteriorate. You moved for the good of the family and you and your husband don’t need to feel guilty. Very best wishes to you all, Cathy.
Pause For Thought: When asking a child to do something, be certain your request is reasonable and you are not simply exerting your authority as an adult. It is reasonable for a child to have a bath every night, but not if it is always timed to coincide with his favourite television programme.