Hey Cathy, I am a ‘birth child’ of a fostering household. After reading your book ‘Damaged’ we had a very similar girl who had severe problems. She only stayed with us for two weeks because she would scream and punch, and trash her room in the middle of the night without knowing she was doing it. During this time the behaviour she displayed to me and my mum angered me. I spent more time out of the house, trying to avoid being with her, but that left my mother, a single carer with a bigger problem. I would like some advice on how, in future, I can deal with challenging children because I would like to make the children staying with us feel more welcome. At the moment I am always on my guard after the previous incidents. Thanks,
Lilli, 16, Brighton
CG: Dear Lilli, Thank you for writing. I was sorry to learn that you had such a challenging placement so early on. You have read Damaged so you will know you are not alone in what you have experienced, and you will also have some idea why some children behave as they do. It is very unfortunate that you and your mother were placed in this position and I hope it hasn’t put you off fostering, although I can understand why you will wary in the future. A child like Jodie needs lots of patience, understanding, and firm boundaries. It is a full time job and not one every foster carer would want to undertake. It is quite reasonable for your mother to have terminated the placement – as a new carer it was inadvisable for this child to be placed with her. I hope the next child you look after will renew your faith in fostering which must have been severely undermined by this experience. You can do a lot to support your mother by reinforcing what she says to the child, playing with the child sometimes to give your mother time out, listen to what the child tells you – often the foster child will confide and disclose to a foster sibling before the main carer, and keep the pathway of communication open between you and your mum. Work together. I think you probably realise that keeping out of the way, didn’t really help – any of you, although it was understandable. There are lots of children who come into foster care who just need love and attention, and I know you will do just fine. I hope this is of some help. Cathy x
Hi Cathy, My husband and I are currently in the final stages of being approved as foster carers. We shall be fostering newborns. We are just finishing our portfolio before we go to panel. Have you any advice for new foster carers? Keep up your fantastic work. You are truly an inspiration.
Hayley, UK .
CG: Hi Hayley. Congratulations. You are nearly at the end of the process now. Good luck with panel. I know you will be just great, and newborns! How exciting. Advice for new carers in a nutshell would probably be: Keep your sense of humour; try not to make value-judgements; empathy is probably a foster carer’s most important attribute; make time for your own family and yourself; be prepared for a sharp learning curve in the first year; trust your own judgement; and give yourselves a big pat on the back. Well done! Cathy
Hi Cathy, I need help. We are caring for our 6 yr old grandson who has been diagnosed with Reactive Detachment Disorder. He is currently residing with us till a Therapeutic placement can be found for him. We have tried all strategies suggested by his therapist but nothing seems to be working. He was born heroin addicted and we are wondering if withdrawal could have affected him. How do we have him assessed, rather than believing one assessment by DHS who have decided that Reactive Detachment disorder is his problem. I would welcome your opinion. Please help us help our little Grandson. Thank You.
CG: I was so sorry to learn of your grandson’s difficulties. Attachment disorders are very complex, but basically mean that the child has not developed a secure attachment to his or her main caregiver. This can result in the child exhibiting very worrying and upsetting behaviour. It would be wrong of me to comment on your grandson, I am not a psychologist and not qualified to do so. When I foster a child with an attachment disorder I work very closely with the therapist. As you have a therapist I think you should go back to him/her with your concerns. I would also ask your therapist if there is a link between drug withdrawal in a baby and attachment disorder, I could not find a definitive answer in my reading. You are entitled to a second medical opinion. I hope this is of some help. Take care, you are in my thoughts. Cathy
Hi, you would think my daughter was deprived from the way she moans. According to her, all her friends have the latest mobiles, iPods, satellite television in their bedrooms, and go on holiday to the Bahamas every six months. Perhaps some of them do, but we can’t. I’m a single parent and I haven’t got the money although I work all the hours under the sun.
Alexia, Hertford, UK
CG: You don’t say how old your daughter is, but if she is old enough to covert these items then she is old enough to understand that she can’t have everything she wants instantly. The present credit crunch has taught us adults that! Don’t feel guilty, and don’t be persuaded into buying something you can’t afford. Explain to your daughter that we all have to budget, and if she really wants an iPod (or whatever it is) perhaps she could save up for one from her pocket money, or have one as a present for Christmas or birthday?
Pause For Thought: Always use first person when speaking to your child ‘I love you,’ or ‘I want you to tidy up your toys,’ is far more effective than the third person – ‘mummy loves you,’ or ‘daddy wants you to be a good boy.’ We wouldn’t go into a hair salon and say – ‘Mary would like a hair cut please,’ yet many of us use this way of speaking when addressing a child. Third person creates distance, but first person comes directly from you and is more likely to be acted on by your child.
I hate to say it, Cathy, but my 10 year old son, sounds just like Tayo did sometimes, with his cheek and arrogance. He’s got too big for his boots and is really ‘lippy’, especially straight after school.
Lisa, London, UK
CG: Quite often at that age children become ‘big fish in little ponds’ at school and it can rub off at home. He will be one of the older ones at his primary school, with lots of younger boys who will be in awe of him. There is a lot of bravado, especially among boys, in the playground at this age, and he will be bringing some of it home with him. I’ve seen this in my own children and those I have fostered. Keep your routine and boundaries in place, and insist that he shows you respect. A light hearted banter between your son and you is fine, but if he oversteps the mark into rudeness or insolence, or refuses to do something you have reasonably asked him to do, then he needs reminding, who is in charge – you.
Pause For Thought: It is not the child who is bad but the behaviour. Never say – ‘you are a naughty boy,’ but instead say – ‘that was a naughty thing to do.’ It separates the behaviour from the child and is more positive and allows you (the parent) and the child to deal with the behaviour together.
Hi, a friend of mine makes her child sit on a naughty step if he is bad. I have tried it but my little boy thinks it’s a joke and runs off. It seems more trouble than it’s worth. What do you think?
CG: The naughty step/chair is a place a child sits after a display of unacceptable behaviour to allow him or her time to recover. I know this technique is used very successfully by many giving the child time to reflect on his bad behaviour and removing him from the situation where he has been disruptive. However, I fully appreciate that the time and energy spent trying to make the child sit on the chair/step can, to use your phrase, be more trouble than it’s worth. It also reminds me of a Dickensian classroom – where a child who misbehaved was shamed and made to stand on a stool in front of the class. If the child has been warned about his bad behaviour and been told that a sanction will be imposed if he doesn’t stop, and he persists in unruly behaviour then I use Quiet Time. The child goes somewhere quiet (alone) e.g. his bedroom until he calms down and is ready to apologise. I find this works by giving everyone a cooling off period and time to reflect. Also the child is not put in a position of being able to sabotage your discipline by running off. If the child refuses to leave the room for quiet time you can be the one to leave, thus enforcing quiet time. Like so many strategies for managing children’s behaviour it is what works with you and your family and what you feel comfortable with.
Cathy, I know from reading your books that you are against slapping children but I really don’t see the problem in it. And it isn’t against the law, is it.
Tracy, Newcastle, UK
CG: The current law in the UK says a parent can reasonably chastise their own child, but if a smack is hard enough to leave a mark it is illegal. You are right when you say I am against smacking and, indeed, as a foster carer I am not allowed to physically chastise a child, and neither would I want to. A smack, no matter how light, is a personal assault and I think it shows a loss of control. Also, most parents teach their children not to hit others, and nurseries and schools have firm policies on this. So what message are we sending the child, and how hypocritical, if we say don’t hit, and then smack the child for some misdemeanour. I believe that other sanctions are just as effective, if not more so, for example losing television or play-station time, stopping a treat or pocket money. But don’t make idle threats if you are going to impose a sanction to correct bad behaviour you will need to see it through.
Pause For Thought: If you smack your child he or she is likely to follow your example. Do you really want your child hitting others?
Hi, I am a foster carer of ten years, and didn’t think I could learn anymore about children’s behaviour until I started reading your books. I have to say that I learnt more from reading your 3 books that I did from ten years of training. But I think a lot of what you said about the way you handle the children can apply to all children the strategies are the same, just more so. Thanks, and keep up the good work.
Sandra, Southampton, UK
Cathy, I love my daughter to bits but when she comes home from Uni at holidays she can be a right pain. She arrives with all her washing, which I don’t mind doing but would like to be asked, and generally treats the place like a hotel coming and going at all hours with her friends. If I say anything she says I’m nagging or getting at her. She’s 19 and in her first year at Uni. Sometimes I count the days to the start of the new term. Aren’t I awful!
Katie, Stevenage, UK
CG: No, Katie, you’re not awful. Have you heard the maxim that teenagers are toddlers with hormones? Well, it’s true. You daughter has flexed her wings going off to university and fending for herself, but she needs to clip them a bit when at home. All children need boundaries, and teenagers (and young adults) are no exception. I suggest you have a heart to heart with your daughter and tell her how you feel. She should be mature enough to appreciate your perspective, and if she doesn’t then I suggest you explain the ground rules again.
My ex partner takes our son out at weekends and my son enjoys these outings and likes being with his father. However, when they come back my son is as high as a kite on fizzy drinks, junk food, and sweets. My son can be a bit hyperactive anyway but this just sends him over the top. I have tried to explain to my ex that these foods have a bad effect on our son’s behaviour but he thinks it is a load of rubbish.
Tracy, Huddersfield, UK
CG: There is now a wealth of evidence showing children’s (and adult’s) behaviour can be greatly affected by diet, particularly food additives, sugar, and caffeine added to fizzy drinks. Children vary in their tolerance to additives some are more sensitive than others. In children who are prone to hyperactivity; artificial colourings, flavourings, and added sugar are best avoided. I have seen amazing results in the behaviour of some of the children I have looked after simply by changing their diet. Fresh food instead of processed whenever possible and keep an eye on the additives and sugar content. If your ex is an internet user perhaps he’d like to go online – there is a lot of information linking food and behaviour.
Hi Cathy, my husband and I were approved as foster parents last month. We are now looking forward to a child being placed in our care. We are nervous but thanks to you and the tips you have given in your books for managing children’s behaviour, I’m sure we will be fine. Thank you.
Sasha, London, UK
Help! I usually do the shopping on Saturday while my wife has a well deserved rest. I take our 2 year old daughter and 4 year old son. The last few times we have been, my daughter throws a tantrum when I refuse to buy her sweets. This is embarrassing for my son and me as she lies on the floor in the middle of the aisle screaming until I pick her up and promise to buy her the sweets she wants. I don’t like to give in to her but what else can I do?
Mark, Norfolk, UK
CG: Tantrums are natural for this age group- sometimes referred to as The Terrible Twos. Children of this age experience a lot of autonomy (compared to their babyhood). They are exploring the world around them and naturally test the boundaries. All children need clear and consistent boundaries; it’s just that they don’t necessarily know they do. It is important you don’t give in to your daughter’s demands otherwise it is she who will be in control, not you. Buy her sweets by all means, but in your own time, not as a result of blackmail, which is what this is. Talk calmly and firmly to your daughter if she is having a tantrum. Explain why she can’t have the sweets (I assume there is a good reason and you are not simply exerting your control) then, if necessary, pick her up and leave the store. Once she has calmed down explain what she did wrong then move on from the subject. Assume she won’t do it again but if she does, stand your ground, as before. She will soon learn you will not be manipulated and that good behaviour is the way to earn a reward not a tantrum.
Hi Cathy, I just wanted to say, I work with children who have behavioural difficulties and, having read your books, I have a much better understanding of why they behave as they do. I also have more patience. Thanks!
Abigail, Leeds, UK