Q and A with Cathy Glass
Cathy Glass, who writes under a pseudonym, has been a foster carer for more than 20 years. She has three children. She's the author of a number of books including the No 1 bestseller Damaged, and Happy Kids, a practical guide to managing children's behaviour.
Q. Scrappydappydoo: Can I just say that I have a huge admiration for anyone who fosters, I think it's an amazing thing you all do. My question is more about my behaviour, ever since having kids I find myself on a fairly short fuse (as opposed to before kids). Have you any tips on being more patient and not losing it. My darling daughters are four and two, and I'm dreading the eldest starting school and having battles over reading and homework.
A. Cathy Glass: Thanks very much for your kind words, although it is the kids who I foster who are amazing. I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to look after them. They show such courage, patience and understanding, I feel very humble beside them.
As for your question, I know you're doing a fantastic job but young children can be very demanding, it's part of their growing independence and autonomy. I know it's not easy but do try and take some time out for yourself, just to be you. I think parents need quiet time as much as our children. If you feel yourself getting anxious then try and take a deep breath and walk away from the situation. Obviously, you can't leave young children unattended but you can put a bit of space between you as you take a breather. If that doesn't work, there is always the gin (only joking).
Q. EffiePerine: How do you manage differences in parenting style without telling the other person what to do? My oldest son is a fairly typical three-year-old boy (pushing boundaries, loud and energetic) and my darling husband and I frequently clash over how to deal with him.
I think DH is a bit strict; DH complains that whenever I come through the door (I work outside the home), DS1 automatically switches to 'whine' mode. I think DH pulls DH up on too much (how tidily can you eat when you are three?), DH thinks I don't set enough boundaries. And so on! The practical solution would be to agree beforehand, but what if we genuinely don't agree? Is there room for more than one parenting style in a family? And I work outside the home not the door <bangs head on desk>!
A. Cathy Glass: Oh dear, EffiePerine, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I'm afraid it is very difficult (almost impossible) to run two parenting styles in the same household. Not only will this be very confusing for the children – the rules change depending on who is in the room, but also before long your child(ren) will be able to drive a wedge between you and your husband, and play one off against the other.
The term united we stand and divided we fall is one I use in Happy Kids to describe this situation. Bringing up children, setting boundaries and getting the right balance is challenging enough anyway; you need to support each other. Although I have been a single parent for many years now, my children, who are adults, help with the foster children who often arrive with behavioural issues.
It is crucial we are all 'singing from the same hymn sheet' otherwise it would be chaos. Sometimes it's chaos anyway! There must be some mutual ground between you and your partner, so can I suggest you work on it for the good of your family, otherwise the situation is likely to get worse rather than better as your child(ren) grow older, coming out in behavioural difficulties, manipulation and arguments. Perhaps you'd like to let me know how you get on – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. LoveBeingAMummy: What are your tips for an almost two year old who only speaks very few words and has for some things strange sounds instead of words? How can I help her to develop speech further whilst also reducing the frustration she experiences?
A. Cathy Glass: LoveBeingAMummy, children develop at different rates and I'm assuming your child is being monitored by the health visitor and developing within the normal guidelines. The acquisition of language, like learning to walk and using the potty, is one of those milestones we can become very anxious about.
I am sure your daughter is perfectly normal, I have heard all sorts of weird and wonderful noises used instead of speech in children of eight, nine and even older who were perfectly normal. Encourage your daughter to develop her vocabulary by talking to her and reading stories to her. If she says a strange word offer the correct one but don't make an issue of it.
If you have concerns I suggest you mention them to your health visitor, who will have the chance to listen to your daughter's language skills and reassure you.
Q. thegirlsgotheartburn: My son suffered early neglect and the trauma of being separated from his birth mother, plus a very chaotic first two years due to assessment on birth mum etc. He also had to deal with the loss of our daughter after a long illness that took me and her away from him a lot. He is a lovely boy but has real issues around self-esteem and is insecure. He has learning difficulties, which are not helping him because he feels 'different'. So, can you sort us out, please!
A. Cathy Glass: I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your daughter, how brave you must have had to be to carry on for the sake of your family. You have done incredibly well and I can only guess at the daily hurdles you have had to overcome.
In respect of your son, although you don't say how old he is, I can generalise. You are right when you suggest that the trauma surrounding the loss of his sister and the early years neglect he suffered has had an effect. I see the effect of neglect time and time again in the children I foster. Of course, his self-esteem and confidence will have taken a setback, that is only to be expected. However, the good news is that he will overcome all his negative early years experience with you and your family's love and care, and go on to lead a rich and rewarding life.
I sense from your words that you are instinctively doing and saying the right things. You have been sensitive enough to realise the root causes of his present insecurity. Obviously, you will be giving him the extra help he needs in respect of his learning difficulties and I assume the school are putting in extra support for your son and possibly he has a statement of Special Educational Needs.
As a family you will doubtless be talking about the sad loss of your daughter, as and when appropriate. Your son will ask questions about her and some of them will be very painful to answer, but it is important your collective grief is not put to one side but shared. I assume you have photographs of your daughter in the house and other keepsakes. I know in time with your continued love and support your son will do just fine. Love to you all.
Q. PandaEis: Hi thanks for coming for a chat. I have one daughter who recently turned four. For the past couple of weeks she has totally changed her attitude. She outright refuses to get dressed in the morning and hits, kicks and spits at DH and myself. We are fast running out of ideas to try and get our lovely girl back the strategies we have tried are star/reward charts, 'naughty step', taking away favourite items and, short of physically forcing her clothes onto her, I am out of ideas! I expect with your experience that you may have tackled this issue a few time any tips for a mum at the business end of her tether? Thanks in advance.
A. Cathy Glass: Hi PandaEis, another four year old who is testing the boundaries! They do know how to wind us up, don't they? Aged four your daughter will be feeling very important as she prepares to go to school. She will have gained independence and autonomy and will want to impress you with her individuality and all she knows. She may often feel she knows more than you, and knows best!
This is normal, but she still needs to conform to the boundaries of good behaviour. I am not a fan of star charts or the naughty step. In my experience, a star chart works for a few days, at best a week, then the novelty wears off for child and parent. And I don't like the naughty step for the following reasons:
- Repeatedly having to return a child to the naughty spot if he or she gets off it can turn into confrontation and an issue in itself.
- It has the uncomfortable ring of the Victorian classroom, where a child was singled out and humiliated by being made to stand in a corner or on a chair in front of their class as a punishment.
- It is demeaning for the child to be singled out in a negative way, particularly in front of his or her siblings or peers.
- It draws attention to negative behaviour, and can also easily be viewed by the child as a game, where the child jumps off the spot when mum's back is turned.
For those who are already using a star chart or the naughty chair and it is working, continue. As with all child-rearing advice, you do what you feel comfortable with and what works for you and your child.
I change unacceptable behaviour through the '3Rs' technique (outlined in Happy Kids), using sanctions and rewards. Instead of the naughty step, I use time out – for the child or parent. I'm afraid I haven't got the space to go into detail it here, but I have found that it works for all ages – it is simple and effective. Offering a closed choice, for example, allows the child to make a decision while doing what you want.
Q. MavisEnderby: I have a six year old boy who I feel is very well adjusted. However, I have a younger child who has special needs. I really hope I treat both equally, but sometimes feel that a lot of focus is on my younger child with regard to appointments and so on. I really try to ensure they have equal focus, they are both lovely children, but I do not want my son to feel that my daughter is "more important" with all of her issues. Your thoughts, please?
A. Cathy Glass: I can fully appreciate how much time you have to give to your special needs child. The children I foster often have very special needs. As you point out, apart from the extra attention at home a special needs child requires, there are various appointments, classes and therapies to attend. You have obviously been getting the balance right, even though you may not think so, as your other child is very well adjusted.
If you haven't already done so, you could occasionally explain on a one-to-one with your son why his younger sister requires extra attention. He is old enough to appreciate being spoken to honestly and he will also have instinctively picked up that his sister needs that bit more help. And obviously give him his own special time once his sister is in bed. Keep up the good work.
Q. Tatt: Do you have any tips for helping a mildly dyspraxic teenager with their social life? As they mature more slowly than other children they can get left out by their peer group, or into situations they are not emotionally able to handle.
A. Cathy Glass: Hi Tatt, I have observed this in some of the children I have looked after. I am assuming the child in question is in a mainstream school, in which case I am assuming the school is operating a 'buddy system'. Encourage these friendships, for example, by having his buddies round for dinner or going bowling etc. Enrol the child in any clubs or activities out side school that may interest him where all ages mix equally.
The difference in level of maturity tends to even out in later teens and will not be so marked. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that as long as he is happy and developing then the rest will follow.
Q. Zod: How do I tell if my four-year-old daughter has ADHD or is just being naughty? I have heard that children are more prone to ADHD if there is a history of dyslexia and depression in the family - is this true?
A. Cathy Glass: Mmy gut feeling is that your daughter is simply testing the boundaries. At her age she will be feeling quite important as she prepares to go to school. She will have gained an awful lot of independence and autonomy compared to what she had a year or two years ago and will want to impress you with her individuality and all she knows. She may even feel she knows more than you, and knows best! This is normal but she still needs to conform to the boundaries of good behaviour (something I cover extensively in Happy Kids), and you as her mother will be setting those boundaries.
There has been so much written about ADHD in recent years that it is tempting to see the symptoms in our children. Research has suggested all manner of causes for ADHD including inherited factors, but none has yet been proven. I would continue as you have been doing and remind her of the boundaries for good behaviour when necessary. Hope this goes some way to reassuring you.
Q. PixieOnaLeaf: My DH and I have always thought that we'd like to foster once the children have grown up. However, this would mean that we are in our mid-50s by the time we are 'ready' and we assume that this is too old. Is there another scheme which we could take part in (having children for respite weekends, for example) or would we be too old for everything? Thanks!
A. Cathy Glass: Hi PixieOnaLeaf, how lovely that you are considering fostering. No, mid-50s is not too old, but if you would like to do some fostering before then there are many respite schemes. When you are ready to go ahead, I suggest you contact your local social services and/or fostering agencies based in your area. Explain you are interested in respite fostering and ask them for details of their schemes.
A friend of mine has recently 'retired' from full time fostering (aged 65) and is now offering respite to special needs children. Indeed, I would consider doing something similar when I feel I am past looking after little ones full time – not there yet though! Good luck and let me know how you get on.
Q. Sashie: Hi Cathy, just wanted to say I've just finished reading Happy Kids and will be following much of your advice. Thanks! It makes sense.
A. Cathy Glass: Thanks, Sashie, I hope you find my strategies useful.
Q. nannynick: Hi Cathy, I enjoyed reading your previous books and I am currently reading Happy Kids. In it you talk about using the sanction of reducing television time. How do you start introducing Television Time if a child is used to being able to watch television when they want to do so?
A. Cathy Glass: Thanks, I am so pleased you enjoyed my previous books; I hope you find Happy Kids useful. In respect of your question about television time, it will largely depend on the age of the child. I would be very concerned if a young child is being allowed to switch the television on whenever he or she chooses.
I believe that watching the television, using PCs, playstations etc should be carefully controlled and monitored in children and teenagers. In young children (bellow the age of seven to eight) and those with special needs, I switch these gadgets on and off and therefore have control over them. With older children I allow them to do it but it is with my knowledge. You will need to address this issue first and bring it back under your control before you can use television as a sanction.
While you are doing so you will probably find that the child does have set periods in the day where he or she has (self) allotted television time, for example, before bed or to watch specific programmes. If so, you can start referring to these times as 'television time' in preparation for using it as part of a system of rewards and sanctions. I really feel I need more details of the child in question and his or her routine in order to be able to help you further. Perhaps you would like to email me through the Happy Kids forum on my website at www.cathyglass.co.uk.
Q. Lovecat: Can I just say that I have the same name as you (my maiden name is Glass) and it freaked me out to see your first book in the supermarket with my RL name on it in big letters? My poor mother was mortified that her friends might think I'd written a misery memoir. Seriously, I'm enjoying reading Happy Kids and I too am interested in the television time question as asked by nannynick
A. Cathy Glass: Oh dear, your poor mother! I hope my reply to Nannnick (above) is of help. If you would like more specific advice please feel free to contact me through the Happy Kids Forum on my website.
To find out more about Cathy and her story, visit www.cathyglass.co.uk