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Q and A with best-selling author and foster carer, Cathy Glass

 

A foster carer for more than 20 years, Cathy Glass is the best-selling author of a number of books about her fostering experiences, including Damaged and Cut. She has also written Happy Kids, a book which gives her ideas on improving children's behaviour and has recently branched out into fiction with a newly-published novel, The Girl in the Mirror. She is the mother of three children.

Cathy spoke to us about her experiences and gave some of her tips for encouraging good behaviour.

What first led you to consider becoming a foster carer?

I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper saying that foster families were desperately needed, and my husband and I wondered if we had what it took. We went to an introductory evening and never looked back. I have written about the time we started fostering in my book Cut.

Were you worried about the impact it might have on your own children?

Not so much at the beginning; we were very naive in respect of the difficulties (and behaviour) some of the foster children exhibited. But once we'd started fostering it became clear that in some situations I had to be especially vigilant. Now as I look back over 23 years of fostering and see the people my children have become I can see the impact on them has been 100% positive. They are lovely people - caring, sympathetic and aware of the needs of others. I think this is a result of fostering.

What made you decide to start writing about your experiences?

I have always written - right from when I was at school, with poems in the school magazine. In my teens I progressed to short stories and articles etc. Damaged was my first 'fostering memoir', where I told the story of one of the children I'd looked after. At the time, writing Damaged was purely cathartic - I hadn't thought about finding a publisher. Jodie (the child in the book) had left such a legacy with me because of her suffering and vulnerability that I needed to write it out. I was also incensed that the system had failed Jodie so badly, just as I knew it was failing many other children. I hoped that by writing her story I could raise public awareness and eventually bring about improvements in the system.

The children in your books have all suffered terribly in their lives - were they typical of the children you fostered over the years?

Unfortunately yes. All children who come into care have suffered to some extent. Jodie was the most abused (and disturbed) child I had ever fostered, but children suffer in different ways. Severe neglect and emotional abuse don't leave bruises but the effect is deep, insidious, and far reaching. It took Donna (The Saddest Girl In The World) ten years before she started to come to terms with her mother's cruel rejection.

It sounds an incredibly difficult job, yet you have fostered more than fifty children - did you ever feel like giving up on it?

Yes, sometimes, but not because of the children. It is the 'system' I have to deal with which causes me most frustration. The time things seem to take, and the meetings instead of action! Sometimes I feel I am the only person in the child care system battling for what the child needs. I know many other foster carers feel the same. The whole child protection system needs looking at and revising.

You've also written a book about the secrets of raising well-behaved children - do you think more children nowadays are less well-behaved than they used to be?

Yes, I do. I appreciate this is a generalisation but I think children have been given too much power, independence, and responsibly, too early. Children need routine, nurturing, guidance, and boundaries for good behaviour so that they grow into sociably acceptable adults. Parents have tried to become their child's best friend and have shied away from discipline and taking responsibility for their children's behaviour.

Should parents start setting the ground rules when their children are still babies or toddlers?

Yes. I cover this in my book Happy Kids. By settling a baby into a routine the parent is taking responsibility for their child's behaviour and establishing good ground rules. A baby can't be 'naughty' as such and obviously should never be punished for 'bad behaviour', but babies and toddlers benefit from routine and knowing what is expected of them. Routine and boundaries for good behaviour set down the expectations. They create a secure environment for a child of any age. The child knows what is expected of them and how to 'get it right'. They take pleasure in being rewarded by their parents praise and approval, sometimes simply through a smile.

What would your top tips be for parents who are trying to encourage good behaviour?

Try my 3Rs technique for managing children's behaviour. Based on 23 years fostering experience and sound child psychology it works for all ages - from settling a crying baby to teenagers and young adults. Here is a list of do's and don't

Do's:
Remember it is the behaviour that is at fault and not the child
Assume positive behaviour, and start each day afresh.
Have a working routine; it is essential for any household to run smoothly
Establish your house rules. They are there for the benefit of all family members; make sure everyone in the house knows what is expected of them, and that the house rules are adhered to by all.
Be firm when necessary. Acceptable behaviour is the only behaviour that you will accept.
Reward positive behaviour and sanction negative behaviour; but remember a reward need only be verbal praise.
Boundaries and guidelines for acceptable behaviour must be clear and consistent at all times and in all situations.
Assert enough control over your children to discipline and guide them, but not so much that it squashes individuality and character.
Remain calm when dealing with negative behaviour, and if necessary take time out to calm down.
Be sensitive to any factors that might be affecting your child's behaviour, e.g. moving house or parents divorce, but don't let those factors become an excuse for unacceptable behaviour.
Treat all siblings equally and fairly, and never make comparisons between one child and another.
Teach your child respect for others and property.
Spend quality time with your child and make sure your child has 'free' time when he or she amuses themselves.
Respect your child's right to privacy, particularly with the older child, as he or she must respect yours.
Give your child age-appropriate responsibility.
Keep the lines of communication open by talking to your child, teen or young adult, as well as actively listening.
Give your child a good diet with plenty of fresh food. Children need to eat regularly and have plenty of fluids. If your child has a behavioural problem, pay particular attention to additives.
Make sure your child has enough sleep; a tired child is a fractious one.

Don'ts:
Never shout, smack or fly into a tantrum - you will set a bad example and one that will be followed by your child.
Never give in to a child's demands. You cater for their needs and wishes but not their demands. .
Never refer to yourself in third person. When talking to your child use 'I' - 'I love you' or 'I want you to put your toys away', not 'Mummy wants you to put your toys away', it dilutes your request. .
Don't avoid disciplining your child because you don't want to be in his or her bad books. Being disliked by our children sometimes is part of parenting, so don't take it personally.
Don't criticize, satirize or make fun of your child; many adults can't cope with being laughed at, and your child won't be able to.

Do you think it is always still possible to change a child's behaviour, even once patterns have been established?

Yes, definitely. I do it all the time in my fostering. In my book, Happy Kids, there is a whole section on how to turn around a child with difficult behaviour. It takes about a week to achieve.

You now have a 'happy kid's forum' too - what is that?

It is a section on my website dedicated to readers' questions and comments about parenting. After the publication of my fostering memoirs I received thousands of emails from parents and childcare workers around the world, praising the way I managed children's often very difficult behaviour. Their comments made me realize that the techniques I used for successfully changing children's unacceptable behaviour were not universally known so I began offering some advice on the forum. The book Happy Kids followed.

You've moved into fiction writing recently - can you tell us more about
that?

I am very excited by this new venture and the feedback from my readers is that they love my latest book, which is fantastic. It is called The Girl in The Mirror. It isn't completely fiction as it was inspired by a true story. I became very involved in writing it and cried and laughed as the story unfolded.

What about the future - do you think you'll continue writing fiction, or
focus on parenting - or will there be more of the true stories?

I have another fostering memoir coming out in September this year, then next year I have a second novel and another true life story. At present I am writing Happy Adults which is the sequel to Happy Kids and shows how to achieve lasting happiness and contentment. I have also written some children's picture book stories which I shall be showing to my publisher soon. I have asked that all the proceeds from these children's books are donated to children's charities.


Cathy Glass is the author of a number of best-selling books, including her new novel The Girl in The Mirror. Her website and Happy Kids Forum can be found at www.cathyglass.co.uk

 
 

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