Regaining control

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In the last blog I talked about children who were out of control, and I received many emails from carers who recognised the signs. In the 30 years I’ve been fostering I’ve learnt a lot about regaining control. It is achieved through action, word and body language as you take the reins and steer the child to acceptable behaviour. Be prepared for a rough ride for the first two weeks. The child or young person will not give up his or her position easily – it’s good being leader of the pack. Because there isn’t the space here to go into great detail please email me if you would like practical help, or more explanation on the 3Rs technique:

Address the key issues

First decide on the main areas in the child or young person’s behaviour that are causing the greatest concern; these are the ones you will be addressing first. It may seem that all the child’s behaviour needs correcting, but a number of key issues will stand out, for example, biting, kicking, swearing or refusing to do as asked. Leave more minor issues, for example untidiness, until you have corrected the main issues.


Decide on a new routine. A routine, with its boundaries of expectations, is essential for any family to run smoothly. It is also a crucial framework for the changes you are about to make. It will include the following:

  • the time your child has to be up in the morning, washed, dressed and ready for school
  • what time you all sit down together for dinner in the evening
  • when homework is done
  • your child’s responsibilities and chores and when they should be done – for example, tidying away, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, etc.
  • bath, bedtime, etc.

Routine is safe and secure, and once your child knows what is expected he or she can easily get it right and receive your praise.

Hold a family meeting

Talk to the child or children about the changes you are about to make and why the changes are necessary. Not a long meeting – about 10 minutes is fine. Explain the new routine:  going-to-bed time, homework time, household chores, etc – but don’t expect your child to remember it instantly. He or she will need reminders. As well as explaining your new routine explain what the behavioural issues are that are causing concern. These may seem obvious to you, but they won’t necessarily to the child. Tell your child why their behaviour is wrong and how it is going to change. Warn of the sanctions that will be applied if necessary, and finish your talk on a positive note by praising your child, even if it is only for sitting still and listening to you.

Allow time

Because it is imperative that your child now does as he or she has been reasonably asked, allow time for this to happen. If the child discovers that by prevaricating they can get out of doing what you have asked, it won’t take long for them to start using this as a technique for managing your behaviour. Allow extra time so that you can see through your requests and  deal with any negative behaviour, for example, it may be that you have to get up earlier on a school morning if the mornings produce challenges and refusals.

Zero tolerance

At some point your child will put you and the new boundaries to the test.

In order to get your child’s behaviour back on track, zero tolerance is essential in the first two weeks. Later, when you are in charge again and your child is responding, you can gradually ease up, but to begin with you will only accept acceptable behaviour. Using the 3Rs technique – Request, Repeat and Reaffirm, no longer tolerate rudeness, aggression, pushing, over-talking or any of the other controlling behaviour mentioned in the previous blog. You will correct all instances each and every time they arise. If Tom, for example, calls you names, swears, or tries to kick you, move away and request in a very firm and indignant voice – ‘No Tom! You do not do that. Ever. Stop it now. Do you understand me?’ And if he doesn’t stop, impose a sanction. If Tom shouts or swears, stop him immediately, telling him what he has done wrong – ‘Tom, you do not use that word/ shout,’ and if he ignores your request, repeat and impose the sanction. It’s hard work to begin with but it will pay off.

Praise and quality time

It is essential that while you are dealing with the child or young person’s challenging behaviour you take every opportunity to praise the child. This is as important as insisting on acceptable behaviour. The pleasure of your child’s company may have become lost as you struggled with his or hers unacceptable behaviour. Now you are regaining control find time each day to spend quality time with your child. It needn’t be a huge amount of time, if you are very busy, but do something together each day. Spending 15 minutes, one to one with your child, in an activity of your child’s choosing will work wonders in cementing the bond between you and encouraging co-operation. Get down to your child’s level to play. Spend the time willingly and join in with the activity wholeheartedly. It is important your child knows you are enjoying his or her company. Which you will be now he or she is better behaved.

Cathy Glass (