Children's mental health

Rosie’s story

Understanding the impact of behavioural difficulties on children and families

Content warning: The issues raised and experiences shared in this report are upsetting and potentially triggering. They include domestic abuse, violence, racism, extreme emotional distress, and trauma.

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Kathryn, Rosie, Megan, Amber, Liam and Amelia are one of the 18 families interviewed by Renaisi and Close-Up Research. Together we wanted to better understand what life is really like for children experiencing distressing behavioural difficulties, and their families.

Images do not depict the families involved


Kathryn, Rosie’s mother, lives with her five children in a two-bedroom flat.

The two youngest girls, Megan (3) and Amber (1) share a room with Kathryn, while her son, Liam (15) has his own room. Amelia (7) sleeps on a sofa-bed, and Rosie (11) sleeps on a mattress in a cupboard.

In their current place, the family are “all on top of each other”, and Kathryn has been trying to move to a larger council house without success. Kathryn likes to take the family on excursions to the Kent coast, where she’d ideally like to live one day, as she feels it would be safer and better for her children.

Kathryn suffers from depression and is not currently in paid work. She has a partner who lives in East London, and visits two or three times a week.

About Rosie

Rosie, 11, was diagnosed with ADHD about four years ago. At this time, her behaviour was becoming increasingly disruptive and defiant. Rosie would hit other children and teachers, threaten and make racist comments to black students, and unplug computers in the teacher’s office.

[She was] running around the classroom, trying to jump out a window, taking her shoes off and running around the playground... She was on her feet all the time, so much energy, she wouldn’t listen to a word anyone said.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

Rosie’s behaviour has changed dramatically since her ADHD diagnosis. She is on medication, and currently attends a school for children with special needs. Her mum says that Rosie is still “talkative, loud and argumentative” and often absent-minded, especially as the medication can wear off by the time Rosie gets home from school. But Kathryn says she is also now “kind, polite and caring”.

She's calmed down a lot with the medication and the help that she's getting and the schools that she's going to, it all helps. So she's like a different child.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

In her free time, Rosie likes to watch music videos by Little Mix and The Weekend, and sometimes to dress up as a boy and do dance routines on Tik-Tok.


Kathryn first became concerned about Rosie’s behaviour when Rosie was 3. After her sister Amelia was born, Rosie began acting maliciously toward her. Kathryn described an example where Rosie forced a lollipop stick into Amelia’s ear and burst her eardrum.

She would be spiteful to her... It was horrible. I had to always keep Amelia where I could see her. They weren't allowed to go in the bedroom together and play.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

When Kathryn would confiscate something of Rosie’s as a punishment, Rosie would throw herself onto the floor and make noises for hours, or run all over the furniture. Kathryn says that Rosie’s behaviour was due to Kathryn’s attention shifting from Rosie to Amelia.

Kathryn separated from Rosie’s father when Rosie was still a baby. Kathryn says her ex-partner had mental health issues and was physically abusive to Kathryn when they were together. When Rosie was a baby he used to smash her baby bottles if she wouldn’t go to sleep.

Until recently, Rosie’s father had been an unreliable presence in her life, often standing her up when it’s been his weekend to see her. This would leave Rosie, who would wait by the front door in her coat for hours, in tears. For the last year and a half, they have seen each other more consistently.

Current situation

While there have been improvements in Rosie’s behaviour, there are still circumstances where she can be aggressive and explode. Typically, the triggers are when Rosie is irritated by another student, or if they’re making a noise or getting on her nerves.

Someone was tapping on her arm and she’s said: ‘Don't do that please.’ And then they've done it again. And she went: ‘Don't do that.’ And then the third time she got really angry and she punched them.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

A few months ago there were two separate incidents where Rosie kicked two boys: one between the legs, the other in the face. After the second time, the police were called in by the school, to talk to her about the dangers of her behaviour.

Rosie says she doesn’t mean to act the way she does when she has a flare-up. She often “can’t help it” and feels bad afterwards. When there are problems at school, Rosie will usually deny that it happened, accusing the school or others of lying. Kathryn will then threaten to take Rosie’s personal devices away, at which point Rosie will admit what happened, and say something like: “‘I may have done that, I may have done this, but I didn’t mean it.’ And it’s just, ‘Sorry, sorry Mum.’” (Kathryn)

Recently, the school called Kathryn to let her know that Rosie had refused to sit down and had run out of the classroom. Rosie explains: “I just wanted them to leave me alone, and let me just sit outside.”


When Rosie’s behaviour worsened from the age of 7, Kathryn often felt stressed and upset.

It was a nightmare because, when we didn't know what was wrong with her, I was always in tears, because I was always getting called to the school saying: ‘Rosie's done this, Rosie's done that.’... I was always crying. She would always make me cry... She was just that really bad.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

Although Kathryn says she feels much calmer now, there are times when Rosie’s behaviour can still be frustrating. Often when Rosie is refusing to do something that she has been asked to do, Rosie she pretends not to hear and Kathryn has to ask her again and again.

The family generally get on well at home. Despite Rosie’s maliciousness toward her sister Amelia, when Amelia was a baby, Rosie’s behaviour at home improved by the time her next two sisters were born. Kathryn says this was because Rosie “just got used to there being more kids”. Kathryn says Amelia and Rosie now have a good relationship, and that Rosie gets on with her older brother because she is herself a “tomboy”.

Kathryn prefers not to let Rosie out on her own, as she finds it hard to trust her with potentially dangerous situations such as crossing the road. Rosie doesn’t go to schoolfriends’ homes either.

I think once she starts secondary school, then I'll start letting her do more things. But at the moment she says she doesn't want to go out on her own yet anyway... I'm gonna start letting her go out with her brother, just downstairs to the shops and back, just to try to give her that bit of confidence...

Kathryn Rosie's mum


Rosie was slow to learn to speak and received support from CAMHS from the age of 5, initially meeting a speech therapist.

Until Rosie’s ADHD diagnosis, Kathryn didn’t know whether Rosie was just naughty or whether there was something else going on. It was the school that suspected Rosie might have ADHD and referred her to Sunshine House, who made the formal diagnosis.

Rosie subsequently started attending Summerhouse (short-term educational provision for children at risk of exclusion). This was a more positive experience.

[Rosie] loved it and she was good. She had the odd fight now and again but from that moment, her going to Summerhouse was the moment that I noticed a big difference in her attitude and her behaviour, [that] was when it started getting better.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

After around a year at Summerhouse, Rosie moved to a permanent place at a special school. Kathryn says that the school knows when Rosie is in one of her moods and will engage with her in an effective way. For example, they will ask Rosie if she wants to step outside for a few minutes to think. This is in stark contrast to her previous school where she’d just be labelled “naughty”.

Kathryn doesn’t have a wider network of friends or family to offer support. While Kathryn’s mother now regularly helps out with childcare, when Rosie was much younger she didn’t help out or babysit at all. This meant that Kathryn found life “difficult, stressful, lonely”.

The future

Kathryn is feeling “positive” about Rosie’s future. She hopes that when Rosie moves to her specialist secondary school in autumn 2021, her needs will be met there as well as they have been in her current school.

I hope she don't act like the big woman, because they'll all be older than her, whereas she's older than everyone in her primary school. I just want her to go there with a good attitude. Not getting into any fights and just do the best that she can.

Kathryn Rosie's mum

Download all family's stories

Families shared their experiences of mental health and behavioural difficulties through a series of interviews (in-person and online) and other interactive exercises. Read some of their stories in more depth here.

Read the stories