Today we have a guest post from an anonymous mum speaking about her experience of Child to Parent Violence and the course she attended on NVR…
I know that Child to Parent Violence happens in other families. And it is a strange sort of relief to be aware that we are not the only ones. Though I could never wish this situation on anybody else.
I do not know exactly how it feels for other parents, however, I can only speak to my own experience. Our boys had a difficult start in life and witnessed some very unpleasant events. We were not particularly surprised when they were aggressive. Nor was anyone else. People (both ‘experts’ and friends) who heard about the boys’ violent outbursts vacillated between some phrasing of ‘surely it’s not that bad’ and ‘what did you expect?
Well, sometimes, especially as the boys grew older and were able to throw me against a wall, it did seem pretty bad. And, somehow, knowing that there is a sort of explanation for their behaviour didn’t really help.
We found out about Non-Violent Resistance some time ago. I read up on it and then we attended a course put on by Adoption UK, where we met Peter Jakob.
He talked about the function of aggressive outbursts (and indeed much of our children’s behaviour) was to exert control. We cannot control children who do not want to be controlled, but we can control our own behaviour. Changing my goals from changing the children’s behaviour to changing my own was a freeing prospect. Finally, I could be in control of whether or not I succeeded!
Then he talked about ways of regaining our own ‘parental presence’.
The most exciting thing for me was Jakob’s advice for what to do during ‘incidents’. I have always struggled with the best way to handle the really difficult moments and found Jakob’s down to earth approach reassuring. He pointed out that heightened arousal levels inhibit our ability to plan and to read others. We cannot change the child mid-incident. So we must act on the incident much later, after we’ve calmed down. He emphasised that we can assume control by choosing when the defer our responses, we don’t have to accept our children’s invitations to respond right away. He even gave us a phrase to use: “we’ll deal with this later, when the time is right”. During an incident, Jakob encourages us to prioritise safety, try to minimise risk and, when necessary, run away. I think that I needed permission to run away sometimes. It is strange to realise, but I have long felt that there was a kind of honour or sacrificial duty in staying beside my hurting child. But, sometimes, the only way to protect my hurting child from becoming a violent bully is to run away.
Jakob recommends ‘persistence not insistence’.
His process begins with an Announcement, which should be prepared in writing and delivered deliberately and clearly. He suggests this pattern:
1) Something positive about your child, a maximum of one paragraph.
2) State clearly what the problem is. No more than three problems should be mentioned, so prioritise.
3) Expression of concern for how the child’s behaviour effects others, working from the outside in, finishing with the effect on the child themselves.
4) The parents state that they cannot accept this behaviour and they will take action, won’t do this alone, and will not be violent themselves.
5) A positive vision of the future, where the child can be trusted to do something that they cannot do yet.
The idea of not doing this alone is central to Jakob’s method. He told us that we ‘don’t live in normal households’ and we ‘need a support network not friends’. He suggested that safe and supportive adults were the ones who make us feel ‘sufficiently comfortable yet sufficiently energised’ when we talk about our children. They are the adults we should recruit to help us.
After an incident, we can contact these supporters and tell them what happened. We then ask one or two to contact the child and express concern, following this pattern:
1) State that they know what happened.
2) Express personal concern for the behaviour and its likely consequences.
3) Make some appreciative comment about a good side of the child. And offer to be there if the child needs to talk in future.
We would also need to be transparent with these supporters about our own behaviour. Jakob suggested that we consider our own natural tendencies to be aggressive or avoidant. The idea of talking about what happens in the home is that secrecy is actively unhelpful. It feels like it’s right to maintain our privacy, but Jakob believes that allows our children to believe that hurting their parents is OK.
We have not been using these techniques very long at all, so have yet to see whether they have the long term impact that we are hoping for.
But, ending the secrecy, while terrifying, has been wonderful for me. I am not going to tell everyone that my son throws chairs at me, of course not. Yet, having a few people who know makes me feel far less alone in those slightly scary moments. We gave up using behaviour modification techniques years ago, it created shame and made everything worse. Years of there being no consequence for hurting me, however, were crushing. It felt as though my bruises and cuts didn’t matter, and that didn’t help any of us. Now we have an answer (though, I acknowledge it is only a partial one). People express concern when I am hurt, and that makes me feel like a real person again. These conversations with supporters are not intended to be any kind of punishment and, as parents, we must be vigilant to ensure that they don’t become hurtful. The conversations can happen a long time after the incident, giving the boys plenty of time to cool down.
This is a remarkable strategy which puts the family’s support network at its very heart. It works for us because we are lucky enough to have a wonderful support network of people who care deeply about our boys and are willing to go to great lengths to help us and them.
But, this strategy emphasises the massive importance of everyone learning more about how to support struggling children and families. The more people who understand, the more choice we will have in picking our supporters. So, I am beginning to realise that we need to talk about this.