Seminar Review: “Living with the Angry Child” Holly Van Gulden

Today’s review comes from @AdoptingSezz who also blogs at Dear Daughter: Our Adoption Journey.

I was fortunate to attend a seminar with Holly van Gulden entitled “Living with the Angry Child” recently.  It was arranged by PAC and our Local Authority kindly paid for me to attend.  My daughter has been quite angry for the last two months and when I read the info about the seminar I knew I had to attend.

The seminar was attended by about 70 people, mostly parents and some professionals.  It’s always reassuring to speak with other parents going through the same issues and emotions as us.  Holly herself has first hand experience; she was brought up with her birth parents who adopted four children.  She is an adoptive parent herself.

The aim of the seminar was to “teach the psychology behind anger and how it tends to play out in children”.  Us parents were also promised specific techniques for decreasing our own anger and loosening the emotional stranglehold of our angry child.Seminar

I immediately warmed to Holly, a 60-something from Vermont USA.  With her sincerity and her humour.

I felt she immediately engaged with the audience and several of us were in tears within minutes.  

She gave some background to child development, the stages a healthy child would go through, so as to give as a clearer understanding of what our children may be missing.

Holly talked about attachments being sensory, not cognitive hence why talking therapy doesn’t really help.  As far as the anger, our aim is for containment, not punishment or discipline or indeed consequences.  “Get off the consequences word!” said Holly. 

Consequences require logic, something our angry children won’t have. 

Indeed, if a consequence is taking something away, be it a toy, sweets, no swimming etc, this just confirms to them that things in this world are not secure.  The word ‘but’ is also a takeaway word.  For example, “I love you so much, but you really need to clean your teeth”.  The ‘but’ part of the phrase has just negated the love part. Kids who have deficiencies in attachment hate the ‘buts’.

Attachments are sensory, so INTERACT

Holly then went on to talk about the two building blocks for attachment; permancy and constancy.

Permanence is “the capacity to take it for granted that the item, or person, or the self continues to exist when out of sensory contact”.  Think about a baby who squeals with delight when your hand that you’ve put up your jumper suddenly reappears, or the toy they dropped on the floor is put back on their highchair table.  It’s amazing to them that these things still exist, they don’t understand that they exist when they can’t see them.  A healthy loved baby then goes on to develop it’s understanding that these things do exist even if they can’t see them.  Unfortunately, this stage of development is missed, delayed or not fully formed in our children.  It may seem hard for a 5, 10 or 14 year old not to understand this concept, but if it’s missed out in their development then this is their perception.

Permanence is a sensory experience and some of the symptoms of absence or weakness include stealing, wetting, constant movement, difficulty sleeping, losing things, distress going to school, distress if you go out somewhere without them, even if left with another caregiver.

To illustrate permanence, Holly made us put something under our chairs that was of no significance. I put a coffee cup under mine.  We all knew it was there, we had no issues with it being there (or not), we carried on listening to Holly.  She then asked us to put something of great value under our chairs such as a piece of jewellery.  This was much harder; we all took greater care placing our valuable object under our chair and we all kept our thoughts on our object whilst Holly spoke.  What it if disappeared, what if it wasn’t there when we went to retrieve it?  Of course it was there, but we couldn’t see it which meant perhaps it wasn’t there.  It was hard to concentrate on Holly who (purposefully) carried on talking.  Eventually after about 10 minutes someone asked Holly if she could pick up her ring as she couldn’t concentrate not knowing if it was really there.  Point made. 

A lightbulb moment for me.

Holly then turned to constancy.  This is “the capacity to take it for granted that no matter what part of the other or the self you are currently experiencing, all the other parts of the other or self continue to exist”.   In other words, when mum is angry, tired, disapproving, she is still the same loving, funny, reassuring mum.  When my daughter is angry, grumpy, tired, she needs to know she is still the same funny, happy, dancing daughter.  Without this self-constancy, children will have difficulty controlling impulses, difficulty with transitions,  defiance, blame others, rage for “no particular reason” and will lie.

Again, constancy is a sensory experience, so the need to INTERACT positively is vital.

Hearing about constancy was another lightbulb moment.  One of the techniques is to respond to their behaviour at the developmental age, so with my daughter we often have to respond as if she’s a toddler, about 2 ½ – 3 years old.  Holly also talked about ‘parts language’ to reinforce constancy. For example, “it’s ok to be angry and it’s not ok to use your hitting part”, or “we love seeing the laughter part of you”.

Throughout the day, Holly talked about herself, her family and some of her clients to help illustrate her points. 

I work really well illustrations rather than just theory so her style suited me down to the ground.

There’s so much more I could write here, but the two main points of the day were permanence and constancy and hopefully this has given you a flavour for the day and also helped a few of you.

I’m not sure when Holly is back in England, probably same time next year with her PAC seminar.  However, her book “Learning the Dance of Attachment” is brilliant and explains so much more along with techniques to help your child’s development.  I’d definitely recommend getting the book via and attending her seminar next year.


3 thoughts on “Seminar Review: “Living with the Angry Child” Holly Van Gulden

  1. Sally

    Thank you so much for posting that. I’ve watched some of Holly’s YouTube videos and have really taken to her approach. Everything she suggests works well in our house, although for me anger is the most difficult part of adoptive parenting (often my own!).


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