NVR Training opportunity

Today’s post is from Penny, who has arranged a course on NVR, taking place in Northampton at the end of March…

When I contacted Vicki about publicising the course that I’ve organised on this website, she suggested that I ‘write a guest post about what I’m doing and why’. Timely. The course commences in under three weeks and not enough places have been sold yet to meet the costs of this venture. Some reminding of ‘what I’m doing and why’ might be just what I need!

Before you read anymore – here’s the flyer for the event.

I’m not a business woman, I’m a counsellor/psychologist; my post graduate training has been in Counselling Psychology and in recent years I qualified as a Systemic Practitioner. Since 2010, I have been in private practice in Northampton, with a steady turn-over and a good reputation; most of my new clients come to me via recommendations. I’m doing ok. But cases concerning child-to-adult violence have consistently left me feeling helpless and ineffectual.

Tantruming toddlers, challenging children and rebellious adolescents, on the whole, respond well to ‘naughty-steps’, reward charts and the giving and retraction of privileges. Super Nanny has been clear – set boundaries, ignore bad behaviour and reward the desired behaviour.

But raising children is not always the same as teaching a pigeon to push the right levers (to release a food pellet reward, rather than the electric shock). There is a minority of young people whose experiences have taught them that the adult world cannot be relied upon. As adopters you will know some of these children and the heart-breaking tragedies and the stomach-turning betrayals of trust that they have experienced.

These traumatised and attachment-injured children, understandably, are prone to respond to authority with anger and defiance. Their motivation to avoid being controlled is deeply rooted in an anxiety-based, survival response. Reward and punishment will not work with them, because compliance to authority is experienced as psychological annihilation. They might play along for a bit, perhaps even long enough to get the reward, but they’ll soon feel manipulated and their resentment and anger will grow– and then they will punish person and/or property.

In April 2014, the Department of Education published the research report ‘Beyond the Adoption Order’, which made it clear that an intact adoption placement does not necessarily equate to a happy or stable one. Researchers found that 20-25% of surveyed adopters described their family life as ‘difficult’.

‘Difficult’ was option ‘C’. Option ‘D’ was ‘child no longer lives at home’; I wonder how many of those 20-25% might have selected ‘On the verge of breakdown’, had it been a response option. In my experience, where the placement is ‘difficult,’ families have often resigned themselves to ‘lives of quiet desperation’.

For those who manage to overcome their shame enough to ask for assistance, the Super Nanny-saturated culture is there, ready to point the finger. Parents are typically informed that the situation is of their own making; their boundaries were too vague and not enforced with sufficient vehemence. Too often, the necessary back-up is not there. The report tells of parents,

“…having ‘to do battle’ with professionals to get support which, even if provided, was often time-limited and uncoordinated. Adopters also commented on feeling personally ‘let down’ by their assessing local authority’s failure to keep their promise of being there when needed, or reneging on support packages.”

In the defence of time-crunched, budget-less professionals, if all they are equipped to offer, are more boxes, leavers and pellets (i.e. reward and punishment based parent training courses), their ability to help will remain very limited.

This is not a simple matter of educating the parents. Nor is it possible to take the individual child to a therapist to be ‘fixed’. For children who have been severely psychologically damaged in contexts where the community did not (or could not) protect them, healing will require a community approach. A loving, committed parent or two, in a community that merely throws the responsibility around, won’t stand much chance. Yet we still abandon parents to deal with dangerous behaviours from deeply disturbed adolescents. Some of these parents are my clients.

If we could pan out a bit from adoptive parents, to the general population of parents, we’d see many more of my clients. Not all children escape their traumatising environments – many domestic tyrants manage to keep their behaviour just shy of being prosecutable. Just under the radar. The 2015 Home Office ‘Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA)’ began to address the prevalence of adolescent-to-parent violence in the general population. It describes parents living with tyrannical off-spring, experiencing corresponding levels of shame, blame & fear and helpfully explores how various professionals could do much to help.

Both reports recommend Nonviolent Resistance and accordingly, the Adoption Support Fund promotes this approach and pays for adopters to train in NVR (do claim if you’d like to do this course). But both reports are relatively recent and I didn’t do my training in this county. When I booked the trainer and the venue, I had no idea that NVR had yet to land here. Last week I told an adoption social worker from Solihull about the blank responses I get around here when I mention NVR – “you must be living in the dark ages down there!” he commiserated.

Indeed it seems that I greatly underestimated the groundwork that is necessary around here. When I tell people about Nonviolent Resistance, what they seem to hear is ‘Passive Acceptance’. One adoptive parent exclaimed “I am not Ghandi! Are you suggesting that we just stand there and let him punch and kick us?!” (Absolutely not). Perhaps this is why Haim Omer chose to call his next book ‘The New Authority’. There is nothing weak about this approach.

Panning further out and the personal becomes the political. ‘Old Authority’ thinking places power in the hands of those strong enough to apply force. Parents and professionals who are smaller, weaker or less physically able are largely condemned to remain vulnerable. ‘New Authority’ (exercised via NVR) can empower all, because it harnesses the synergy and influence of the collective. Of course this is political – NVR has its roots in political struggle and we enthusiasts find ourselves speaking almost as if we’re part of a social movement! To equip people with a source of strength that is not contingent upon being bigger, stronger and more prepared to use force is radical indeed.

From high ideological strivings, back down to earth with a thud – two weeks left until the training course starts and there are still many spaces to fill; this is the bungee cord that I’ve been attached to of late. And I am back thinking about the individual cases that have inspired this possible rashness on my part. Today their children are primary school age and things are already unbearable; both reports site adolescence as the time when these situations really escalate. In my opinion, NVR thinking can provide them, their supporters and the professionals involved with the necessary strategies to weather the coming storm. That’s why I took this risk and organised this training course. So, that’s ‘what I’m doing and why I’m doing it’. Thank you for prompting me to remember this Vicki. ☺

Penny Ruth Willis

8 thoughts on “NVR Training opportunity

  1. Dara

    It is fantastic that you are doing this, Ruth, as it is the only thing that we have found has any impact. I would recommend adoptive parents to attend.

  2. Helen

    Thanks for posting this. NVR is something my self and my husband need to find more about. We’re not able to attend at end of March but would be interested in finding out about any future events.

    1. Penny Willis

      Hi Helen. If I can keep this one afloat, maybe there will be future events. I’ll definitely let Vicki know. 🙂

  3. Sarah

    Hi there, is this NVR training just for adoptive parents? I’m not an adoptive parent… My son is 7 and has Autism and challenging behavioural problems (amongst other things)! I’ve tried an 11 week behavioural course for children with challenging behaviours and with/without special needs… I put everything into place, followed everything to a T and doing the same reward procedures at home as at school for continuity and routine… It worked for a while but after a few weeks, we saw new and different challenging behaviours – this has been the case with everything I have tried, whether it be something through CAMHS or via super nanny etc… Feel like I’ve tried everything! He now goes to a special needs school and they have helped no end in the school setting but I still experience the challenging behaviours like biting (himself and me), hitting (himself and me), screaming (high pitched!), shouting, kicking (mostly objects),and more… It does sound bad, but he is only 7 and at the moment I can eventually talk him round after a time, I would like to be able to teach him how to be calm in himself, although I’m not sure if this would be possible with his special needs. I have a technique that I use to slow his breathing down although this only works once he has snapped out of his ‘moment’… At the moment we are awaiting for CAMHS to come back to us with an appointment so they can assess whether he goes on medication as he has suspected ADHD. I’ve read your piece on NVR, I am wondering if it is solely for adoptive parents or for everyone? And if this would be appropriate for my child.
    Thanks for reading :o)

    1. Penny Willis

      Hello Sarah. This training is for anyone who works with or lives with child/adolescent-to-adult violence, aggression and destructiveness… so yes, it could well have much to offer your situation.

      About 30% of adopters will experience these issues from their child, so the Adoption Support Fund is keen to make provision for NVR training available to adopters. But the principles apply to all young people (and to a large extent to grown-up domestic tyrants too!). Peter Jakob told me that most practitioners using NVR find that at least half of their case loads are youngsters with ASD diagnoses (including ADHD).

      I think that as long as the child/adolescent has the ability to learn and values being in relationship with others, to some extent, NVR can help. It is my belief that children who aren’t motivated by ‘being a good boy/girl’, ‘making the right choices’ etc, are still motivated by the instinctual drive to affiliate (hence the lure of gangs). Some of us cannot obey without question (…that’s why I’ve ended-up self-employed!), for some this is because obedience was taken advantage of at some point. But we’ll still search to find our tribe. NVR’s focus on working on the coherence of the support network, which includes the child’s peers, taps into this very strong drive – this helps the parents as well as the child/adolescent.

    1. Penny Willis

      Hello Sharon. Vicki has put a link to the flyer at the top of the page there – all details are on that. If this course doesn’t financially cripple me (!), I might run another at some point, maybe. I’ll ask Vicki to post the details on here and they’ll be on the Facebook and twitter pages (see flyer) if a do.


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