Non Violent Resistance (NVR)
Many parents are fearful in their own homes because of aggressive, abusive, controlling and sometimes violent behaviours directed at them by their own children. Parentline has had a dramatic increase in requests for its Non Violent Resistance programme over the past three years. Parentline offers parents the support and practical skills to help deal with these situations.
Dr Declan Coogan, Lecturer, Acting Co-Director of the MA in Social Work Programme, Research Fellow, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, School of Political Science & Sociology, National University of Ireland, Galway
"Sometimes parents or carers are afraid of their child under the age of 18 years old. This can be because of abusive or violent behaviour at home used by the child which means that parents or carers feel they cannot be the kind of parent they would like to be. Non Violent Resistance is an evidence-based, non-blaming and relatively short-term intervention model that empowers parents and people working with them to take positive action to end the abusive and/or violent behaviour of a child. It also helps through respecting and protecting children and all family members. People trained in NVR have been offering NVR support to parents or carers through Parentline since 2013. It has worked very well for many families. Providing NVR over a phoneline, which is how Parentline volunteers have always offered NVR support, can be a lifeline".
What You Need to Know about the NVR
- Sometimes parents or carers are afraid of their own child because of the abusive and violent behaviour directed towards them
- The NVR is a response to child to parent violence and abuse which is a growing problem leaving many parents fearful of their own children in their own homes.
- Unfortunately, situations can get out of hand. The NVR aims to end certain patterns of behaviour and repair the damaged relationship between the parent and the child.
- It supports parents to change the ways in which they deal with violent, aggressive and controlling behaviours.
- It’s important for parents to understand that it is the behaviour that is the problem and not the child.
- The NVR helps to empower parents to take positive action to end the violent and controlling behaviour.
- The NVR programme requires the commitment of taking a one hour a week phone call from a trained, experienced volunteer.
- The Programme can last from anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks and is usually delivered over the phone to parents of children from 12/13 years upwards.
How the NVR can help families as told by parents and families/anonymous parent testimonials
Anonymous Parent Testimonial
I have just completed 8 weeks of a Non-Violent Resistance Programme run by Parentline and facilitated by a great Parentline volunteer.
I feel fortunate that very quickly after I was referred to the service that I got a start date and although I was very apprehensive about sharing my story again about how my children were behaving and treating me and each other and coupled with the fact that I was exhausted from walking on eggshells around them, I was glad to get going.
To be completely honest my expectations of achieving a positive outcome were low before I even started the programme as the unacceptable behaviour had been going on for so long and was constantly escalating into more damaging violent outbursts and I felt utterly helpless and unsafe in my home.
I had also completed two previous parenting courses on zoom with different organisations and these did not work for me and I did not feel the engagement.
I immediately felt the warmth and compassion from my Parentline facilitator. She was very reassuring and for that hour every week made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.
I decided to approach the following 8 weeks with an open mind and a degree of flexibility in my thinking.
I loved the logical and systematic approach of the course and from the very beginning I had a pen and notebook, and it was quite easy to take comprehensive notes as there was a lot of information and to properly digest it, I would sit down later with a cuppa and go back over it.
Honestly, there was a lot of information put out there that I already knew and probably every parent instinctively knows but what I loved about the Parentline NVR facilitator was that she presented it in the most logical bite size form and gave me lots to think about regarding how I approach the situation in my home with my children and most importantly with myself.
None of this is rocket science but when you live in fear and are completely exhausted and burnt out just surviving from day to day everything feels insurmountable.
These are not counselling sessions but in between some session’s difficulties arose with the children and it was so helpful to tease out different options to consider in dealing with the issues at hand.
My Parentline NVR facilitator was always patient and considerate, and we did explore other suggestions for different issues, but she was always able to refocus my attention back to where we were in the programme, so the consistency was brilliant.
I know that working with me to help my situation was perhaps a bit more difficult as I am going through a very traumatic separation where my 4 children aged between 12 and 13 are confused and angry and tend to bottle up their feeling and lash out at me. I have no support in fact quite the opposite from my estranged husband.
So, this course introduced me to fresh concepts and ideas about how to change the way that I see things and how I deal with them.
The language used is precise and clear and it helped me set an intention for the coming week and to just take small positive steps every day.
After week 4 I stopped being afraid of my children and started to feel more confidence in myself and how I was parenting.
Unfortunately, domestic violence has been a factor in my home and not by me, but my children have been exposed to both property damage and physical hurt.
I always believed that violence or punishment was not a solution to our problems, and I reacted by freezing all the time, which in turn completely diminished my parental presence and basically the children had no respect for me.
The course gave me back some autonomy in my home. The announcement that violent behaviour will not be tolerated in our home and by bringing in a reliable person to support me, all helped.
I am trying to get the children to think more about their actions and words and my expectations are realistic as they are teenagers after all.
My Parentline NVR facilitator has taught me to think outside the box and reminded me that I love the child not their behaviour.
I think that this is a very worthwhile service for parents and of course every family situation is complex and different, but I would encourage parents courageously come with an open mind.
I found the timing and the pace of the course excellent, once a week for an hour over 8 weeks which is ideal also as so much is covered.
The sessions were extremely helpful for me and I felt very supported and listened to throughout.
Thank you Parentline.
Anonymous Parent Testimonial
"Parentline and the Non Violent Response (NVR) programme have been an invaluable support to us during a very difficult and challenging time with our 14 year old son.
In what seemed like a short period of time our son changed from a sensitive, engaged teen to someone who we felt was unrecognisable. He was involved in risky behaviour, bunking off school, smoking weed, disinterested and disconnected from his family. Whenever attempts were made by us as his parents to address his unacceptable behaviour and put boundaries in place his behaviour would escalate into extreme rages, his anger directed at us and his sisters. Shouting, screaming and damaging anything that was close to hand became commonplace in our home. He was affecting everyone in the family, we were shocked by his behaviour but also worried, sad and upset for him, knowing he was not happy reacting in this way. We felt powerless as parents, a sinking feeling of desperation was compounded by the lack of services available due to the COVID 19 crisis.
We felt alone and embarrassed that we were not coping with the situation. In shock, as he was the youngest of four children who had not behaved in this way during their teenage years.
Contacting Parentline and accessing their services gave us a lifeline and hope. Through our initial conversations with volunteers who listened to us in a non-judgemental supportive way, we realised we were not alone and we could get through this. From our initial contact with Parentline we were then connected with a volunteer trained in delivering the NVR and he became our guide over the next few months as he introduced us to the NVR programme.
At the beginning it was frustrating, we felt we were doing all the work with very little to no progress from our son. Our son refused to communicate with us at the beginning, so we wrote a couple of letters to him saying we loved him, but were not willing to accept certain behaviours that were harmful to him and our family. The rages and aggressive behaviour were not subsiding, there was very little communication. We wondered how we would keep our calm, listening to abusive language, the constant blame of what we were doing wrong to make his life miserable. We questioned what we were doing as we seemed to be making no progress.
Each week we connected with our NVR trained volunteer through an hourly phone session. He listened carefully to our concerns and answered our questions about the NVR programme and guided us through the reality of putting it into practice. He spoke about separating our son's behaviour from the person, repairing our relationship with our son to break down unacceptable behaviour patterns and rebuild our relationship with him.
Through Parentline’s expertise and patient guidance, little by little, our relationship improved with our son. We learned how to parent our son through a different approach, by de-escalating situations through keeping calm, listening and not reacting by mirroring his aggressive behaviour. By doing this we were able to clearly communicate what behaviours would not be acceptable in the family, we increased our parental presence, and slowly began to talk and listen and gain mutual respect for each other. We worked with our son to set the boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. As part of the NVR process we asked people to come on board as a support system for our son to help us to repair our relationship with him. This happened in a more holistic way then we had expected, friends of our daughters, we had never thought of as potential supporters, became mentors to our son.
It has not been plain sailing, there have been times when our son reverts back to some incidents of unacceptable behaviour, but we are now able to put things into perspective and deal with the behaviour. By applying the guiding principle of NVR, sustained parental presence in his life, a commitment to rebuilding our relationship with our son through listening, responding calmly and positively as opposed to reacting to the confrontational behaviour.
We are aware that we have a long road ahead. Through his calm, kind, approach and extensive experience, the NVR trained volunteer provided to us by Parentline gave us the confidence and a skill set to apply the NVR process.
As we were continually reminded by Parentline, 'He is going to be ok, things will get better, you will effect change and parental love is an unstoppable force'.
Second Anonymous Parent Testimonial
We contacted Parentline as we were having issues managing interactions and communication with our 15 year old son. It escalated during lockdown with no school structure and the intensity of a changing landscape around junior cert. Our issues surrounded disagreements which would happen very easily and become too frequent. It caused frustration on both sides.
Going through the NVR programme gave us the space to stand back and look at how we were handling the situation. Having us both (mother and father) involved also meant that we could speak about how we were feeling individually and this helped us work to be aligned. Having both parents involved in this programme was a huge benefit as it helped us develop as parents. We had a fantastic NVR trained volunteer work with us whereby she paraphrased and summarised what we were saying and we had actions throughout the process after each call.
Our relationship has improved with our son and we are more aligned as a couple in managing the situation and our interactions with our son. We have made changes as parents, trying to be more patient and understanding and are now managing interactions and communications differently. There is less anger and frustration on both sides and we discuss when there are differences and try and understand as much as possible. This is a great service and we can say that we have a calmer house following the move to contact parent line. Thanks to everyone and keep up the great work and support for parents.
How the NVR programme works from the volunteer facilitators point of view
1. First testimonial from volunteer facilitator point of view of how the NVR programme works
It is an extremely difficult thing for a parent to pick up the phone and ring a complete stranger and tell them that their son or daughter is abusing them. This abuse can be physical, emotional, or verbal.
But these are the parents that call Parentline daily looking for help. They feel so ashamed. As a result, they will not tell any family members or friends. They blame themselves for what is happening. They just want the violence to stop and to have a “normal” family life again. Parentline uses the Non Violent Resistance (NVR) programme to help these parents. I am one of the many Parentline volunteers who have been trained in the delivery of the NVR programme.
This programme works wonderfully well and while it isn’t a magic wand that can change everything instantly, given commitment and consistency it really does work. It may be a few steps forward and a few steps backward but if parents stick with the programme and give it as much commitment as possible, it has positive results.
In my experience some families need the complete programme but many families only need a few sessions and can function again once they have agreed to practice nonviolence in the home and learned the ability to de-escalate difficult situations.
These are not easy tasks to master but the results are so worthwhile. One Dad commented that he himself felt so much calmer having mastered these skills.
Finally, having used the NVR programme for the past 5 years I can see the positive affect that this programme has on the lives of the families with whom I have worked.
Another volunteer facilitator testimonial
The Non Violent Resistance (NVR) programme offers a different way of viewing what might otherwise be perceived as a bleak situation. Often parents feel isolated and alone in their dysfunctional family dynamic.
They sometimes feel worn out as the Child to Parent Violence (CPV) dominates the very fibre of the family unit. They no longer believe they are 'parenting'.
NVR promotes a new way of communicating. It focuses on resetting the relationship between the child and the parent or parents. Often the child or teenager has got lost in the mix and have instead just become the behaviour they exhibit all of which combines to make the child/parent relationship something very negative, even if this is something they are not necessarily conscious of. The NVR endeavours to change the relationship and help parents to re-engage with their child. It supports parents in breaking the patterns that result in abusive behaviour. The parent learns to ‘step out’ of the conflict.
The NVR is a structured programme which puts the parent at the centre. It attempts to effect positive changes for all involved principally by providing parents with the skills to use in response to child to parent violence. The parent commits to four to eight weekly sessions as some families respond more quickly than others. As the majority of sessions occur over the phone it is open to parents nationwide.
Often what may seem like a futile situation may gradually with support see the beginnings of a new relationship between child and parent.
Another volunteer facilitator testimonial
Many families manage to find ways to resolve conflict without the development of abusive behaviour, but some parents find themselves in need of help and support from outside the family.
There needs to be clear boundaries between troublesome behaviour that could be seen as falling within normal adolescent behaviour and child to parent violence. The difference between testing the boundaries and child to parent violence is the issue of power. A child or adolescent’s behaviour is violent if parents feel controlled, intimidated or threatened by it.
Violence towards parents by young people is more common than many people think. It is not often spoken about because parents can feel embarrassed. It is normal for parents and young people to disagree and have conflict or arguments at times. Debates about rules can be helpful to both the parent and child. However, if a young person is abusive or violent, it is more than conflict, it is an attempt to control and have power.
The Non Violent Resistance program is designed to enable parents to respond effectively to violent behaviour from their children. Parents must agree to be non-violent themselves no matter what the provocation. They must learn to “press their pause button” and resist shouting back. It is not a magic spell that will solve all problems. The parents must be prepared to commit to approximately six weeks. They must be prepared to listen to the suggestions put forward by the facilitator and endeavour to put them into action. The program teaches “non-escalation” skills to avoid adding fuel to the fire. It is not necessary to pin down the reason for the violence to take part in the programme. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t excuse it or mean that you should put up with it. The longer you think that it is not serious, the bigger the problem can get. Everyone has a right to feel safe and be respected including parents.
"It’s all your fault"
Patsy and Mike, the parents of 13 year old Marie (not their real names), rang a counsellor at their local family support service in Galway. Their daughter was always fighting with them, refused to join them at meetings with counsellors, shouting that there was nothing wrong with her, that her parents were “crazy” and “it was all their fault”. As they spoke over the phone to the counsellor, Marie’s parents described feelings of hopelessness and helplessness as their 13 year old daughter had over the last few months begun to use alcohol (and they suspected, drugs), shout and scream at her parents and her brother and sister, had broken a door and window and had threatened her parents with physical violence. They could not understand how Marie, who up until recently had been pleasant, happy, out-going and close to her parents, could change so much and treat them so badly. They felt there was nothing they could do. They felt at a loss...and initially, the counsellor felt the same way.
The First Step
Experiences within a family of this kind of behaviour are often surrounded by a veil of silence, with embarrassment, shame and fear. Parents find it difficult to start a conversation with their child about the behaviour. But reaching out and talking is always a good first step. For the people who work with families like social workers and family support workers, counsellors and volunteers with Parentline, listening to parents or carers talking about these experiences is always a good start and listening without judgement is especially important.
But what can we do together to end the use of abusive and/or violent behaviour by some children and young people towards their parents? How can the people at Parentline help?
First we can name the problem and let parents know that they are not alone. Conflict between parents and children is usually a rite of passage, a stage in changing relationships as sons and daughters grow and mature. But in some families, abuse, violence and fear enter the relationship. This can make parents, like Mike and Patsy, feel they are unable to act as a parent.
Child to parent violence and abuse (CPVA) is an abuse of power through which a child/adolescent under the age of 18 years coerces, controls or dominates parents or those who have a parental role (e.g. grand-parents or foster carers). Parents living with CPVA often talk about feeling ashamed, powerless and alone.
This is a question of the human rights of parents and of children: article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Yet parents or carers who talk with us about the abusive and/ or sometimes violent behaviour of their son or daughter tell us about experiences of cruelty, of feeling degraded or constantly walking on eggshells. And because parents in these situations cannot live in a close and happy relationship with their child, then the child is also negatively affected by his or her behaviour.
There is help
But there are sources of help. Many Parentline volunteers are trained in delivering the NVR programme to parents or carers and are there to take your call and get you started on the programme. This can be particularly important in the time of social distancing as Parentline can offer welcome support and a listening ear for parents coping with intense and stress filled challenges. There are also free on-line resources, some of which have been developed by practitioners and academics in Ireland (see www.cpvireland.ie and www.rcpv.eu and www.newauthorityparenting.ie ).
Where does NVR come from?
NVR for families living with children with abusive/ violent behaviour was pioneered in Tel Aviv, Israel by psychologist and family therapist Haim Omer and others. They adopted the principles and strategies of non-violence from socio-political struggles for civil rights to work with families where children and young people use violent/ abusive behaviour at home.
Involving trained practitioners working collaboratively with parents, the NVR model moves the focus of intervention to where parents can effectively take action to change interaction habits between parents and children that can lead to the use of abusive/ violent behaviour.
What does NVR mean in practice?
Using the NVR model in partnership with parents, the NVR trained practitioner becomes a type of adviser/ coach for parents. Parents are supported to develop skills for de-escalation, self-control, resistance and protest against/ rejection of abusive behaviour. This empowers parents to take their place as a parent in the family. Parents commit to avoiding all forms of abusive behaviour and make a clear announcement to the family that specific types of behaviour are no longer acceptable. Although abusive and violent behaviour is rejected and resisted, the child is treated with respect and love as a member of the family. Parents increase their positive presence in their child’s life and make unconditional acts of reconciliation towards their son/ daughter. Parents often also ask the NVR trained practitioner for help in recruiting and co-ordinating a Support Network (people chosen by parents to take on certain tasks to help them end abusive and/ or violent behaviour at home).
Does NVR work?
Parents such as Patsy and Mike tell us the support they receive through using NVR helps them to end abusive/ violent behaviour. Our own experiences and the experiences of other NVR trained practitioners, including those who offer NVR through Parentline, is that it seems to be very helpful for parents and in a relatively short space of time.
A note about the authors
Dr Declan Coogan is an Acting Co-Director of the MA in Social Work and a Research Fellow with the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the School of Political Science and Sociology in NUI Galway. An experienced social worker (CORU) and psychotherapist (FTAI), he adapted the NVR model for use with families in Ireland and developed an NVR training programme for practitioners working with children and families. He was the Ireland lead for the completed co-funded EU Responding to Child to Parent Violence (2013-15) study. His book Child to Parent Violence and Abuse- Family Interventions with Non Violent Resistance was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2018.
Eileen Lauster, independent social worker and tutor with the MA in Social Work at NUI Galway, has worked with Declan since the EU co-funded Responding to Child to Parent Violence Project (2013-15 www.rcpv.eu ). Together with other colleagues they have developed NVR training programmes for practitioners throughout Ireland and further afield. They are both founding members of Non Violent Resistance Ireland, a network of practitioners and academics committed to developing NVR as a helpful intervention for parent, families and practitioners.
Recommended reading on the area Child to Parent violence and the Non Violent Resistance programme.
Coogan, D (2018) Child to Parent Violence and Abuse – Family Interventions with Non Violent Resistance, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers www.jkp.com
Nonviolent Resistance, A New Approach to Violent and Self-destructive Children by Haim Omer (2004) The excellent resource page on nvrireland.ie
Other recent recommended publications include: Coogan, D & Lauster, E (2020) Challenging Behaviour, Non Violent Resistance (NVR) and Parents/ Carers in a time of COVID 19. 1st May 2020 Irish Social Work blog
Coogan, D, Connolly, M, Dahms, I, Fox, R, Kelly, T, Lauster, E, Magee, M, Scanlan, C & Quinn, A (2020) Facilitating Remote Non Violent Resistance Support for Parents/ Carers during the COVID 19 Crisis - Some Guidelines; NVR Ireland/ MA in Social Work Programme, School of Political Science & Sociology, NUI Galway.
Róisín Farragher & Declan Coogan (2018) Constructivist Grounded Theory: Recognising and Raising the Voice of Young People with Experience of Care Systems, Child Care in Practice, DOI:10.1080/13575279.2018.1521377
There are also two further excellent links which are hugely informative on child to parent violence and abuse.
1. The first link is to a blog from Helen Bonnick, a social worker in England who has done a lot of work in England on highlighting child to parent violence and abuse and who also indicates some resources https://holesinthewall.co.uk/
2. The second link is to a website run by Haim Omer (in English) based in Israel, who founded NVR for children and families https://www.haimomer-nvr.com/
All Calls Welcome
Parentline welcomes calls about any parenting issue – a problem which seems trivial at an early stage can easily develop into a more serious issue for both parent and child if unaddressed.