Non Violent Resistance

We were pretty excited about attending a course on Non Violent Resistance. It was run by Adoption UK and had Peter Jakob speaking. Violence has become our biggest concern with the boys. Not really because they’re getting worse, if anything they are getting better at handling their impulses. But, as they get larger and stronger, any violence at all starts to be a bit worrying. So, a day course about dealing with aggression without getting aggressive sounded perfect.
I’d already read a book about it, but I was concerned that it seemed aimed at parents of older children, and wasn’t entire applicable to us, yet.
On the other hand, some of the ideas sounded different to things I’ve read in other books, and that was rather exciting!
So, we turned up hopeful, but not expecting much.
The first thing I always look for from an expert is what they suggest we do in the moment of a tantrum. And, here Jakob was refreshingly reassuring. He said: “when all hell breaks lose, then all hell breaks lose”. Fundamentally, his opinion seems to be that during an ‘incident’, you can’t actually change the relationship nor do any therapeutic work. During an incident, the sole aim should be minimising risk. That was very reassuring. I have spent years worrying about what we do in those highly charged, sometimes scary, moments. Jakob says that I should stop trying to control the child, and focus on minimising risk.
Which brings us to the next thing he talked about: Control. He suggested that traumatised children sometimes try to “reduce every interaction to a power struggle”. Rather than advising us, as parents, to ‘win’, Jakob suggested we try to notice when this occurs and avoid entering into power struggles at all. He suggested that it wouldn’t be a disaster if our children did ‘think they’ve won’. At first, I found that quite challenging to hear. After all, isn’t it vital for me to teach my children that violence and aggression don’t win? But, as I thought about it, I realised that sometimes, I am as desperate for control as the boys, and that’s not helping anyone! I can maintain greater authority by staying in control of myself and letting these little power struggles go.
He talked about ‘reconciliatory gestures’, such as offering a cup of tea (as I noticed from his book, he does seem to be thinking of older children and young adults, rather than small children).
He also talks about ‘parental presence’, suggesting that we should enter our children’s worlds. His examples include, talking to their friends and visiting the places they go. He also mentioned finding out about their interests and – briefly – entering the virtual worlds they’re inhabiting. This wasn’t about spying, he says that we should be open and tell people what we’re doing.
“You don’t need friends, you need a support network,” also rang very true for me. Jakob has some very specific ideas of ways to use this support network. He suggests that secrecy can perpetuate abusive situations. Parents can ask other adults to bear witness by telling them about incidents and asking them to mention their concerns to the child.
He suggested a structured approach to raising concerns: the adult should mention that they know of the behaviour and are concerned for the child and for the parent and for the important relationship that is being damaged; they should offer a listening ear and (for older children) a safe place to go when the child needs a break; they should finish on a positive note, sharing their pleasure in the child, or praising something suitable. It is a lot to ask of supporters! We haven’t decided if we’re going to make the request yet.
Fundamentally, Jakob’s approach seems to be based on two main principles:
1) We cannot control our children, we can only control ourselves;
2) We can, and should, recruit supporters to aid us in parenting.
I found it heartening. I think because he was so clear in his opinion that, during an incident, it doesn’t much matter what we do. I worry that it sounds lazy of me, but I am just so relieved to hear that someone doesn’t condemn me for not being therapeutic in the really awful moments.
Jakob has more suggestions, which do seem a bit extreme for us at the moment, like holding a ‘sit in’ in protest at particularly difficult behaviour.
Ultimately, I think the best thing I took from his talk was the reassurance that my power to affect my children hasn’t vanished because I can’t control them. It is a new way of thinking about parenting. I don’t have to choose between stopping a behaviour or permitting it; I can choose to resist it instead, to state my objections and stand firm. I thought that it might feel absurd to try and draw lessons from political movements to parent my boys. But, when Jakob talked, it felt I inspiring. Rather than choosing between the roles of victim or policeman, I have a new role of peaceful protester.

6 thoughts on “Non Violent Resistance

  1. Reblogged this on HOLES IN THE WALL and commented:
    Non-violent Resistance, as a response to child to parent violence, has attracted considerable attention and support among the adoption community, so I was pleased to come across this blog from Frogotter, outlining their experience of attending an NVR course with Peter Jakob.

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