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.

Test-Driving Beyond Consequences

Beyond Consequences is not just a book, there are many spin-off books and courses. I have just read the basic book. It’s by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post who have both gone on to write other, similar books.
I’ve been reading this one on my Nook. I’m trying to buy fewer solid books to leave a bit more space in the house.
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The structure makes me a little uncomfortable. Each chapter describes a problem (e.g. aggression, lying, stealing, all the usual suspects), then it describes the ‘Traditional Approach’, before giving the Love-Based Approach.
The description of the ‘Traditional Approach’ strikes me as rather hyperbolic. It suggests that traditional therapists view traumatised children as ‘manipulative’ and that many therapists insist a child should be made to ‘submit his control to those in charge.’ Having read many of the books referred to in the footnotes myself, I think this is a rather unfair characterisation of their advice.
I also feel uncomfortable with the description of the book’s approach as ‘Love-Based’. There’s an unpleasant implication that other approaches are less loving, which I don’t think is accurate.
That said, this book does have a few new ideas. It suggests, for example, that anger is rooted in fear. I found this idea very interesting.
I was struck by the chapter on adult fears, and the suggestion that my own anger, as a struggling parent, could be rooted in my own fears. When the boys’ behaviour is really difficult, I do fear for their future. I worry about what will happen to them as adults, if they continue the same behaviour. I am also aware that – though I had a happy childhood with no trauma to speak of – I am very effected by behaviours in the boys that ‘replay’ situations from my childhood. I had plenty of run-ins with my siblings as a child, and I would agree that seeing the boys interact can stir up my old disappointments and frustrations with my own siblings. Perhaps acknowledging these fears will stop them getting in the way of my relating to the boys in the moment. I am hopeful and I have been making more of an effort to work through my own feelings.
It is helping me to stay a bit calmer in the really tough moments. And ways of keeping my cool are such a vital part of parenting, I value the book for that alone.
Some of the suggestions seem a bit idealistic. The book gives the standard advice of waiting until after things have cooled off and then talking about what happened. We haven’t ever managed a book-style discussion about behaviour. When I say ‘I felt disrespected when you growled at me’, the boys do not ‘hang their heads in shame’ or say ‘I guess I was still mad about my toy breaking’, instead my children shout ‘I didn’t growl at you, idiot!’ The boys do not appreciate having discussions of what went wrong after they have calmed down. They do not want to talk about how they feel, or even how someone else might feel. But, we are working on that separately. So, it may just be a case of ‘too soon to try that’.
The book also suggests giving a child a hug and saying ‘you’re safe’ to head off a violent outburst. I’m not sure how that is supposed to work. I got bitten. Perhaps I need to try and spot potential eruptions earlier. Perhaps the boys find touch too hard, and I should try keeping my distance for now.
On the other hand, the book does say ‘expect to fail’. Which, perversely, I found rather heartening. We always fail when we try to follow parenting advice, so it’s nice to have that provided for in the book!
And we did have a really good day yesterday, more peaceful than we’ve had for a few months. Maybe as I get better at the love-based reactions, I’ll have some more of these good days.

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This is a brilliant idea!
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I first read about it in a Guardian article here. I had a quick look at Oliver James’ website. Then I went ahead and bought the book.
It’s a very simple idea: you take one child away for a special holiday where they can do pretty much whatever they like. You follow up with half an hour of special time each day where the child can do pretty much whatever they like.
It is incredibly hard to do!
Firstly, you have to arrange the big holiday. This doesn’t have to be a massive trip, but it does take planning. If you have several children it takes even more planning.
Last year I took the other children to my parents for the weekend and my husband did the Love Bombing from our house. This year, he’s taking the boy being ‘bombed’ away and I’m staying home with the other children.
For the sake of fairness, we give Eldest and Middly a turn each. Last year we managed consecutive weekends. This year there’s a couple of weeks between them.
It is expensive. ‘Special times’ tend to be more expensive than every day times, though you can – obviously – limit how much you spend.
The daily half hour is a massive commitment. Last year we kept it going for two months before we gave up (or ‘rearranged the timetable’, as I put it to the boys). It takes serious effort and a fair bit of luck to be able to give each child half an hour each day. I used a combination of threat (‘if you ruin your brother’s special time, what do you think he’s going to want to do during yours? You need to be careful.’), bribery (child not having special time can take a snack and an electronic toy to his room) and distraction (bags of stickers for the baby, desperately trying to get his nap in sync).
We open the time with a phrase borrowed from filial therapy: ‘this is your special time. You can do almost anything you like. If there is anything you can’t do, I will let you know.’
Then we try – as far as is safe and sane – to say ‘yes’ to everything!
Of course, we have to set a few limits. I refused a bath full of custard, for example! And Middly is still not allowed to watch Game of Thrones! But, hours of TV, sweets and an impromptu cinema trip is all fine. It’s surprising how little the boys really ask for during these times.
Last year Eldest chose to sleep in a tent for his Leopard-Otter Weekend, and was sick three times in quick succession. All over himself, his Dad, the tent and then his bed.
But, we’re doing it again!
We’re doing it again because it worked. It worked wonders for us!
As well as loving the weekend, the boys became much calmer and happier. They made amazing progress as a result of last year’s Love Bombing. And that progress has remained!
I am a bit worried about explaining the other benefit, I don’t think it reflects well on me! But, as a result of Love Bombing, I felt more affection for the boys and more joy in their presence. It definitely made me a better mum. So, we’re doing it again, starting with Eldest’s ‘Treasure Time’ (in the book James encourages you to get your child to give the time a name, part of marking it out as being Not Like Normal Time) today and tomorrow.
Middly and Baby are staying home with me, and we’re having Special Time, which is like Love Bombing, but with the added distraction of Baby.
Of course it probably wouldn’t work for all families (what does?). But it is one of the best things we do and we plan on continuing.
One of Middly’s sweeter requests today was that we painted each other’s faces:
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(I’m a tiger – Baby helped!)

Is ‘Zagazoo’ the best parenting book of all?

I am an avid reader and, since the boys came home, this has extended to parenting books.
But, remarkably few of this growing pile have been all that memorable or helpful. Yet there is one book that never fails to inspire me with new energy for the task: ‘Zagazoo’ by Quentin Blake.
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It’s a children’s book, so perhaps part of its magic lies in the way I read it: there’s always at least one child snuggled up to share the book with me. Reading to the children is an unalloyed pleasure (I am tensing up as I write this, wondering if I am cursing us to never enjoy reading again). It is a moment of shared interest and pleasure and even my least snuggly boy gets good and close to see all the pictures. Perhaps reading this book makes me feel good about parenting because I always read it to the children.
Yet, there is a wonderful message in the book itself. So, here are my top reasons why ‘Zagazoo’ may be the best parenting book of all:
1) The book tells the story of new parents who find their lovely baby has a lot of surprising and tricky behaviours. Which is good preparation for any parents to be, and reassuring for anyone with children!
2) Every time the parents despair of handling their child, the narrator says ‘but then . . .’ and the child’s behaviours change all over again. Again, very realistic and kind of reassuring. So far, we have found that our children’s behaviours always change eventually. Sometimes things appear to get worse, sometimes better, but everything changes eventually.
3) There’s a wonderful passage where the parents never know what their child will be like each day. Each day the child’s behaviour changes. Oh, how familiar that is.
4) Suddenly the parents wake up one day and find their child has grown into ‘a young man with perfect manners’. Just what we’re all hoping for!
5) The last line of the book is ‘Isn’t life amazing?’ My favourite last line of any children’s book ever!

Life is amazing. No phases last forever. Some days you just don’t know what child you will see when you get up. But, one day, your child will be grown up (the perfect manners aren’t a promise).

Admittedly, there is no advice in this book, but it is encouraging. Whereas books of advice might be worth reading a handful of times, books of encouragement are worth reading over and over again.

Test Driving ‘The Explosive Child’

We’ve actually had this book for a while now, at least two years.
When I first read it, I wasn’t very impressed. I didn’t think there was anything we could use. But it has been recommended to me by several people since then, so I am returning to it with a new determination to find out what it has to offer.
It’s an easy read. I read it in an afternoon, between scraped knees, games of draughts and our usual procession of snacks.
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It’s one of those books with lots of imagined dialogues. Now, my big hobby is writing so I have a lot of sympathy for writers struggling with dialogue. But, I didn’t think this was great dialogue, and I found that slightly distracting.
Enough about style, the real point is the content. Greene does claim to have a strategy aimed at children with difficult temperaments, even diagnosed behavioural problems – for me, that is always promising! The book begins with some fairly standard advice about avoiding the situations that provoke tantrums. Nothing new there.
The crux of this book is the three Plans for dealing with problems.
Plan A: tell child what to do.
Plan B: come up with a mutually agreeable solution with your child.
Plan C: let it go.
It is abundantly clear that Greene considers plans A and C to be inferior to Plan B. The majority of the book is devoted to examples of carrying out Plan B.
I would agree that being able to come to a mutually agreeable solution is ideal. I would love to agree solutions with my children. I can think of no parenting style that would please me more. It would give peace in the moment and give the boys lots of practice in the problem solving skills they will need as adults.
The question is: will the advice in this book get us there?

Well, I gave it a couple of weeks.

As I would have expected, the results were very mixed. Sometimes the boys can talk about solutions, sometimes they don’t want to discuss it at all. When they agree to talk, their preferred solution is ‘give me lots of chocolate, then I’ll be good’, repeated until I give up on the conversation. We haven’t yet made any mutually agreed solutions.

In fact, I am finding that presenting a ‘problem’ makes the boys less inclined to listen to my ideas than usual. I can often persuade them to consider my ideas by saying ‘some people find this helpful, would you like to try it?’ When I ask them for ideas, they fixate on an opportunity to ask for sweets and cannot be budged from this theme at all.

I don’t think we’re ready for this. If I have any success at a later date, I will update.

Everytime a parenting book fails to work out the way I had hoped, I worry that I’m just doing it wrong. Of course, this is why my husband thinks that I should read fewer parenting books. They are a bit of a guilty pleasure, I suppose. Though I do live in hope that one day I will find a magic answer!

For now, we will move on to the next book. This time I’m going with a book aimed at adopters: ‘Creating Loving Attachments’ by Kim S. Golding and Daniel A. Hughes.
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Test driving Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Part Two

Since this is such a big book, I thought I would report on a few more techniques.

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Once you get past the Descriptive Praise section, the techniques are fired out pretty rapidly. There’s a bit on Special Time, a bit on Routines, a slightly confused chapter on Sibling Rivalry, but none of those were new to me.

The technique I found most interesting was the: How to Get Your Child to Do What You Say bit. Now, I have ambivalent feelings about this idea.

Most of the time I want my children to think for themselves. I want them to question me and challenge me. I don’t really want them to be obedient people. I want them to be kind, gentle, creative and courageous people. So, I do worry that if I focus too much on getting them to do as they are told I will be teaching the wrong values.

On the other hand, sometimes things are dangerous to them (like running into roads or sticking fingers in boiling sugar) and sometimes things are dangerous to others (like throwing tables or cutting guy ropes). Sometimes I want to be able to get the children to stop fast and ask questions later.

In addition to this l want to teach my children. I want them to listen when I explain things. I want them to practice skills even though it isn’t always fun. I want the children to take me seriously when I am being serious.

So Janis-Norton has a two part process to make children do as they are told. These parts can be rather times consuming, which I have decided is a good thing. If it takes a while to tell your child to do something, you are more likely to carefully select what things you tell him to do. I suspect that telling the children to do things less frequently is a good strategy, though it’s not the focus of the book.

Step One: Give Clear Expectations. Janis-Norton recommends ‘Think Throughs’. Basically you ask the child what to do in such and such a situation so that when such and such a situation occurs you can just ask them to remember. This is like a read-through of the role plays that we often use to get the boys to practice responses. It is quicker than a role play and easier to fit in more options.

Step Two: Wait a Bit. Several times Janis-Norton suggests that you should wait ‘slightly longer than you are comfortable waiting’. She’s right. The boys can move slowly and we have had some success with standing and waiting for Middly to do as he’s been asked. Once the child has acknowledged what you want, you just stand there and wait. Sometimes they get on with it.

There are definitely a few good ideas in this book. I found the tone a touch patronising, but that is rather common in this genre!

This isn’t a book for extreme problems. There’s no help for aggressive tantrums, for example, Janis-Norton suggests physical restraint and ‘not allowing’ children to hit parents.

It’s not a great book for people with more than one child (admittedly also a very common failure in parenting books). All the advice – even the Sibling Rivalry chapter – is about dealing with one child at a time.

But, it does have a couple of interesting ideas. And it does cover – albeit sometimes briefly – a lot of the standard parenting tips. If you wanted to read one parenting book and get a good overview of modern parenting books, this would be great.

As for us, we’ll be trying a new one next week! 😉

We’re moving on to ‘The Explosive Child’ by Ross W. Greene
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Test Driving Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.

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We read a lot of parenting books. I am desperate to give my boys the best childhoods possible, desperate to prepare them well for their adult lives. Sometimes, just desperate to get through the day!

I thought it might be fun to start a series of posts recording how we get on using the techniques from various books. I’m going to start with Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton. This book can (obviously) be picked up online or in shops, but there is also a course and all sorts of other stuff, which you can find out about on Janis-Norton’s website here.

This book doesn’t target adopted children in particular, though the author has been a foster carer and does claim to have had success with ‘children with more extreme temperaments or with diagnosed special needs’.

It is quite a long book, with an informal style and very clear examples.

Janis-Norton asks readers to begin by spending several weeks implementing her plan of Descriptive Praise before using other techniques. So I’ll talk about those later.

First Descriptive Praise. It sounds rather like Positive Parenting, which is pretty ubiquitous at the moment, you can get a good summary of that from the NSPCC. The idea is to ‘catch children being good’ and say what you see e.g. I see that you waited in the line until it was your turn to go on the slide, that was considerate.

To be honest, I feel we use this sort of thing quite a bit already. E.g. our star chart has a little explanation by each sticker:

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It’s also a big part if my technique for teaching the boys. For example, I always draw a little star underneath really neat letters when they do some writing.
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But, Janis-Norton does add something I hadn’t tried before. She suggests that, even if a child isn’t doing quite what you want, you comment on how close they are getting. For example, when the boys are tantrumming, I could wait for a pause and say (very fast, maybe) ‘you’ve stopped hitting, you are controlling yourself’.

I am not going to recap the entire book here, that seems rather unfair. Obviously, I am very much in favour of buying books! But, you might want to see how we get on first!

We have been trying for only one weekend so far. Like most new techniques, we are taking a bit of time to get used to it. We forget sometimes and use our usual techniques. Also, Janis-Norton doesn’t suggest that this is the only thing you say to your children, so – obviously – a lot of stuff is just going on as usual.

But, so far, I am reasonably hopeful. I haven’t noticed any change in the children. And, as I would expect (and, to be fair to Janis-Norton, she does acknowledge), a lot of the time the boys respond to my descriptive praise by instantly doing the exact opposite. Yet, I am feeling a bit more cheerful. Saying positive things makes me feel positive. And a lot of the time parental attitude is a bigger factor in how the day goes than child behaviour is.

We have selected one particular problem to try and solve with thus technique. The book does suggest this as a possible approach, so I feel it is fair. I will post again in a fortnight and let you know how effective we have been.

Of course if this book solves all my parenting problems then this won’t turn into a series at all. 😉