Living in fear of your child
When teenage strops turn into violence, it’s time to look for help
Every parent of a teenager is going to face challenging behaviour, he says, and everybody needs support – be it talking it over with their partner, another family member or friend, or through contacting Parentline or seeing a professional.
“You can’t parent in a vacuum. If it’s not working for you and you are stressed out about it , get more support,” says Sharry, author of Parenting Teenagers: A Guide to Solving Problems, Building Relationships and Creating Harmony in the Family, an updated version of which has been published by Veritas.
It is also important to nip things in the bud. “If behaviour problems get into a pattern of coercing and disrespecting, they can do long-term damage because they can really erode the relationship of parent and child.”
Parents of teenagers who have shown signs of self-harming worry that confrontation will exacerbate this problem.
While an angry, critical exchange could be higher risk for such a teenager, it is not a reason to give up rules, he stresses. “You need to be warm and connected and be firm about rules in a respectful way: ‘you can’t talk to me like that . . .’; ‘we need to talk about this in a more polite way . . ’; ‘let’s take a break here . . .’ – that sort of approach.”
In fact, teenagers feel more secure when parents maintain such boundaries, as long as it is done, he adds, with compassion and warmth.
The Non Violent Resistance Programme: Key points
Declan Coogan of NUI Galway has developed the training programme for use in Ireland, based on the work of psychologist Haim Omer in Israel. It is a short-term intervention, backed up by research, that:
Is designed to enable parents to respond effectively to violent behaviour; the programme requires them to commit to attending 10 sessions.
Asks parents to agree to be non-violent themselves, no matter what the provocation, both in action and how they communicate with their child.
Teaches “non-escalation” skills, to avoid adding fuel to the fire in a row with the child.
Externalises the problem of violence: they look at what violence does in the family, rather than what Mary or Tom does in the family.
Directs parents to ask key individuals outside the immediate family to become part of their support network; this may involve being there to listen or telling the son or daughter that they know about the violence and want to support the family in stopping it.
Prepares parents for making the “announcement” to their children that they are no longer tolerating violence in the home – specifying the particular behaviours that are going on such as kicking, punching or shouting.
They will also explain that they have told A, B and C about it, who will be there to help stop the violence.
Supports parents, from this stage on, to tackle the child’s troubling behaviours, one by one.
This programme is not intended for the most severe cases of child-to-parent violence, says Coogan, but rather where violence is “worrying”.
And it is not necessary to pin down all the reasons for the behaviour.
“This is what is attractive about this approach. The whole idea is you don’t necessarily need to know everything about the cause of a problem in order to help stop it,” he explains.
Parents are told, at the outset, that if the problem is resolved after 10 weeks as expected, they will help them look back at the reasons it arose if they want.
“The amazing thing,” adds Coogan, “is no parent has ever said to me ‘Okay, now we have done that – why was he doing it?’ because they are happy the problem has gone.”