Many adoptive families experiencing child-to-parent violence (CPV) speak in glowing terms about Non-Violent Resistance (NVR). Words such as ‘life-changing’ are used – which certainly got my attention. I asked NVR trainer and adoptive mum Sarah Fisher to tell me more.
Introducing Sarah Fisher
Sarah Fisher is an NVR trainer, the author of two books, and a single adoptive mum. She first became interested in NVR due to her son’s challenging behaviours.
Sarah says, ‘During my journey I’ve learnt to support my son with his anxiety and have stopped some of his unacceptable behaviours. These weren’t because he is a naughty or horrible child because he’s not. But he was very distressed, due to past trauma, and anxious and didn’t know how to show his emotions. Through the use of Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) we have changed our family around and my son is now more confident and understands how to appropriately express his emotions. It hasn’t been an easy or smooth road, but we’ve come through it and I’m passionate about helping other families do the same.’
I fired some questions at Sarah in order to find out more.
Could you start by summarising what Non-Violent Resistance is, please?
Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) has been used for many years as a way of taking a non-violent, but strong and active stand against aggressive regimes. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela both used Non-Violent Resistance very successfully to change seemingly fixed political situations.
Professor Haim Omer developed it for use within a family setting. NVR focusses on developing strong relationships between the parent(s) and child, and uses a child-focused approach. It does not try to change the child through gaining insight or by using consequences or rewards. Instead it uses the presence of the parent(s) in the child’s life, known in NVR terms as ‘Parental Presence’, as an alternative. Within NVR we use reconciliation gestures to let the child know they are loved, thought about and even understood, and are a means by which the parent can begin to address the child’s unmet needs. NVR is about actions not words, particularly early in the process. So it’s more about doing things that show your child you love them, rather than just telling them. It’s not always easy and can seem counter-intuitive but it is very effective.
Why is it particularly effective for families who are experiencing CPV?
Often when parents are experiencing CPV they can feel helpless and lose their sense of parental presence. They can feel blamed for their child’s behaviour and as if nothing they do works. This downward spiral in the parents’ emotions ultimately effects the relationship between the parent and child, often making things worse. NVR supports parents by helping them to feel more in control, raising their parental presence and reducing the feelings of helplessness and blame. It is breaking the cycle of behaviour and the silence which rebalances the sense of power between the parent and child and ultimately stops the aggression from happening.
What does it look like in practice? To take an example from my family, how would we use it to help a child who becomes angry and aggressive in response to everyday triggers such as being asked to brush her teeth, or switch off the TV?
NVR can look slightly different in every family because it is adapted to meet the needs of the child and parents. With the example you shared (which is one I hear a lot from parents) we would look at de-escalation techniques that can work in the moment to reduce potential escalations, what the triggers are for the child and the parent (they are just as important as the child’s triggers) and how to minimise them. For switching off the TV, we would look at options to support the transition such as watching with them for a few minutes and engaging them or maybe agreeing an additional five minutes with them. The aim is for a win-win situation.
We would also look at the other aspects of NVR so that the relationship is developing positively, which in turn reduces the likelihood of escalations. For example, self-care for parents – the thing lots of parents don’t do but is critical for the individual’s health and the relationship between parent and child; We would look at all the different behaviours and prioritise them; and make sure the parents were able to raise their presence with their child. As you can see it’s not just about dealing with the aggressive incidents but taking a holistic approach to the solving the problems. De-escalation is not the magic cure-all bullet many parents hope it will be, but the techniques are very effective in reducing the length and intensity of meltdowns.
I once attended another NVR trainer’s introductory session and they said it was important to have the support of neighbours and post-adoption support to make it work properly, because you get them to come round and hold an intervention. Is that right? What can we do if our support network isn’t that great? To be honest the thought of inviting our neighbours round to witness the chaos is not high up on my list of things I’d love to do!
Supporters are an important part of NVR but should never be used to shame a child. They are used to break the secrecy that often surrounds the behaviours and support the parent and child. Careful thought and consideration is given as to who the supporters are, and how the family use them. You don’t need to hold an intervention in your house for NVR to work very effectively. I never have and my son used to be violent. You don’t need to use your neighbours as supporters either.
If you don’t have a good support network you can still use NVR, and it will work, but it may take longer to have an impact. Your network doesn’t need to be big. A few people who understand what you are doing, and what you need them to do, can be very effective. They don’t need to live locally either, I have supporters spread across the country.
What about a situation where you have two or more siblings, each with their own set of needs. For example, we have one who is very bright, with a disorganised attachment style, and one who we think has FASD and ambivalent attachment. They trigger each other all day long. Can NVR work there too?
Yes, NVR does work with siblings. It’s not easy and will take a lot of time and effort on the part of the parents and the children. We encourage children to be taught de-escalation techniques that they use when their sibling is triggering them. These are skills they can use for life. For the parents we look at de-escalation strategies that can be used when the siblings are fighting each other.
Are there situations where you would suggest that NVR isn’t appropriate? What sorts of circumstances would they be?
NVR is being used in a wide range of situations, such as within the police and in domestic violence situations. The approach is focused on building relationships so I can’t think of a situation where NVR would not be appropriate to use.
Tell us a bit about the courses you run. How can people find out more about NVR and about what you do?
As an adoptive parent I know how hard getting support is. Being able to physically attend training can also be difficult, so I offer courses via video conference. The courses run both during the day and in the evening so that you don’t need to take time off work to attend, or arrange childcare. Information on the different courses I offer is available on my website and I’m happy to talk to parents to help them decide the best option for them. I also run in-person courses and one-day workshops, as well as working with families on an individual basis.
My website sarahpfisher.com has lots of information about NVR and each week I do live videos in my Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/connectiveparentingusingnvr on different aspects of NVR. You can also get help and support from other parents who are using NVR within the group – it’s a really supportive community.
On 16 June 2018 I’m running the Connective Parenting Conference in Crawley, Sussex. The day is designed to help you understand your child’s tricky behaviour and learn the simple strategies you can use to help them feel calmer, happier and free from anxiety. There will be workshops on different topics such as helping with food issues, managing meltdowns, story massage for attachment and internet safety. It will be open to all parents and tickets go on sale soon. You can register on my website for information about the conference and you’ll be the first to hear when tickets go on sale.
Is there anything else you think adoptive parents need to know about NVR?
NVR is not always an easy option. It takes time, persistence and a willingness to tweak how we are parenting at times, but it does work well with adopted children. Not all social workers know about NVR, so you may have to introduce them to it. It is funded by the ASF. I’m a passionate believer in NVR having used it myself and have now seen the positive impact it has had on so many other families.
You can buy Sarah’s book Connective Parenting, a guide to connecting with your child using the NVR approach* from Amazon. Sarah, thank you so much for your time and willingness to share your expertise with us.
An asterisk (*) denotes an affiliate link. I only promote products and services I genuinely like.