Similar to the safety network in the Signs of Safety and the lifetime network in Family Finding, Haim Omer, author of NonViolent Resistance: a New Approach to Violent and Self-Destructive Children: and The New Authority, teaches parents to mobilize a support network to help them manage aggressive behavior in their children. Parents are also taught to increase their supervision and presence in response to suspected and actual aggressive behavior, to react to violence with nonviolent resistance while taking measures to protect the victim, and to make reparations to the victim while trying to involve the aggressor in the process. The involvement of people outside the nuclear family is critical to the success of this approach.
While most parents want to keep their child’s violence secret to avoid embarrassing themselves and their child, secrecy enables the violence to continue. Secrecy isolates the parents and makes their efforts to resist the violence harder. Parent’s loneliness increases their stress and makes it harder for parents to maintain self-control and remain nonviolent. Hiding the violence makes the parent an accomplice in their child’s misbehavior.
Those who are invited into the support network, and told about the child’s aggressive behavior, are able to offer their help according to their available time, ability, and interest. Support network members are asked to make contact with the child to let the child know they now know about what has been going on. Those with a personal relationship with the child are encouraged to meet alone with the child to talk. The most important role is often helping parents adequately meet the need for increased supervision. Home visits are strongly encouraged.
Another important part of this approach is admitting to and making up for past mistakes. Admitting we were wrong takes strength and courage. It creates a positive example for the child to follow. It can play a crucial role in helping rebuild the parent-child relationship. It teaches the child the importance of making amends for his or her mistakes. Often a letter of apology is used to clearly take responsibility for past mistakes, define how amends will be made, and clearly define how things will be handled differently going forward.
Instead of responding immediately to unacceptable behavior, parents are encouraged to delay their response. This helps keep things from getting out of control. The parent has time to think things through and enlist support. When the parent says, “I refuse to accept this behavior, I will think about what steps to take and get back to you later,” the parent expands the sense of supervision and presence they have with the child. When the parent has supporters present while calmly discussing the steps the parent has decided to take, the child is far less likely to respond aggressively.
Sit-ins are a commonly used way for parents to reclaim their parental power. Sit-ins are planned with the support network in response to unacceptable behavior. Parents enter the child’s room when the child is present, sometimes with network members present or on the phone with them, and they have all the time they need to carry out the sit-in. They clearly describe the unacceptable behavior and let the child know they cannot ignore it or continue living with it. They let the child know they need a solution and they will leave the room when they have one. Then they calmly wait for the child to come up with a solution. Once the child comes up with a solution, they accept it and leave the room. If the solution doesn’t work, the parent can always conduct another sit-in. Similarly, if the child doesn’t come up with a solution in the time the parent and support network have available, the parent can always give the child time to think about a solution, and if necessary, come back for another sit-in later.
Parents and support network members are encouraged to use a notebook to accurately describe both negative incidents and positive actions on the child’s part. Keep the negative separate from the positive. When the negative behaviors disappear, rip out the descriptions of them and throw them away. Keep the positive stuff. The more pleasant moments, positive opinions, fondly remembered events, photos, and celebrations, the better. Unless the child will damage the notebook, leave it in a place where the child can see it and look at it.