Non-Violent Resistance: the story so far

Of the different techniques and programmes in place to work with parents experiencing abuse from their children, the one we seem to hear least about (at least in the UK) is Non-Violent Resistance. As part of the EU-funded research into effective methods of work with families, Paula Wilcox of the University of Brighton has been examining evidence for this programme. Non-Violent Resistance was first developed in Israel and later adapted by a team led by Declan Coogan in Ireland. In this piece, written specifically for Holes in the Wall, Declan Coogan gives a brief introduction to its methods, use and effectiveness.

The Non Violent Resistance (NVR) Programme – Supporting Parents and Practitioners Responding to Child to Parent Violence. Declan Coogan, May 2013.

Child to Parent Violence – An emerging and sensitive issue.

Child to parent violence is a very sensitive issue, one of the biggest taboos in family life and is a growing social problem with broad implications for research, policy and practice with families and individuals (Tew & Nixon 2010; Coogan 2011; Hong et al 2012, Wilcox 2012). Clinical practice experience and conversations with mental health practitioners also suggest that the aggressive behaviour of children and adolescents towards their parents is an increasing concern for practitioners working in children and family services in community. It seems, for example, that although the initial referral to an out-patient child and adolescent mental health service for assessment and intervention may be related to concerns about ADHD, depression or out-of-control behaviours, more parents are beginning to talk with embarrassment and fear about their experiences of being the target of their child’s physical and emotional aggression and violence in their homes.

The Non Violent Resistance Programme – A Positive Response to Child to Parent Violence.

But where there is good support in place, there are grounds for optimism that the problem of violence within the family can be overcome, that positive relationships between parents and children can be re-established and that parent responses to children can be adopted to reinforce positive change as children grow and develop (Bonnick 2012; Coogan 2012). The Non Violent Resistance Programme (NVR) is one way of responding to the needs of parents and practitioners to find effective ways facing the dilemmas of child to parent violence.

While working as part of a multi-disciplinary Child and Adolescent Mental Health Out-Patient Team in Dublin in 2008, Declan Coogan and other members of the team noticed that some parents were beginning to talk about their experiences of living in fear of their child due to their son or daughter’s violent and controlling behaviour. Some of these families had attended family counselling, parenting courses or individual counselling for their children but parents reported that these did not seem to help. With the support of the clinical team and of Haim Omer (who first developed the Non Violent Resistance Programme with his colleagues in Tel Aviv, Israel: see Omer 2004, Weinblatt & Omer 2008), Declan Coogan adapted the Non Violent Resistance programme for use initially in Ireland with promising and positive responses from families.

The interest of practitioners in the Non Violent Resistance Programme led to the development of a 2 day training programme for practitioners working with families based on the principles of the Non Violent Resistance Programme. This programme has been delivered to practitioners throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland over the last 3 years. As part of an EU funded project led by Paula Wilcox at the University of Brighton, training for practitioners in the Non Violent Resistance Programme takes place in the Claremont Hotel, Second Avenue, Hove on the 20th and 21st of May 2013.

What is the Non Violent Resistance Programme?

The Non Violent Resistance (NVR) Programme is a brief, systemic and cognitive behavioural response to child to parent violence. It aims to empower & support parents/ carers in preventing and responding to the violent and controlling behaviour of children and teenagers. The 2 day training programme in NVR raises practitioner awareness about the nature & extent of child to parent violence and increases skills in responding to this problem. Building on the existing knowledge and skills of participants, this training programme helps participants further develop their confidence and skills in working with parents/ carers living with the harsh realities of child to parent violence.

Practitioners trained in NVR have increased confidence in assisting parents/ carers talk openly about violence in their home, commit to non-violence and resistance, develop de-escalation skills, avail of a support network and develop effective responses to child to parent violence.

Empowering Parents and Practitioners

The Non Violent Resistance Programme is a way of working with parents/ carers that addresses power dynamics within the family. Using the Non Violent Resistance approach, practitioners can empower parents and carers through a re-discovery of parental authority and competence, as parents/ carers develop skills such as de-escalation techniques, non violent resistance and self control strategies and through the recruitment of the support network. It is not the only response (for alternative approaches see Gallagher 2004 & 2008 and Sheehan 1997) but it is a response to the problem of child to parent violence that seems to empower parents to develop the skills and supports necessary to bring an end to violence while enhancing the immediate protection and safety needs of family members.

Responses of Previous Participants at the 2 Day Non Violent Resistance Training Programme.

“The NVR programme is very empowering…it breaks the cycle and is relatively simple to carry out”. (Children and Families Social Worker)

“The 2 days were very informative. I enjoyed the training—it was very positive and there was lots of open discussion. (Women’s Refuge Worker).

“Child to parent violence is on the increase…an effective response like NVR is critical as the consequences of child to parent violence can be severe” . (Family Welfare Conference Practitioner).

Note: there is no charge for attending the 2 day training programme for practitioners for work with parents/ carers at the Claremont Hotel, Hove on the 20th and 21st of May 2013 but it is essential that anyone interested in attending reserve a place by contacting Sara Fisher, Integrated Team for Families Support Officer, Stronger Families Stronger Communities, Brighton and Hove City Council on 01273 290 477.

A further two days training on the 22nd and 23rd of May 2013 focuses on the Break 4 Change Model developed in Brighton and Hove for work with young people who use child to parent violence. This training is also delivered as part of the EU funded project led by Paula Wilcox at the University of Brighton and places may also be reserved by contacting Sara Fisher, whose details are noted above.

Declan Coogan is a lecturer in the Masters of Arts in Social Work Programme in the School of Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland, Galway. He was awarded a Masters in Social Work from the Queens University of Belfast before practising as a social worker in child protection and welfare and in child and adolescent mental health services for fourteen years. He is also a registered family therapist (Family Therapy Association of Ireland).


Bonnick, H (2012) Parent Abuse – Connecting the Dots. Professional Social Work. July/ August 2012: 26-27.

Coogan, D (2011) Child to parent violence: Challenging perspectives on family violence. Child Care in Practice. Vol. 17, No. 4: 347-358.

Coogan, D (2012) Marking the boundaries – when troublesome becomes abusive and children cross a line in family violence. Feedback – the Journal of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland. July 2012: 74-86.

Gallagher, E (2004) Youth who victimise their parents. Australia New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy. Vol. 25, No.2: 94-105.

Gallagher, E (2008) Children’s violence to parents: a critical literature review. Unpublished masters thesis, Monash University.

Hong, J S, Kral, M J, Espelage, D L & Allen-Meares, P (2012) The social ecology of adolescent-initiated parent abuse: a review of the literature. Child Psychiatry and Human Development. Vol. 43: 431-454.

Omer, H (2004) Nonviolent Resistance – A New Approach to Violent and Self Destructive Children. Cambridge UK. Cambridge University Press.

Sheehan, M (1997) Adolescent Violence – Strategies, Outcomes and Dilemmas in Working with Young People and their Families. Australia New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (ANZJFT). Vol. 18, No.2: 80-91.

Weinblatt, U & Omer H (2008) Non-violent Resistance: a treatment for parents of children with acute behaviour problems. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Vol. 34. No. 1: 75-92

Wilcox, P (2012) Is Parent Abuse a Form of Domestic Violence? Social Policy & Society, Vol. 11, No.2: 277-288


Filed under Discussion, Training opportunities

3 responses to “Non-Violent Resistance: the story so far

  1. Jun Sung Hong

    Thank you for citing and posting my article!

  2. NVR therapy/coaching for parents is available in the UK. We provide services in London, Birmingham/Midlands and in East-and West Sussex.

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