Parenting a Violent Child: book review

What do you do if you are a parent experiencing violence and abuse from your child but there is no help available where you live? So many parents speak of a lack of understanding from non-specialists, and regular parenting groups that can make the situation worse rather than better. Up until now the only recourse might have been to online message boards, helplines or friends. Now there is a “virtual group” in the shape of a step-by-step guide to understanding behaviours that can hinder or help the restoration of a healthy family relationship.

Parenting a Violent Child by Islay Downey (who featured in the Channel 5 series My Violent Child), and Kim Furnish, offers us the experiences of six parents from five families attending a twelve week course to help them tackle the issue of child to parent violence; and “in a loving way, to take back control and rekindle the joy of being a family”. The book is scripted as a series of weekly sessions and so it feels very accessible and the reader engages with the individuals as real people rather than simply reading a textbook guide.

The families come with a range of histories and make up (so there is a range of people to identify with), but all share the experience of living with a violent child; and we witness their shared despair and increasing joy each week as they return to report on the success of the techniques they have learned. Faced with an angry and violent child, it can seem an uphill struggle to bring about change. Recognising that we have control only over our own behaviour, Islay and Kim encourage the group members – and the reader – to see how making changes themselves can affect how others respond. With an emphasis on understanding our own behaviours and where they are rooted, we are lead towards a more assertive, empathetic and sensitive style of parenting. Issues of past trauma and attachment are explored and their contribution explained. The importance of self-care and maintaining a good support network features throughout. The book concludes with a reminder of tools for both de-escalation and maintenance.

Islay and Kim have produced this book from their combined 25 years of experience facilitating groups and workshops for families where the issue of child to parent violence has come up time and time again, and so my admission of some initial scepticism might seem a little churlish, though as I read on I began to understand better what was being offered. By necessity the ‘weekly’ offerings can seem brief at times, but there is room for the individual reader to take things further. Some of the concepts I found a little complicated, to be explained in this manner, and I am not sure that the ‘course’ would meet the needs of families experiencing extreme violence, or where a child has additional needs or issues. One of the key elements in bringing about change was the support of other group members and the two facilitators. It would be important to find encouragement to compensate for this. Nevertheless, for many families where nothing else exists, or where parents struggle to attend, this is an inspired way of bringing support to where it is needed.

As the group comes toward its ending, the various members reflect on what they have learned and how they want to keep coming – and even start over again. Well now you can! Sometimes suggestions don’t make sense immediately but we understand them in retrospect, and with a tool such as this a parent can turn right back to page one and take the course afresh.

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