Watching the most recent series from Channel 5 about child to parent violence recently, Violent Child, Desperate Parents, I’ve been struck by the principle underlying the therapist, Mandy Saligari’s work: Be Curious.
Read or listen to the discussions around the programme, or follow particular communities on twitter, and you’ll be familiar with the common assumptions about what’s behind the abuse. Parents too soft, giving them everything they want, they just need boundaries, parents have given up, the parents don’t give a damn. Of course, they do give a damn which is why they are taking the almighty step of exposing their lives to general opprobrium via this popular medium, but that seems to be overlooked.
The first episode followed Damian and his son Jack – who was literally walking all over him and described by Mandy as the worst example of behaviour in a child that age she had seen. At first glance we saw an exhausted parent, drained completely of energy, hope and self respect, valiantly trying to parent a nine year old son but without apparently ever saying No, or building in any consequences. Later we heard that he avoided this because it set the day up to be even worse.
In “being curious” Mandy looks at how Damian has come to adopt this parenting approach, and how his own experience of being parented affects his style. She does offer concrete advice – don’t disappear for a fag when it all calms down – and designs a programme which enables the pair of them to do something positive together, but her concern is also to rebuild the father’s self esteem because it is only through re-establishing an appropriate power balance in the family that harmony can be restored. After three months of support we learn that there has been an amazing transformation. Things aren’t perfect, “because we are human”, but the difference in the relationship and behaviour should bring encouragement to any parent in that situation.
Episode 2 followed Hazel with her 6 children, including 8 year old Jordan who apparently rules the roost, terrorising his five siblings, punching his mum, and trashing the furniture. Again, Mandy’s “curiosity” led her approach. I think the thing that really resonated here with me was the importance of support for parents. Whether it is the emotional safety net of knowing that someone cares for you as an individual, or the very practical support of help with childcare and direction, parenting is not a task for an isolated individual in any situation. Being able to ask for help, to be believed, to be valued in yourself are the foundations in effecting change and restoration of healthy family relationships.
There are two further episodes of this series, which will be broadcast later in the year. In the meantime, the importance of not making assumptions, of asking questions, of being curious, is one which must resonate with each of us, across all areas of work.