An email to the RTE Radio 1 show, read out by Ryan Tubridy on 30th April, expressed a mother’s despair and sense of helplessness over her 9-year-old son’s behaviour towards her: “I wonder if it’s possible to admit that you can’t help your child … It’s extremely difficult to talk to people about it… You feel like you have failed your child… like it’s your fault, you’ve done something to create this.” Despite assessments, medication, therapy, courses, and other support, the violence towards her continues and she feels as if there is nothing left she can do. Reading the transcript from the show, it is easy to share the sense of helplessness. Where do you turn when all the traditional methods have led nowhere?
The email prompted a call to the show from Madeleine Connelly, senior social worker and family therapist. She highlighted the importance of parents feeling able to say they have come to the end of the road – without then being subject to shaming and judgemental responses. Talking about the abuse; ‘pressing the pause button’ – choosing to respond to a crisis at a later moment; and finding a support network, were then described by her as powerful steps to take as reported by the parents themselves. Finally, she stressed the importance of separating the behaviour from the child, with an expression much used in the practice of Non-Violent Resistance – the child is not the problem – the problem is the problem. “What we do is encourage parents to see the behaviour as an uninvited guest or an infection, that it’s not the child, it’s a behaviour, to separate it out. The problem is the problem, it’s not the child, and that helps parents to look at different ways of seeing the problem and then working together with the child.”
Working together with the child to overcome the issues – since we should not assume the child is happy with the situation – and offering hope in an apparently hopeless situation, two strong messages to take away!