Local parent, researcher and writer, Maddie Wallace, continues her daily diary describing the experience first, of self-isolating, and now of being in lockdown with her children in Southsea. We’re at Day 73, and Maddie goes back to basics using Non Violent Resistance techniques, after an incident where her parenting hacks go out the window.
Three years ago, while I was working for a training company with local government provision to run parenting services, I learnt the basics of becoming an NVR practitioner. NVR (Non-Violent Resistance) is possibly the best thing I’ve ever learnt as a parent. It’s a complete game changer and I’ve been using it ever since.
NVR is based on the thinking of Gandhi and started out as a parenting strategy to help manage children who use violence to control and dominate the household, but it’s now being used for autism, anxiety, OCD… anything where a child’s behaviours are overriding the flow of the home.
It’s nothing to do with the child either. NVR is about teaching the parent how to stop the escalating behaviours before they become violent by focusing on the problem as the problem, not the child. It’s about not getting caught up in the heat of the moment but speaking to children much later and letting them know the behaviour is unacceptable, when they’ve cooled down. It’s learning how to increase your presence. It requires the acceptance that you can’t control anyone else in this world, only yourself, so dealing with problems is not about dominating, it’s about resisting behaviours firmly. Without violence. Shouting counts as verbal violence.
When I said I’ve been using NVR ever since learning it’s beautiful, magical witchery, I meant most of the time. Because I’m a human being too, and sometimes we all mess up. And sometimes my children decide to push all of my buttons at the same time, and with such ferocity, that I forget all about raising my parental presence and preventing escalation and I sink into shouting along with them. It’s rare, but it does happen.
I did that Tuesday evening. The quiz was moved to a different day. S and Z had been to their dad’s for the weekend and were on the tail end of completing their transition back into our home dynamic, and all three of them were readjusting to their hierarchal household sibling order. This means lots of unnecessary bickering, tussles for authority and dominance between S and A, (she believes that at five she knows more than him, and when it turns out he can still outsmart her, she screams). I put my headset on to try and hear the questions and reduce the noise outputs coming from my faulty child units. The quiz team muted my microphone to drown out the noise of S laughing and A screeching that he’d looked at her funny, while Z was doing the washing up in the kitchen to the loudest (and crappiest) chart music I’ve possibly ever heard. Christ, I’m getting old. I sound like my mother.
I had to give up when I’d missed three questions in a row simply because I couldn’t hear them amidst all the chaos. All my training and three years of NVR practice went out the window.
I even thought, as I stamped up the stairs shouting ‘I JUST WANTED ONE NIGHT TO PLAY A QUIZ WITH MY FRIENDS’ that I sounded like more of a child than the three of them put together. I really nailed it with ‘AND LINDSAY WAS DOING THE QUESTIONS TONIGHT TOO!’ as if that meant anything to them.
They could see I was upset though. Everyone – even me – stopped behaving like a spoilt brat and apologised. S asked me if he could help with the laundry, which I was furiously throwing into piles. It was him winding A up by looking at her funny, and her screeching had made Z turn up the volume on the Echo and sing along really loudly so he didn’t’ have to hear the pair of them anymore, and S still hadn’t put the bins out, so I think it’s fair to say he was the central core of the chaos. He clearly knew he was too.
Anyway, that doesn’t sell NVR very well, but if I’d been using NVR in that situation, I’d have stopped the quiz earlier instead of persevering, walked quietly into the kitchen, stood very tall and strong, and looked at them all in turn until they stopped what they were doing.
THIS IS HARD.
Like, really, really hard. Do you know how much it makes you want to laugh? But you can’t. You have to look neutral. Not angry. You’re not upset. You’re in control of the room. You have PRESENCE. You definitely can’t just do this; you have to learn it with a good teacher.
Do not laugh. Even though it’s hilarious.
One by one they stop as they realise you’re looking at them but not speaking. The silence and the way you look makes them uncomfortable. S and Z are more used to it because they were in a very violent stage when I began practising NVR.
‘Shut up,’ S would have said. ‘Stop singing! She’s doing that thing where she looks at us.’
This would have alerted A to the passive expression.
‘Why are you looking like that? Mum? Why are you making that face? Mum? Why are you looking like that? Mum? Why are you making that face? Mum?
It’s hard not to answer, but you wait until you have the attention of all three of them.
Then you calmly explain that they’re making too much noise and you’d appreciate it if they could tone it down.
That’s it. I could have done that, and I should have done that. But it turns out I’m a human with a breaking point too.
As a result of me stomping up the stairs the previous evening, the kids were all fabulously behaved today. They’d got their weekend apart out of their systems, they’d pushed me to a point where they felt bad about it, and they were being kind to each other. I managed the full hour of my weekly session with my mentor on Skype without interruption AND a couple of very important phone calls.
There was some trouble in paradise though. S, Z and I were eating Eton Mess in the evening as a reward for everyone’s good behaviour and Z asked S if the cat bites his arm through the blanket at night too. S explained that when Cat does that, he’s humping Z’s arm.
Z – horrified – then asked why Cat was biting, so S explained how male cats hold female cats down by their necks during intercourse. I didn’t look up, so I didn’t notice the look on his face.
‘That’s nothing compared to their barbed penises though,’ I said, shoving another strawberry in.
‘What’s barbed?’ asked Z.
Z stood up and pushed his bowl away. ‘Why would you tell me that?’ he shouted. ‘That’s disgusting! I don’t want Cat anywhere near me ever again.’
He stormed upstairs. S was trying not to cry, his body shaking with silent laughter for a good minute.
Z came and gave me a hug later.
‘Why are animals so horrible to each other?’ he asked.
I reminded him that people can be horrible too and made a mental note to re-visit consent with them as soon as possible.
If you live in Portsmouth and you’re interested in pursuing NVR as a parenting strategy, courses are currently being run by Youth Options, and I can personally vouch for the facilitators as I’ve worked with two of them. They are hands down amazing, and NVR really is a life saver and a game changer. I imagine courses will be up and running again soon, and I know a lot of parents have felt the need for something like this during lockdown
Maddie is sharing her lockdown experiences every day on S&C – you can find each day’s diary and all of Maddie’s previous articles for S&C here.