Two years ago, our granddaughter was a bright and happy nine year old. Then, seventeen months ago she began to get tummy pains. Visits both to her GP and then the hospital were unable to identify a physical cause or give her pain relief. The pains were put down to a physical manifestation of anxiety. Her anxiety increased as did her tummy pains and spasms. A subsequent referral to CAMHS resulted in a report identifying “anxiety” and “complex needs” but not in any immediate treatment or support. The family were left to cope on their own.
Our granddaughter became withdrawn and angry because she felt that nobody believed that she had tummy pains, and she felt let down by her mother and by us because neither we nor the doctors were making her better. Her anxiety increased further and she became verbally and physically abusive to family members, particularly her mother, and destructive to the family home and contents. In a quieter moment, she described herself as a monster and scared of what she had become.
Along with our daughter, we experienced verbal and physical abuse. During this period we drew on every parenting skill and strategy we knew, but to little or no avail with the abuse escalating to a point where we could see no way out.
A new approach.
We were at rock bottom emotionally after a year of trying to cope, feeling useless at not being able to help either our daughter or our granddaughter and extremely sad and worried about how we were all going to be able to carry on to get through this horrendous situation.
On the recommendation of a psychiatrist, my daughter contacted PartnershipProjects UK Ltd and a home visit was arranged. It was at this meeting we met our “knight in shining armour”, but to be more correct it was our “dame in shining armour” Rachael Aylmer, an Accredited NVR Practitioner.
It was an emotion-laden meeting as here was someone saying “I can help you through this”, someone who could give us the skills we would need as carers to interact with our granddaughter in order to support her to reassess her violent and abusive behaviours.
NVR, Non-Violent Resistance was, at first, an alien concept to us and counterintuitive to the ways we had parented our own two daughters. The aim, we were informed, was to increase our parental presence through, for example, not escalating situations by shouting or arguing, finger-wagging, using threats, sanctions or loss of privileges. We learnt to say less when confronted and not to respond in any way which could be perceived as violent in its widest sense, for example if being threatened we responded by saying “violence is not acceptable” and then moving away from the situation to a “safe” space until the situation was calmer and her anger had subsided. We soon realised that the purpose of the threat of violence or actual violence towards us was to provoke a negative reaction, and when we did not respond in a way that escalated the situation it took that purpose away. We began to deliver messages of concern once the situation was calm, by using a positive/negative/positive sandwich approach to reinforce that the bad behaviour was not acceptable but at the same time to let her know she had our unconditional love and that we would always be there for her whatever.
These first few weeks were especially difficult for us as we did not see any immediate change in our granddaughter’s behaviour if anything it got worse. Some self-doubt crept in, but with the continued support and encouragement from Rachael, our resolve to work within the NVR framework strengthened. Over time we developed our NVR parenting techniques as we understood what was required of us, and we became more confident that what we were doing was having a positive effect.
Rachael gave us the time and space to analyse and talk through how we had handled situations and to recharge our batteries with positive, practical support. We made mistakes, mishandled situations from time to time, let situations escalate when they should not have – no one is perfect – but with guidance from Rachael we learned from our mistakes. As our confidence grew, so the anxiety we experienced each week prior to looking after our granddaughter lessened.
Over the last six months our granddaughter’s behaviour has improved, the house is no longer being trashed, her anger is more controlled and the violence towards us is much decreased and still getting less, she is communicating better with family members, laughing and smiling, and eating meals with the family, she is attending school again and engaging in school activities. She has recognised she has a problem with anger and eating and is now getting help. Although not in total control of her emotions yet, given more time, care, understanding, support and unconditional love, we are sure she will find herself again.
Looking back the past eighteen months have been a difficult period for us, initially watching our granddaughter changing from a bright, happy, confident and sociable young girl, withdrawing into herself; believing that no one believed her tummy pains and that everyone was useless as they could not cure them made us as grandparents feel useless and unhappy. Then, as her behaviour became unpredictable, trashing the house and violent towards her mother, sister and us, we were at our lowest not knowing what was going to happen next but at the same time, we knew that we could not give up on her. The situation caused stress in our relationship with each other as husband and wife, something we had not experienced before.
NVR offered us a way forward that no one else had been able to provide, a ray of hope when we were at our lowest emotionally. Life with NVR has been a roller coaster of emotions, as we saw positive changes in behaviour our spirits rose, then there would be setbacks and our confidence waned. We learned to look for the positives rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of our granddaughter’s journey; this attitude and mindset helped us and continues to help us persevere with the NVR way. Having a common understanding with our daughter about where we are going and how we are going to get there has meant that we have been able to support each other and brought us closer together as a family.