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Wow, what a day.  Where to begin?

Well, firstly I really appreciated the personal welcome extended to all of us by the workshop organiser, Jan Olthof, and later our facilitators, Michaela Fried and Dan Dolberger.  Introductions over coffee followed in the striking surroundings of the Lumiere (a former ceramics factory and now art-house cinema) and it wasn’t long before I was feeling right at home.

Our first session opened with Dan addressing the macro-political dimensions of NVR.  Dan asked us to consider his working-definition of politics as the acquisition and distribution of power and, more specifically, the power to shape ‘truth’.   Dan proposed that the reality of ‘truth’ is shaped or ultimately enforced through the threat or use of violence.  This can be played out at the macro-level of society through the application of institutions or organisation’s policies or procedures and the micro-level of the family through such things as who sits at ‘the head of the table’; or tells others ‘how things should be done’; or chooses what types of pizza are ordered on a Friday night.  Recognising that the family is a political place challenges parents, carers and the professionals who work with them to address the thorny issue of who has the right to use power and on what basis.

As most parents discover, children ask fundamental and legitimate questions about the nature of parental authority: why do you have the right to tell me what to do?  What is the basis of your authority?  What will you do to me if I don’t do what you tell me to do?  It is with these questions that Dan led us in to topic of our second session, the political crisis facing the post-modern family.

Dan acknowledged that traditional forms of authority struggle to answer these questions adequately but cautioned against rubbishing them entirely.  After all, aren’t we shaped by the way we were brought up by our parents or carers and we’ve turned out alright, haven’t we? 🙂  Whatever you view, reliance on traditional forms of authority ‘where might makes right’ are increasingly being challenged within Western liberal democracies.  This is no less true for the family where the laissez faire alternatives of the 60s and 70s have also been discredited for their over reliance on the self regulating child.  Enter the New Authority: its mission to restore legitimacy to parents, carers and communities through the principles and practice of non-violent resistance.

It was clearly time for lunch.

After sandwiches Dan was ably assisted by Michaela in presenting us with the NVR transformation model. This is tricky to summarise but I’ll try and paraphrase by saying that it’s about parents and carers reversing feelings of helplessness and despair (referred to as erasure) in favour of self-control and connectedness (presence).  If parents and carers are able to admit to feeling powerless, accept that they cannot control their child’s behaviour and start to resist the most damaging aspects of their child’s behaviour from a position of strength rather than force then their child is likely to start to ‘seeing’ or responding to them.

The tools that parents and carers use to achieve this goal occupied the last 90 minutes of our day together.  I have to admit to flagging at this point and becoming overly preoccupied with ‘politely insisting’ upon videoing a role play of the announcement.  Nevertheless, I recall being walked through the concepts of red, green and yellow baskets (simplifying complex behaviour by categorising and prioritising it in to different types), supporters (‘it takes a village to raise a child’) and the announcement (a unilateral declaration by the parents of their commitment to non-violent change within the family).

So, what did I learn?  Well, it was enlightening to be guided through the origins, principles and practices of NVR by 2 colleagues so experienced in explaining the nuances of theory through practical example.  For example, I’m looking forward to sharing with parents and carers a reversal technique that shifts responsibility for solving ‘the problem’ from the parent or carer to the child by responding to a child’s question of “why not?” with “why yes?”.

I often hear colleagues, parents and carers catastrophising about the future so it was useful to be reminded that I should consciously resist ‘drowning in parent’s helplessness’ at the start of an intervention or at the point when parents become fearful of the consequences of meaningful change.  Living with uncertainty is a fact of life and, as Dan noted, this so-called cat and mouse questioning often means that something simple is being overlooked.

Finally, no NVR training session would be complete without a few phrases so here is a selection of my favourites:

  • Starke Staff Macht – Strength instead of force (I am on the continent after all!)
  • Perseverance rather than victory
  • Authority rather than permissivness
  • Renouncing the illusion of control over others is disappointing, but also very liberating…
  • Parents have to be the boundary
  • Parents who learn to anchor – anchor the child
  • What can you do? (said whilst gesturing with your hands)

Cups of coffee consumed: 14