Supporting families that experience Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour

Supporting families that experience Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour


I thought I’d write a wee blog to answer the specific question of supporting parents that experience Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB) at home as this was one of the themes that came out of questions on the blog.

The edges of school’s daily support for many children often bleeds into family homes and the behaviour of children in the home, when extreme, like this can be one of theses instances. Teachers and staff find distressed parents and carers at the classroom door with stories recounted of what had happened the night before, over the weekend or during the holidays. Stories of verbal and physical aggression, conflict, violence and more are recounted by dishevelled and desperate adults.

So, what should you do? What can you do? Staff are left with limited choices and a range of concerns sometime including safeguarding when behaviour has escalated to the point of parents holding or restraining children.

Like most matters involving families and humans the issues are complex, nuanced and often very specific. The possible causes are legion, so what do you do in that moment at the classroom door?

Families are often realistic about the complexity of the issues and aren’t looking for some magic parenting formulae from any professionals, more often than not they’re looking for a basic human response. When I asked parents what they wanted in the 2018 Child On Parent Violence And Aggression Survey they were clear in their response, they wanted:

1. Professionals to understand and appreciate what Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour actually is.

The underlying causes of violent and aggressive behaviour can be too complex to coral into a simple answer. Biology, experiences and parenting models all have an influence on children and their behaviour. Read up, listen, learn and develop your knowledge what it looks like and what are the causes. (click here)

2. Professionals to engage in active listening rather than ‘listening but not hearing’ when parent/ carers raise CPVA as an issue within the home.

We can all tell when people, including professionals, aren’t listening to us rather just waiting to their turn to tell you what they’re rehearsing in their heads while you talk. I’m sure that I don’t have to convince you of the therapeutic value of being listening, it communicates that you’re valued, you’re believed, you matter and there’s a chance that you’ll help.

3. Professional decision making based on information and knowledge rather than presumption.

Parenting/caring for complex children who display violent and aggressive behaviour impacts on family dynamics. Parents can look for ways out and try to placate children leading to permissive parenting or in an attempt to gain or regain control parents become increasingly authoritarian drawing red lines that lead to conflict. Both styles can be problematic but represent a strategy to avoid conflict, however in of themselves they can be a cause of conflict. We need to look closer and ask the right questions, understanding history, biology and influences on the home are essential. Talking to parents and carers living with violence and aggression my advice is always let people know what is going on, how often, how violent and what you did. School staff can support that by being one part of that jigsaw that holds that information and if necessary or appropriate sharing it with others to add support and safety for the children and adults in the home.

4. Professionals to act rather than talk about CPVA, they require professionals not only to advise them of options but do follow through discussions and ensure decisions are acted.

A light touch and empathy are essential and more importantly it’s not often the place of schools to intervene in the complex dynamics at home. That said, school staff are realistically the front line of all interactions with children and their families. You are the first to listen, wipe the tears, offer advice and raise concerns. The specialist support that families need is often not available and family systems can be brought to the point of breakdown by challenging, violent and aggressive behaviour from children. You can offer basic support to children and adults and offer empathy and compassion.

I’d recommend this excellent Blog from Yvonne Newbold that may also offer some additional resources and insight.

“Empathy is a skill like any other human skill. If you get a chance to practice, you can get better at it.” Professor Simon Baron Cohen

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  • Sarah

    Thank you so much Al for this blog. I agree that caregivers are looking for a human response and to be listened to, this is the case for them all but particularly important when there is CCVAB at home and/or school. I know from my experience children can be two very different personas at home and school, empathy and understanding is the key and building trusting relationships. Hopefully one day the ethos of education, fingers crossed.