The title of this post is a fairly new suggested term, if you like, proposed to replace what used to be known as CPV – Child to Parent Violence. This post isn’t so much about what we call the thing though, but about the thing itself.
I want to be open about CCVAB because hiding it behind closed doors doesn’t help anybody. I suspect many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit it goes on. I know many families have a much larger and more frequent struggle than ourselves but there have certainly been times when I haven’t known what to do and when I’ve felt deeply worried about the future.
When Little Bear first arrived in our lives he was three and half. He was somewhat prone to getting a bit fighty from the get-go but, newly thrown into the maelstrom of adoption, I wasn’t too sure what to call what we were experiencing. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about CPV, because I did, but more that I didn’t really know if the fairly low-level violence we experienced counted. My confusion was two-fold. Firstly, I think it took me a long time to fully admit the level of challenge we were living with to myself. I read many accounts of adoption and saw that what some other families had to deal with was horrendous. I would never have described our conditions as such and certainly felt that any aggression we saw was milder or less extreme in comparison. It would only be later that I would see that I was comparing us to the extreme end of a minority group. If I compared us to the majority of typically developing families, I would see that aggression and violence from children is not most people’s ‘normal’.
Secondly, I wondered whether a bit of hitting and biting and the like was ‘normal’ (ish) as a part of toddler development and typical boundary testing.
Last week, when I tried to deliver nearly seven year old Little Bear to school and he decided he didn’t want to go in because the ice looked more interesting than his classroom and when I tried to suggest otherwise, he punched me and kicked me and tried to head butt my face and when I asked him to stop hitting me, he looked me in the eye and hit me again, I had to concede, that, yeah, we most likely do experience CCVAB at our house.
Thankfully, it is not a regular visitor, as it is for some. It was, in the early days. It was kind of par for the course – it’s bizarre how quickly you can accept these things as ‘normal’. But, now, it’s rare. In fact, up until last week, I would pretty much have said it had been eradicated. When it re-appears, it can be quite shocking. I mean, what exactly are you supposed to do when your little darling tries to batter you in the playground? I’m still considerably bigger than him, thankfully, so he didn’t hurt me but I felt acutely embarrassed that other people were around to see. When it isn’t something you are practised at dealing with, it sends you swiftly onto the back foot. I probably wasn’t as therapeutic as I could have been but I didn’t give him a clip around the ear (as I quite fancied) either. I have never and would never hit him (just to be clear) but God, I’ve felt like it – and who wouldn’t? I suppose anyone under attack goes into fight/flight/freeze/flop and as you can’t exactly run away from your child on the school run, fight comes quite naturally. I think, as a grown up in charge of child with CCVAB, the hardest thing is quelling your natural urge to defend yourself.
As the incident occurred I was livid: that kind of behaviour is not acceptable, even if it has a very valid reason behind it. For me, no matter what else is going on, if there is violence or aggression happening, that immediately becomes my priority to sort out, with everything else becoming ignorable. I have no doubt that if we didn’t make sure we put a stop to CCVAB, Little Bear would feel less and less safe and more and more out of control and it would only perpetuate his need to be aggressive. I know there is a lot of talk about consequences and whether we should give them to children with developmental trauma/ attachment issues or not. But for me, personally, violence is not something I can ignore and we do give consequences.
Preferably, that consequence would be a natural one. I was pretty certain that when Little Bear had been able to calm down, he would feel bad about what had happened and sometimes, that is enough. A few times, Little Bear has hurt me and immediately I have seen his little face change and almost read the thought passing through his mind of ‘why on earth did I just do that to Mum?’ On those occasions, I’ve barely finished yelping when he apologises and starts to cry. In those situations, nothing else is needed, apart from an ‘it’s ok, I think you might have done that because of x or y’, a ‘Mum still loves you’ and a cuddle.
However, on this particular occasion, Little Bear wasn’t sorry. He was still annoyed that I hadn’t let him play in the ice and apparently he hated me. That did little to assuage my annoyance, which had coloured the entirety of my day (CCVAB has a way of doing that).
It was time to step it up to a logical consequence. I like a logical consequence because it matches the incident and often, I find, taps into the underlying reasons that have caused Little Bear to feel the need to lash out in the first place. That probably makes little sense as a standalone statement so I’ll try to explain.
Because I was so mad and because it was the biggest incident we’ve ever experienced at drop off and I wanted him to understand the severity of it, I very kindly came up with three logical consequences. The first was that Little Bear was no longer allowed to go to school on his scooter. This fed into two which was that as Little Bear evidently wasn’t coping with having freedom in the playground or on the school run, he would now need to hold my hand throughout that time. He was showing me, through his behaviour, that he couldn’t cope with the demands of having to come back when asked at the moment so I would help him with that by keeping him close. Whilst he wasn’t going to like this and would far rather have gone on his scooter, the consequence was designed to make the situation easier for him – it was both unwanted (by him) and therapeutic if that makes any sense at all*.
The third consequence was both natural and logical. As Little Bear was causing a spectacle with the hitting and the refusing to get off the ice, I had looked across the playground to where Big Bear was standing, alone, patiently waiting and I realised that not only was Little Bear’s behaviour unpleasant for me and him, but it wasn’t fair on Big Bear, who routinely pays the price of having to walk around to his classroom on his own because I am too busy trying to wrestle Little Bear into his. I didn’t ask for CCVAB, but Big Bear certainly didn’t and I was guilty of getting things wrong if the one who wouldn’t behave appropriately was getting more attention than the one who always quietly gets on with what is asked. Therefore, the third consequence would be that we would drop Big Bear off first every day, instead of theoretically taking turns (I say theoretically because Big Bear’s turn is often sabotaged by Little Bear). That way, there would be no impact on Big Bear even if Little Bear continued to behave as he had.
Little Bear was not pleased with his consequences and he was not sorry. However, the next morning, he accepted the new arrangement and has arrived at school willing to enter his classroom without a battle every day since.
Although I am clearly not averse to using consequences (carefully – what would a banned IPad or grounding have achieved?), I do not believe in using consequences alone to tackle CCVAB. I don’t believe that any child wants to hurt their grown-ups or siblings and no matter how annoyed or upset we are, we need to look beyond the hurting to understand what’s causing it. As last week’s behaviour was so out of the ordinary for Little Bear, I knew something must have triggered it. It came within a wider picture of increased aggressive incidents/fighting in school and tricky episodes of behaviour at home. Nothing specific had happened or changed so it was difficult to figure out, but I knew I had to keep wondering.
Eventually, after being woken several times in the night by Little Bear and noticing he was struggling to fall asleep and waking earlier and earlier, we figured out he was having a recurring nightmare. Apparently it was about a monster that killed us all. Everything began to make sense: Little Bear was frightened of losing us and all the old attachment issues had been well and truly triggered. He may as well push us all away because we’d leave anyway – that whole joyful scenario.
We have tackled the nightmare issue head-on with the help of Neon the Nightmare Ninja, a fabulous book by Dr. Treisman. It really seems to be helping and though Little Bear is still finding it hard to fall asleep, the CCVAB seems to have disappeared again and he is sleeping much better when he finally drifts off.
I am no longer complacent about CCVAB. I don’t suppose it has gone forever. There are times when the idea of it recurring when he is 10, 15 or 20 terrifies me. There will clearly come a time when he can hurt me and I’m not quite sure what I should do about that, other than hoping that all the therapeutic work that we do on an ongoing basis will be enough to take away the need for CCVAB. I may be fooling myself, but where’s the use in fretting?
I have never been on a course about NVR (non-violent resistance) but when I’ve read about it, I think we use quite a few of the principles of it. I have always been conscious, since my days working as a SaLT with children with complex needs, meeting families who experienced CCVAB for non-adoption related reasons, of not allowing Little Bear’s more challenging behaviours to frighten me. Some families were completely ruled by it: CCVAB powered over everything and left parents tiptoeing around their children. I have always known that, as much as possible, CCVAB needs to be kept in check and not allowed to rule. I think that if Little Bear sensed fear in the grown-ups around him, he would feel more out of control and the behaviours would worsen. It’s a very fine balance between being present and therapeutic and not standing for any nonsense. I don’t think that being therapeutic should equal accepting CCVAB (something I sometimes get the impression happens) because in my mind, it isn’t acceptable.
I understand where these behaviours come from and I hope that I’m sensitive and inquisitive about that, but I don’t want Little Bear growing up thinking his background leaves him with no other choice but to behave in this way. There are other choices available to him, as there are to everybody else, and though I acknowledge it is likely to be harder for him, he needs to know that he can make different choices and he can learn to control himself. If I were to leave his CCVAB unchecked and not explain to him why it isn’t okay and not try to shape his behaviour differently, he would never learn this.
Sometimes, even if there is no physical aggression, Little Bear attempts to threaten us in other ways. He might say, “If you don’t do x or y, I’m going to get really mad” or “if you don’t let me have so and so, I won’t do anything you say”. We make a point of never giving in to such threats because I don’t want to reinforce the idea that that’s how you get what you want in life. A child who threatens and hits is one thing; an adult quite another.
More than anything, Little Bear is not a violent or aggressive boy and I don’t want him growing up feeling the CCVAB defines him. He is complex and cheeky and gorgeous and kind and gentle and so many other things that are belied by the label of CCVAB.
I’m not arguing about the labelling of the thing (the thing is there whatever we call it). I think I’m just saying that though it exists, we shouldn’t have to accept it – for ourselves or for our children.
*I should say that I also think children deserve second chances. If Little Bear is sensible in the playground in the next days, I will give him another chance to have more freedom and even go on his scooter. I’ll only do that if I think there’s a good chance of success – I don’t want to set him up to fail.