By Gill Tree; Founder of Adoption Academy
Child to parent violence and aggression (CAPVA) is often so hidden and unspoken that when parents and carers do finally speak about it, they are often not believed, are made to feel responsible or are given advice that really doesn’t help.
Parents and carers who experience Child to Parent Violence or other controlling and manipulative behaviours often feel huge shame in not being in control of their child. The reality however, is that many adults live with these challenges, often daily, leaving them feeling intense despair, frustrated, overwhelmed, helpless, depressed, fearful and hopeless.
It is estimated that as many as 3 out of 10 families experience Child to parent Violence from teenagers. Oxford University commissioned a report on the increase of this abuse during lockdown. (1)
This report focused on violence from adolescents, however violence can occur from children as young as four.
In “Child to Parent Abuse” (2) a report published in August 2022 by HM Inspectorate of Probation and written by Dr Amanda Holt; Reader in Criminology at the University of Roehampton, CAPVA is described as ‘a pattern of behaviour…which involves using verbal, financial, physical and/or emotional means to practise power and exert control over a parent...such that a parent unhealthily adapts his/her own behaviour to accommodate the child. Commonly reported abusive behaviours include name-calling, threats to harm self or others, attempts at humiliation, damage to property, theft and physical violence’.
Holt estimates 5 % of families experience CAPVA and her recent research on parricide, the first large-scale study in England and Wales, found a parent is killed by their child every 19 days. (Although the perpetrators were mainly adult children, the youngest was 11.) In these cases, there is a history of violence so early intervention is vital. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan is committed to making this a priority in London’s Violence reduction Unit.
Reported cased numbered 42000 between 2018 and 21. However may cases will remain unreported for many reasons. Holt describes a double stigma “This agonising combination of love, shame and self-blame is typical in parents experiencing child-to-parent abuse (CPA)”
There is also:
The femicide census indicates that since 2016 the number of grandmothers killed by grandsons has risen to 14% of all femicides.
Whilst CAPVA can occur in any family there are a number of common themes:
As the child gets older, the behaviour often gets worse. The parents or carers often end up treading on eggshells, fearful of rocking the boat, thereby giving the child the message that their manipulation works. It takes a huge amount of courage to take a stand against the behaviour especially where violence is involved. The adult is often understandably fearful that harm may come to a sibling or a pet. Trying to stop a violent child from hurting a younger child or pet, provides the message that the perpetrators actions have power, which encourages them to continue the behaviour.
What other behaviours are included in the category of child to parent abuse?
It is often difficult to believe a child as young as 4 or 5 can bully, control or manipulate their parent, especially if the child is well behaved outside the home, for example at school.
In the UK, our growing awareness of CAPVA has led to its recent inclusion in the new Domestic Abuse Act and the Home Office is currently updating its advice on how to tackle it. The domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs recognises that CAPVA remains an unacknowledged issue where little support is offered to families.
Many Social Workers feel helpless when a parent or carer comes asking for help with their violent child, especially when the violence is directed at them.
A referral to CAMHS is likely to be rejected and even specialist family support often lacks the training or resources to change this challenging family dynamic.
How can you know if this is an issue in a family?
This is a hidden problem that is difficult to detect unless the parent/carer is so badly hurt there are visible signs. If a child is aggressive and violent at school this may indicate that the behaviour also happens at home. Tell-tale signs could be if a parent overly excuses or rationalises a child’s behaviour.
You may also look to see if a parent is:
Questions to ask yourself:
What can Social Workers do?
One possible solution: Non-Violent Resistance
Originally practised by people like Ghandi and Rosa Parks in protesting peacefully against oppression, Non-Violent Resistance was adapted by Israeli psychologist Haim Omer and is an evidence-based approach. Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) is a simple and empowering method for families to relate with children of any age and to reduce or eradicate challenging behaviour. Lasting change can happen in just a few months for those who diligently apply the principles. Research in Israel, Germany, Belgium and the UK, indicates that NVR with families of violent children with a variety of diagnoses has a high level of efficacy in reducing violence, parental helplessness and increasing positive interactions. (3)
Why does NVR work when all else may fail?
NVR helps stop a parent feeling a victim and empowers them to make some simple changes that give a strong message to their child that they are in charge. They enlist the support of friends and family to back them up in their resolve to change the dynamic and these supporters will speak to the child regularly. This can be challenging for many reasons, but effective eg getting a boy’s football coach to speak to him regularly about his aggression.
Children who are defiant or oppositional often won't engage in therapy. The beauty of NVR is that the child does not need to engage. Instead, they quickly learn that parents/carers will no longer respond to their negative and often manipulative behaviour and through the communication model of NVR, they learn to relate and be in a relationship.
Like many parenting approaches, relationship is key- time spent ideally daily on relationship- based play/activities is vital.
NVR will empower the family to:
How families can put NVR into effect
Non-Violent Resistance whilst simple in principle, takes resolve, commitment, patience and determination to effect change. It is best if learnt gradually over time with incremental changes and successes, leading onto the next piece. At Stressed Parent, we specialise in mentoring parents of violent, aggressive and controlling children and has created an e-course with twelve units each about 30-50 minutes. Families can follow one step a week or fortnight and can always go back and revisit the material. You can see a free trial here
Israel (Lavi-Levavi, Shachar, & Omer, 2013; Weinblatt & Omer, 2008)
Germany (Oleffs, von Schlippe, Omer, & Kritz, 2009)
England (Newman, Fagan, & Webb, 2014)
Belgium (van Holen, Vanderfaeillie, & Omer, 2015)
Courageous Parents Haim Omer
About the Author
Gill taught stress management in industry for twenty years before adopting in 2011. Since 2014 she has been providing resilience training for adopters and foster carers and more recently Non-Violent Resistance parent mentoring (via Zoom) on behalf of the following agencies:
North London Adoption Consortium, Adoption UK, Buckinghamshire County Council, South Gloucestershire County Council, Coram, Devon County Council, Medway County Council, Fusion Fostering, Fostering Foundation, Adopt Southwest, Adoption Southeast, Adoption Partnership South East, Adoption Counts, Kinship.
She now lives in harmony (well mostly!) with her teenage son.
Member of the International Stress Management Association
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