This is NOT Your Fault
Written by Yvonne Newbold
Where do we start?
When a child is regularly lashing out at home, understandably parents want someone to be able to pass on some sort of magic formula to make it stop. Sadly, there aren’t any quick fixes or overnight cures. The reasons behind SEND VCB are incredibly complex, and every child will have a different pattern of those complexities. Each one of these complex causes will have to be unravelled one by one, then properly understood until finally a strategy can be decided upon and implemented. Even then, you may have to try several different strategies before you discover the one which will work with your child.
There will be times when progress seems to be taking so long that you barely notice it. There will be weeks when it feels as if you’re moving backwards. There will also be real setbacks. However, with the right approach coupled with lots of love, patience, humour and perseverance, children can turn their behaviours completely around in a way that, today, you probably can’t believe can happen. But it can and it will and it does.
So, where do we start? We start with you
You are the one who will be leading this project to turn your child’s behaviour completely around. You will be in this for the long haul. Already, if you have been dealing with SEND VCB at home for a considerable length of time you may feel broken, lost, exhausted and completely crushed. You’ve been running on empty for so long that you can barely remember how it feels to be vibrant, happy and emotionally and physically strong.
Somewhere, deep inside you, you have more resources and resilience than you can possibly imagine, once you start believing that they are there you can start to access them, build upon them and use them to the full.
There hasn’t been a lot of published research on SEND VCB yet, but a couple of research projects have looked at aggressive behaviour in children with autism and in children with a learning disability. It seems from these two studies that VCB in SEND children is much more prevalent that has been previously acknowledged, and is likely to be affecting about one in four families where there is a neurodevelopmental disorder such as a learning disability, ADHD and autism which would also include PDA. (Pathological Demand Avoidance).
If one child in every four who is diagnosed with one of this group of conditions is sometimes violent at home, that means that around 40,000 families are facing this in the UK alone. It’s massive, and has been under-acknowledged for far too long. Yet because it is barely discussed, and because there is no training for front-line professionals, it is regarded as being very unusual behaviour, and it often is assumed that it must be a parent’s fault, and poor parenting skills are assumed to be the cause. I do not believe that one in every four parents of a child with this sort of additional need is lacking in parenting skills. On the contrary, I know that parents in our situation are often the ones with the most highly developed and advanced parenting skills around. It’s not your fault, it never was and it never will be.
So the first thing to really get your head around is that, whatever anybody else says or implies, this is not your fault. Can you say it out loud please? THIS IS NOT MY FAULT.
Secondly, when you’re on an aircraft, the Flight Attendants always make it abundantly clear that, in the event of an accident, parents must always put their own oxygen mask on first and then put their child’s mask on. It goes against our instincts to look after our own needs first, but in the oxygen mask scenario, if we were to fiddle about putting our child’s mask on, we could quickly lose consciousness, and then neither of us would survive. When you are coping with SEND VCB at home, it’s exactly the same – you must look after yourself, it’s not a luxury, it’s an absolute priority.
As we learn more and more about how to unpick the underlying causes of VCB you’re going to need every last drop of strength you can muster. Your child will be relying on you to rescue them from the way their behaviour has taken hold. They will need you to develop strategies and approaches so that you can metaphorically take them by the hand and lead them back to a place of emotional safety. You won’t last the course if you’re crushed and broken and have nothing left to give. So there is something else I’d like you to start doing from today in terms of self-care, something that only takes a minute but it’s a huge start to looking after you.
Stand up and put your feet about hip-width apart. Then take a really deep breath in through your nose nice and slowly, and then exhale it slowly through your mouth. Try to get the air all the way down to the pit of your stomach, smoothly, gently and easily – this isn’t about bursting your lungs! Put your hands on your stomach and see if you can feel it gently rise and fall as you breathe. This is what we’re hoping for, nice deep breathing rather than the shallow chest breathing that we all tend to do when we’re stressed.
As you breathe in, think of breathing in peace, love and hope, and as you breath out, try and let go of as much of the hurt, bewilderment and anger that the VCB has caused you. Three deep breaths like this will only take a minute or so, and will start to make a significant difference in how you feel. Let’s face it, you have to breathe anyway, so doing it slightly differently isn’t asking a lot!
Deep breathing calms us down, and slows our heart rate, and while we’re doing it our bodies get a rest from the over-production of adrenaline which is what keeps us feeling stressed and on-edge. Deep breathing also helps us oxygenate our brains more effectively, which means that we can think more clearly and problem solve better. Additionally, taking time out to breath deeply helps us step back from the family situation, it stops the fire-fighting mentality for a moment and helps us to see the whole situation from a slightly different perspective.
You can never breathe too much – and ideally if you try to do a minute or so of deep breathing 3 or 4 times a day, you will gradually help kick-start your own healing and a slightly different and more positive mindset.