Child to Parent Abuse (CPA)

Child to Parent Abuse (CPA) is any behaviour used by a young person to control, dominate or coerce parents/carergivers.  It is intended to threaten and intimidate and puts family safety at risk. The abuse is about a range of behaviours, including physical and non-physical acts, aimed at achieving ongoing control over another person by instilling fear.

This problem of child to parent abuse is complex and deeply impacts families, practitioners and the wider society. It is an emerging area of research and remains under reported as a strain of family violence. However, available statistics do indicate a worrying increase in reported incidents.

Practitioners working directly with families support these statistics with evidence from their increased caseloads. Research and experience suggest some causational trends to this increase include:

  • With increasingly complex family and work arrangements, often parental guilt means children are indulged more, making it difficult for parents to later instil boundaries.
  • Where children have witnessed family violence, in some cases, children may mimic the violence towards their mothers.
  • Society increasingly challenges authority. As we learn from the past and move forward, this questioning of authority is very positive, but it does represent a shift in dynamics and less defined roles in parenting.
  • Legally, parents can no longer physically punish children. However, parents who experienced physical punishment as children, have not been trained in an alternative method of consequence, leaving some unsure about how to ‘discipline’ their children.
  • Escalation habits. Children learn to escalate their behaviour in order to get their demands met.
Non Violent Resistance (NVR) Intervention

Emma works with parents/caregivers to help them learn new ways to manage the abusive behaviour by coaching them in the Non Violent (NVR) Resistance intervention.

The idea of NVR is not new and has its roots in the peaceful revolutionary movements of icons like Ghandi and Martin Luther King. The principle idea of NVR is to influence change through peaceful protest and resistance.

In the context of child to parent abuse, it is an integrated, structured and systemic response to violence and abuse. NVR was adapted for use in Ireland, thanks to Dr Declan Coogan and Eileen Lauster. For more information on the history and adaption of NVR in Ireland, see www.cpvireland.ie and www.rcpv.eu.

NVR empowers and enables the parent/caregiver to take control of the situation and to influence positive change in the child. It responds to the needs of families and to practitioners in a wide range of settings. It is a non-blaming, structured and evidence influenced response to the problem of abuse from child to parent.

NVR is a universal approach and can support families irrespective of specific behavioural or personality diagnosis. Children need boundaries to function in their family and society. Behavioural or psychiatric needs do not negate this.

Crucially NVR does not require the child to co-operate and allows the parent/caregiver to regain some control in challenging relationships. Where there are multiple stresses in a family, tackling violence, is a crucial beginning point in creating a more harmonious environment where all of the family can thrive.

NVR For Parents/Carergivers

As with all forms of abusee, child to parent abuse requires secrecy in order to continue. While it can be extremely difficult for parents/carergivers to reach out for help, it is a vital first step in taking control of the situation.

For many reasons, most abused parents/carergivers have difficulty admitting, even to themselves, that their child is abusive. They can feel ashamed and disappointed, sometimes blaming themselves for the situation, which has led to this imbalance of power. Parents/caregivers rarely speak of the violence as the issue to begin with. Instead they say things like:

“My child is out of control”

“My child is ruling the roost”

“My child has behavioural difficulties”

“I can’t control my child”

“My child won’t listen to me”

It is usually through an exploration of these statements that the violence is discovered.

If you are experiencing child to parent abuse, know that you are not alone. While exact figures are difficult to obtain, we do know that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of families presenting with this issue.

You may have previously tried to get your child to engage with a service or even multiple services, perhaps they did engage but were not truthful in their presentations with their practitioners. None of this is an issue when we are using NVR to deal with the violence. NVR focuses on the parent and does not require the young persons engagement. Instead it will empower you and give you skills to reduce the violence and build a better relationship with your child.

NVR for Practitioners

Increasingly practitioners are encountering child to parent abuse as a key issue in therapeutic and emergency practice. With limited literature and research available, it has been extremely challenging for practitioners to respond to the needs of these families. Labels and diagnoses can be distracting and divert attention from the very immediate threat of family violence. Currently there are extremely long wait lists for assessments and this can allow the violence to become ingrained in the family.

Participant TrainingTherapeutic treatment tends to focus on the young person and their behaviour, yet the young person may refuse to engage with services or face a long wait for assessment. NVR is an immediate intervention that empowers parents/carers to positively influence the climate in their homes even without the engagement of the young person.

NVR compliments other interventions and can be used simultaneously with other interventions as part of an integrated family service.

“Very comprehensive and informative”

“Clear and to the point training, I really enjoyed the 2 days”

“Great facilitation, everyone was involved”

“Excellent and very informative. Looking forward to implementing this with my clients”