Essay: Omer, Haim. ). Helping Parents Deal

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¶ … Omer, Haim. (2001). Helping parents deal with children's acute disciplinary problems without escalation: The principle of nonviolent resistance. Family Process, 40(1), 53-66.

Retrieved October 8, 2009, from ProQuest Medical Library. (Document ID: 70437234).

According to Haim Omer's 2001 article on "Helping parents deal with children's acute disciplinary problems without escalation: The principle of nonviolent resistance" from Family Process, families with children who have behavioral problems tend to fall into one of two relationship patterns. The first is that of complementary escalation, in which parental permissiveness (or exhaustion) bolsters the child's sense of power over the parent, and conditions the child to use negative behaviors to get what he or she desires. The other is that of reciprocal escalation, "in which hostility begets hostility," and the child tries to engage in more negative behaviors, in revenge for the parent's attempts at discipline (Omer 2001).

Programs designed to help parents cope with problematic children tend to exacerbate, rather than eradicate such strategies (Omer 2001). Omer views giving in to the child or responding with uncompromising discipline are equally counterproductive -- by giving in the parent bolsters the child's sense of power over the family and rewards aggression. Aggressive punishment simply makes the child more aggressive. Furthermore, punishment-based programs are difficult to implement, when a child gets older. "Programs that focus on complementary (disregarding reciprocal) escalation and programs that focus on reciprocal (disregarding complementary) escalation" are thus both incomplete (Omer 2001). For example, one program, known as Tough Love, stresses drawing lines for children that are non-negotiable, the other, known as PET, stresses unconditional acceptance of the child. Both have shown mixed results, particularly the former as the child grows older. Compliance rates in all programs show declines with the child's maturity, notes Omer, thus neither approach has been shown to be the 'ideal' solution, despite program claims. Omer strives to offer a different program, one based upon the nonviolent principles of Gandhi.

Omer reviews both approaches, so the reader has a sense as to what he is responding, in his own program design. Behavioral strategies try to punish aggression, in a form of negative conditioning, by an aversive consequence of "at least the same duration and intensity as the antecedent stimuli" (Omer 2001). Thus could be called an 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,' response by the parent. This can be dangerous with older children who have greater means at their disposal to act vengefully as child. When a parent acts as if he or she is a 'boss,' the child lashes out, often crying 'you can't make me,' or 'you are not the boss of me.' This creates a negative win/lose dynamic -- someone must win or lose the zero-sum game of authority, and sustains an atmosphere that begets more hostility.

Even on a biological level, a hostile reaction tends to provoke 'flight of fight' responses in the opposite party. Also, parental reactions can simply become background noise for the child. "Adolescents, in particular, often view parental exhortations as if they were attempts to manipulate them into submission, and they react accordingly by increasing their oppositional behavior" (Omer 2001). The relationship of the parent is reduced to hostility, not trust. "In most ape and macaque species, following a hostile interchange, there is a high probability that the aggressor, the victim or both will search for some kind of clearly nonhostile physical closeness with the other," but this is often ironically lost in the most negative parent-child relationships (Omer 2001). Just as aggressive physical behavior encourages a physical response, nonaggressive behavior quells tensions, physically and emotionally, in the other party.

Omer suggests adopting Gandhi's principles of nonviolent resolution of conflicts as a way of circumventing hostility escalation, yet still communicating disapproval for the child's violent behavior. He treats the escalation of hostility almost as a nonviolent protester would react against a hostile response by a governing authority. "When faced with the child's destructive behaviors, the parents should respond with acts that convey the message: 'I cannot accept your behavior and will do all in my power to stop it, except for hitting you or attacking you' (Omer 2001). The parent draws moral strength from his position, a strength that is defined through nonviolent resistance, and "fits a concept of parental authority that is not based on being stronger but on being present. (Omer 2001) "Like Gandhi's political variety of nonviolent resistance, the present strategy is geared to helping the parents effectively oppose the child's unacceptable behaviors, while at the same time reducing the stimuli that evoke hostile counteractions" (Omer 2001)

One of Omer's selected strategies is a 'sit in,' staged in the child's room, whereby the parent, once in the room, says: 'We cannot accept that you do X… We will sit here and wait for any idea or proposal you may have on how this behavior can be avoided' (Omer 2001). The parent does not complain, whine, threaten, or blame the child. The parents sits in the room (up to two hours) until the child comes up with a proposal to stop the behavior. "If the child attacks them physically, the parents should defend themselves" but only nonviolently, by holding the child. They do not respond to the child's attacks. If the child is older, and potentially violent, a third party should be present who is silent, but can prevent a dangerous situation from occurring. The child's television and computer are shut off -- from the source if necessary, to again avoid an escalatory sequence of turning on and off these devices. This should be done beforehand, according to a principle Omer calls: "strike the iron when it is cold!" (Omer 2001).

Even if the child acts triumphant, the parent should simply say he or she has no desire to defeat the child, and act in a reconciliatory manner, with no mention of the sit-in. In the program context, the therapist provides support to the parents, for example, deciding whether to reject or accept the child's proposal, and coping with anxiety about the sit-in and its aftermath. In terms of its efficacy, Omer does not present his article as a research study, but as advice to parents. His study is not a numerically significant sampling, although he does have statistics supporting its efficacy, noting: "Out of the initial 40 cases in which we proposed the sit-in, the parents tried it out in 32. The maximum number of sittings was 6. In most cases there was no need for more than 2. In 2 of the 32 cases, the parents felt that the intervention had had no impact on the problem behavior. In half of the remaining 30 cases, the parents said that the problem behavior had stopped, and in the other half that there was significant improvement. In addition, the sit-in had a positive, moderating effect on escalation processes, probably for the following reasons" (Omer 2001). It broke the spiral of complementary escalation as the parents showed greater strength through silence, and the parent stressed that he or she was not trying to break the child. It also minimized psychophysiological arousal of anger.

Occasionally, sit-ins with multiple children or outside the home may be necessary. In fact, Omer believes his approach can be useful, not just for difficult children but also for difficult groups of children in a classroom setting, with a non-parental figure like a teacher. However, he does not advocate his approach as a panacea: "One should keep in mind that the sit-in is just a method to implement the ideas of nonviolent resistance. In the counseling sessions, the therapist should try to make these ideas manifest in all interactions with the child. Thus, the avoidance of verbal battles and of threatening postures, the interruption of the giving-in/resentment cycle, and the attempts to broaden the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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