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Helping Parents Deal with Children’s Acute Disciplinary

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    We have all heard of a child who “had frequent tantrums in which he cursed at his mother, kicked her and threw things at her. As a result, his mother would hit him and cursed him in return, thus making the event in symmetrical bout. The mother felt that as long as he kept attacking her, she was compelled to hit him back, otherwise he would feel that he had won” (Alon & Omer, 2006, p.86). We know that the child has a violent and self-destructive behavior problem and the mother is not giving-in, but unsure if hitting her child was the proper way to deal with the situation. According to Waldman (2000) Children who have behavior problems create stress within the home. Resolving these problems smoothes the parent-child relationships, helps the child’s emotional, social and educational development, and often improves the parents’ marital relationship (“Introduction,” p16). Omer and London-Sapir (2003) characterized children with violent and self-destructive behavior by lack of boundaries, uncontainable outbursts, and an ever growing readiness to go to extremes. Most of these children are deeply averse to being supervised or guided by their parents or by other responsible adults. When a confrontation arises, they usually convey the message: “Leave me alone!” or “I am the boss!” (p.1). Parents should be able to deal with this situation by “overcoming serious inhibitions to be able to perform the steps” (Omer & London-Sapir, 2003, p56). And these “inhibitions can be overcome with information and support” (Omer & London-Sapir, 2003, p.173).


    Escalation and Non-Violent Resistance

    There are two kinds of escalation between parents and children with acute disciplinary problems: (a) complementary escalation, in which parental giving-in leads to a progressive increase in the child’s demands, and (b) reciprocal escalation, in which hostility begets hostility. Extant programs for helping parents deal with children with such problems focus mainly on one kind of escalation to the neglect of the other. The systematic use of Gandhi’s principle of `nonviolent resistance` allows for a parental attitude that counters both kinds of escalation. An intervention is described, which allows parents to put this principle into practice (Omer, 2001, “Abstract”).
    Hostility escalation between parents and children is common but what’s uncommon is the fact that one can resort to a less damaging kinds of escalation known as reciprocal (hostility increases hostility) and complementary (giving-in increases demands) escalation (Bateson, 1972). They are characterized by “the parent gives in to the Childs’ demands, the child increases the demands, the parent gives in again, and so forth” (Omer, 2001, p.40). Patterson coercion theory presented that “parental giving in not only increases the child’s demands (complementary escalation), but also the chances the either the parent or the child will display higher levels of hostility (reciprocal escalation) in the next bout” (Omer, 2001, 40:53-66).

    The New Approach: Non-Violent Resistance

    Nonviolent Resistant is the new approach in dealing with destructive behavior in children by increasing more of the parent’s presence and make them feel they have somewhere to go to in times of helplessness, boost their confidence and give them the authority over the young people. Conforming to the social care settings, nonviolent resistance promotes the preservation of the families and keeps the children from going into care by avoiding the weakening of the family structure and avoids having the need for a costly residential or a secure accommodation. Additionally, nonviolent resistance is a therapeutic means that is known to lessen conduct problems and various anxiety and control-related difficulties in the family. Where education is concerned, nonviolent resistance can be used to ameliorate the behavior of the young people by reducing its destructive and violent attitude within the school community (Partnership Projects, 2006).

    The Intervention

    The nonviolent resistance approach is a brief treatment but an intensive one lasting up to around three months. Parents get to have one to two supportive phone calls and home visits every week besides the weekly sessions of therapy. To maintain continuity, people in support groups such as the telephone supporters maintain regular interaction with the therapists.

    Haim Omer’s team at the University of Tel Aviv has formulated a systematic approach in helping families with children having disciplinary problems. The team’s intervention model described is based on a number of research projects at the Department of Psychology by M.A. students for their M.A. theses. More than a hundred families, whose children had acute disciplinary problems were interviewed and underwent a process of parental counseling in different studies (Omer, 2001). Children’s participation is not necessary in the therapy, giving the parents the time to address the disciplinary problems they face. Parents can have the total freedom to focus on self-empowerment to be able to counter the behavioral problem of the young people. This process gives the parents the sense of being in control of the situation (Partnership Projects, 2006). Non-Violent Resistance deal with family interaction in particular methods such as Developing parental ‘disobedience’, De-Escalation, Taking direct, non-violent action and Making reconciliation gestures. Direct and non-violent actions in the family are presented by Campaigns, Sit-ins and Tailing.


    Pertaining to when should nonviolent resistance be adopted and when does it fail, the author explained that non-violent resistance is not a strategy or procedures, but a state of how one incorporates all the principles (Omer, 2001). Acts of non violent resistance are complicated and entail careful preparation, investigation and therapeutic reflection. “By showing deferred, carefully planned and strategic responses to violent acts, parents no longer react ‘on the hoof’, are calmer, can create optimal conditions under which to act, and gain maximum support from outside helpers” (Partnership Projects, 2006). Parents must do something about the situations properly and in place when handling behavioral approaches. But contrary to behavioral approaches, nonviolent resistance targets the parents and not the destructive children and extends support by helping them overcome their feelings of helplessness by resisting control according to context.  Basically, what these strategies do is they take the parent’s ability to act decisively at a given moment in time into consideration, as well as the supportive network around the family (Partnership Projects, 2006). Additionally, families often become socially isolated due to the children’s violent behavior, and the need to develop a support network counterbalances this isolation. In this way, nonviolent resistance is a community-based therapeutic approach for parents, helping families reconnect and develop their interpersonal resources (Partnership Projects, 2006).

    According to Omer (2001), children with acute discipline problems, include children of all ages who display violent and antisocial behavior or defiant and oppositional patterns, both on clinical i.e. DSM-IV conduct disorders and defiant-oppositional disorders, and subclinical levels. Passive resistance is often used interchangeably with nonviolent resistance. It was a misnomer to Ghandi because the method of nonviolence entails a more active step and does not involve practicing of violence which is the very opposite of what it was named as (Iyer, 1991 as cited in Omer, 2001).

    The Review

    The target audience for this article extends beyond parents to educators. This article may interest a broad audience because it is not based from any particular psychological perspective, no need for an in-dept knowledge of Psychology and proposes a positive and actual solution to handling disciplinary problems among the children and youths. The article begins by describing the nonviolent resistance principles and how they can be used to parenting practice. Omer Haim completely included relevant information in the article with detailed description of particular methods such as sit-ins, refusing orders etc., and procedures on its applications. The methods are made to raise parental presence, collapse the destructive cycle of escalations and aid the parents employ a wider support network. The detailed procedure include scripted words designed to see that the center is on the behavior, not the child and that both the child and parents with the child in question gather to seek a solution to the subject matter. Reconciliation gestures are the central ingredient. The procedures also include advice concerning the child’s anticipated adverse reactions and the ways to handle them. This part is followed by a series of descriptions of Omer Haim’s practice including the theories on psychological reasoning and the debate on the effectiveness of the strategy taken in use. The most interesting finding in the article is how the author illustrates the examples of the subject matter. The examples present how nonviolent resistance can be used even in situations where both parents have a conflict or do not agree. They also illustrate how the techniques used cover a range of individual beliefs and thoughts concerning psychology. Omer Haim points out that pathological explanations tend to make parents and teachers helpless and create an idea that the problem can’t be solved. Additionally, developmental aspects are regarded and it is distinguished that temperamental configurations are more thought-provoking to parents than others. Finally, there is a part in the article that focuses on the application on nonviolent resistance in covering more challenging situations like the violence against siblings, association with pathology such as obsessive compulsive disorder and the violence in schools. Both the teachers and parents are encouraged to connect with each other, communicate and become unified in fighting the behavioral problem instead of putting the blame on each other.


    The modern parenting of today suggests a move toward permissiveness that creates a more relaxed parenting method that can sometimes cause a weakening of the family structure. These changes brought about disempowering of parents and teachers especially when dealing with behavioral problems of the children both at home and in schools. The article presents an approach in handling violent and self-destructive children. Starting out with an analysis of Gandhi’s non violent resistance approach that covers family settings, Haim Omer introduces violence escalation model methods between parents and children with disciplinary problems including the means to overcome escalation. The approach to non-violent resistance contains a step-by-step procedure manual for the parents. The subjects include dealing violence against siblings, dealing with children who take control of the house, building alliances between parents and teachers, community uses of the approach. The primary goal of the techniques is to break the cycles of escalation that stem from educators and parents who are either too lax or strict in treating the behavioral problems of the children.

    The article written by Haim Omer is very informative and complete with all the pertinent and relevant information on helping parents and teachers deal with children’s acute disciplinary problems without escalation. As discussed above, the procedures were in step-by-step details and easily understood by many without any understanding of Psychology issue.


    Alon, N. & Omer, H. (2005). Psychology of demonization. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Omer, H, & London-Sapir, S. (2003). Non-violent resistance a new approach to violent and self-destructive children. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Omer, H. (2001). Helping parents deal with children’s acute disciplinary problems without escalation: The principle of nonviolent resistance. Family Process 40(1), 53-65.

    Partnership Projects. (2006). Training, education and consultancy in social care, CAMHS and psychology. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from

    Waldman, L. (2000). Who’s raising whom a parent’s guide to effective child discipline. Annapolis, MD: Wellness Institute.


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