How To Get Help When A Child Or Teen Is Violent Towards A Parent

The taboo around child-to-parent violence and aggression makes it harder for parents to seek help.

The taboo around child-to-parent violence and aggression makes it harder for parents to seek help.

Almost five years ago, Louise Sinclair* adopted her daughter. The child had been apprehended shortly after her birth and spent the first 18 months of her life in foster care.

Sinclair was concerned about the trauma her little girl would have experienced, losing her birth mother at an age when she would not have had words to process why, and then later, losing her foster caregivers. Still, the new mom felt confident that with time, patience and a therapeutic approach to parenting, she could help her new daughter to heal.

“I have a background in child and youth work and a master’s in social work,” she told HuffPost Canada. “I had the skills that I would need to be able to raise a child who presented challenges and I knew where to find help.”

But Sinclair did not anticipate what came next. When her daughter moved in, she would want to be picked up when upset, but then she would dangle limply and not grip onto Sinclair, when the new mom demonstrated affection. The little girl didn’t seem to have a sense of her body in space, and that was the first red flag of a sensory processing disorder (SPD).

As time went by, Sinclair’s daughter had meltdowns set off by the smallest requests or shifts to the schedule. She was extremely oppositional, even to the point of self-harm, and would eventually be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD)Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Her behaviour increasingly became violent, morphing from screaming fits to kicking, biting and punching — often, but not always, directed towards Sinclair.

“You’re the parent and it’s your responsibility to fix it, to make her feel good, to build her up, to make her life nice,” said Sinclair. “That’s what you do when you love someone. But it’s a very confusing thing to do that and still be told that somebody hates you all the time, every day.”

Such displays of aggression and violence from children towards adults can range from making threats, exhibiting uncontrolled rage and being verbally abusive to inflicting physical harm (hitting, kicking, punching, biting, throwing objects or using a weapon to cause injury).

Child-to-parent violence is not unique to the adoption community, although Adopt4Life, a not-for-profit organization that supports adoptive, kinship and customary care families in Ontario, points to research from the U.K. that indicates up to one third of parents and caregivers within this population have experienced it.

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society, its stakeholders, or funders.

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