Sunday, 17 November 2013

"Living with the Angry Child"; a seminar by Holly van Gulden

Missy has been really angry for the last couple of months so when I received an newsletter from PAC mentioning a public seminar called "Living with the Angry Child", I knew I had to attend.  Thankfully, our local authority paid  for me to go.

The speaker at the seminar, attended by about 70 people, mostly parents, some professionals, was Holly van Gulden, a worldwide expert in child development and who works a lot with children in care.  She was brought up with her birth parents and they also adopted four children.  She is an adoptive parent herself, so is very experienced to talk about the subject.

The seminar was held near Euston station in London, a mainline station with some trains heading to the north of the country.  I had a fleeting thought of jumping on a train and disappearing for a few days.  I think I even said it out loud!  However, I didn't, I went to the seminar via the coffee shop where I treated myself to a massive almond croissant.

One thing I love about attending seminars and workshops is that other attendees know exactly what you mean.  They are going through the same problems, the same tantrums, the same behaviours with their children and are experiencing the same emotions as me.

I immediately warmed to Holly, a 60-something from Vermont USA.  She spoke to our hearts - I was in tears after only 20 minutes and had so many lightbulbs going off in my head that I should have worn shades. She was funny, she was serious, she spoke our language, not some pyscho-babble.   She talked about permancy and constancy, two building blocks for attachment and it's clear Missy experiences neither as fully as she would if she'd had a normal, healthy upbringing. She talked to us about the pyschology of anger and how this appears in our children, and ourselves, and gave us some techniques to de-escalate the anger.

Permancy is "the capacity to take it for granted that the item, or person, or the self continues to exist when out of sensory contact" whilst constancy is "the capacity to take it for granted that no matter what part of the other or the self you are currently experiencing, all the other parts of the other or self continue to exist".   We have to remember that Missy, at times, is not acting as a 6 year old, but as a much much younger child who hasn't normally would not have yet developed these capacities.   Two of the many lightbulbs for me were that attachments are sensory, not cognitive, so talking/talk therapy does not help here.  Holly also mentioned "to have and to hold" - of course this is a phrase used when there is a strong attachment between two individuals, ie. at a wedding.  With our children, they may well have and show signs of attachment, but their ability to hold it long term is not there.  Without constancy, the child assumes they are being abandoned as soon as they perceive, rightly or wrongly, there is discord, tension or disapproval.  Without self constancy, the child has difficulty controlling impulses, difficulty with transitions, refuses to accept direction and rages for no particular reason - that's Missy to a T.

I'm just re-reading my notes as I type this blog post.  Even now, I'm getting some lightbulb moments and we have much to put into practice.  I tried this morning but angry child with her primal scream and ability to physically (and at times verbally) hurt was not for calming.  This morning I could not help but break down in tears which Missy saw and ten minutes later had calmed down and apologised.

I know Rome wasn't built in a day and the techniques I learnt yesterday and those that Daddy is reading in 'From Fear to Love' by Bryan Post, will take some time to work.  I hope I haven't jumped on a train before they do.


  1. The training sounds excellent - so glad you were able to access that. Be patient with yourself - it takes time to put new things into practice and for new ways of doing things to become habitual.

  2. Sounds great! i've read some of her books they're really inspiring x

    1. I'm reading 'Learning the Dance of Attachment' at the mo and finding it so useful.


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