The seventeen year old girl sat on the floor, with her elbows resting on her knees, and both hands holding the back of her slumped head. She didn’t respond to anything I said as I asked her about the incident that had just happened with her mother. Then, all of a sudden, she jumped up with a terrified look on her face and hurried into the next room. This reaction was triggered by the sound of her mother’s angry voice coming closer. I stood up and met her mother at the door, who was shouting and clenching a glass bottle in each hand.
The evening before I had been in a training session, and one of the topics used the acronym A.C.T., to outline a way to discipline children in heat of the moment, but in a compassionate and effective way. This moment certainly had some heat, so it seemed a good time to use what I had learned, only in this case it was with the mother as opposed to a child. She wanted to push past and vent her anger on her daughter, so I held on to her forearms to restrain her, and calmly spoke to her, starting with step 1; Acknowledging the feelings that she was experiencing. I told her that I could see she was angry, and as I looked into her eyes, I told her what I could see underneath the anger; hurt. As she realised that I could see her, and see what she was feeling, she stopped fighting to get to her daughter. Next it was step 2; clearly Communicating the limit that needed to be put on her behaviour. That wasn’t hard to identify, I just told her that she must not beat her child, much less with glass bottles. Now it was time for step 3; to Target an alternative. I knew this family well, all three of this lady’s children had been coming to our Kids and Youth programmes for years, so I suggested that her daughter spend a night away from home for everyone to calm down, and then we could meet the following afternoon and work out a better plan. She was relieved by this, and only too glad to find a better way forwards. So the mother left in a calm way and the daughter came and stayed in our home for the night, helped cook the evening meal, and relaxed. The following day she went home and we held a meeting with everyone in the family.
The training sessions equipped me again, this time by using a different approach that is not for the heat of the moment but geared towards getting to the underlying issues and finding proactive solutions. I discovered that the mother had been trying to follow up about a grant that would help pay for her daughter’s schooling, because she couldn’t afford the fees without the grant. She needed to make a phone call, but had no credit on her phone so had asked the daughter to go to Granny and ask for money to get credit. The daughter had ignored her and the mother had lost her temper, before the neighbours came over and helped the daughter escape to a house over the road, which was where she was when I had arrived. As they each had their turn to talk about what had happened, they acknowledged what they had done wrong, and apologised to one another. Forgiveness was given and accepted, and the family then came up with a plan to reduce one of the main tensions in the home, by rostering the chores.
That was six months ago, and yesterday I heard from the mother that everyone in the family is still sticking to the plan and it has made a lasting difference. I was thankful that I had been doing the training at the time, so was ready to respond in a complex situation.
There are a lot of people often dealing with complex situations in Jamaica, which is why we are committed to making this training available to many more people in the coming year. Thank you for standing with us in this work.