One of the strengths of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops is that they can be easily be adapted to many contexts. Rather than being a set, inflexible program, AVP is based on a number of broad principles and practices which means facilitators are encouraged to experiment and modify the workshops depending on the group.
Since starting in 1975 in a USA prison, AVP has grown so it is now offered in over 50 countries in a wide variety of settings including in prisons, schools, universities, refugee camps and conflict zones.
In Newcastle, the Family Action Centre (University of Newcastle) and Family Support Newcastle are working with Alternatives to Violence Project to adapt the workshops so that they have a specific focus on families and parenting. We’re not aware of anybody else who has done this.
While not being a specific domestic violence program, the workshop will explore attitudes and skills that can help us be nonviolent partners and parents.
AVP workshops are built on the idea of transforming power – a power that can help us transform situations and ourselves. Transforming power is based on a number of simple ideas:
- Respecting our selves
- Caring for others
- Thinking before reacting
- Seeking a nonviolent path
- Expecting the best
While these are simple ideas, they can be quite challenging to do in practice—particularly in the heat of the moment or under stress—and so through the workshops we explore how we can put them into practice.
When introducing the workshops we give a brief overview of our approach including:
- There is good in everyone—we build on the strengths of participants, and believe if we respond to people’s potential for good we are more likely to receive a positive response than if we respond to their potential for violence.
- We are all teachers and learners—the facilitators don’t have all the answers and are there to learn as much as to help guide the process.
- We learn by getting involved—the workshops are experiential rather than lectures. The core ideas of the workshops are generally introduced through interactive activities followed by discussion about the implications of what we just did.
- We are all volunteers—voluntary participation is important and we don’t accept mandatory participants (e.g., people who are made to do it by court). Sometimes people registering don’t really feel like they have much choice (e.g., if they have been told they should do a workshop before attending court) and so we emphasise that participants have the right to pass. AVP doesn’t pay facilitators either (although some facilitators are able to run workshops in worktime).
- It isn’t therapy, but there can be healing—we are very clear that the workshops are not therapy and we aren’t trying to “fix” anybody. But sometimes people find that exploring issues in a supportive environment can be part of a healing process.
- It isn’t religious but it can be spiritual—while there is no religious affiliation or content, some people find there is a spiritual aspect to the workshop. For example some people see transforming power in spiritual terms (e.g., seeing transforming power as external to ourselves, or having a spiritual basis to respecting and caring for ourselves and others.)
- Learning can be fun—although we explore some pretty heavy topics, the workshops have many opportunities for humour and fun. An important part of the workshops are energisers (or what some people call light and livelies) which get us moving, having fun, and help build community.
In adapting the workshop, most of the content remains the same, but when we a discussing exercises we focus more on how it applies to us as parents and partners. The main content we have introduced is the idea of parenting styles. The styles are based on a combination of two dimensions: how responsive (or warm) parents are and how high their expectations are in terms of behaviour (in other words whether they set limits and expect good behaviour). There are four broad styles (see the image below):
- Uninvolved—low in warmth and with low expectations (e.g., neglectful or uncaring parents)
- Permissive—high in warmth but with low expectations (e.g., parents who let their children do whatever they want)
- Authoritarian—high expectations for behaviour, but without a lot of warmth (e.g., parents who expect their children to do as they are told without question, and who are quick to criticise)
- Active (or authoritative in a lot of literature)—high expectation for behaviour but who are also warm and loving (e.g., parents who expect their children to behave but who are also quite responsive to their children’s needs, or who negotiate expectations with their children).
We also link the parent styles to four broad responses to conflict:
- Turtle (avoids conflict)
- Shark (an aggressive approach)
- Teddy bear (a passive approach that lets other people get their way)
- Owl (a win-win approach)
For our next workshop (in a couple of weeks) we are trying two consecutive days (9 am to 6 pm), but have tried doing 3.5 hours a week for seven weeks will try two days a week apart for the next workshop. We’re still in the process of refining the workshops but think they have plenty of potential and there is certainly a demand for the workshops.
There are challenges in running the workshops (see for example Strengths-based practice: more than being positive) but we’re looking forward to an interesting couple of days.
More details of the workshop are available by clicking the flyer below.
If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:
- What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
- 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
- Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups
- Parenting for a better world
- What are authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative parenting styles?
- Principles of nonviolence
If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.