Broken Promises – The Couldn’t / Wouldn’t Phenomena
"The promise given was a necessity of the past, the word broken is a necessity of the present"
The “Couldn’t” “Wouldn’t” Phenomena.
So what do you do when it all goes Pete Tong and the child who caused harm doesn’t do what they agreed they would? You’ve been through the restorative process and it worked really well, the two children in conflict told their respective stories, they developed understanding of what happened and how it affected each other and agreements were made to repair the harm and prevent similar harm from happening again. And then the promises get broken. The child doesn’t turn up for their therapeutic input with the school pastoral care, or they stop making the small restitution payments for the phone they smashed belonging to their friend, or they start bullying again. What do you do?
Sometimes, in fact often, these broken promises get met with the “it didn’t work – Restorative Practices are rubbish” condemnation from those who participated. And yet is this really fair? Particularly with children? What adult, as a child, hasn’t made a promise and then reneged on it, or made a half-assed effort? For that matter, what adult, as an adult, hasn’t made a promise and then reneged on it? Children are learning. They are still forming their character and moral compass as they go through life, and it is perfectly natural for them to break promises or lose motivation.
So what do we do? We hold them to account. We teach them to keep their word, and (just in case you were wondering) it doesn’t matter if it was an important promise or not, it doesn’t matter if it was almost finished or not, it matters that we hold them to the promise they made, in the spirit they made it. It is important not just for the person they hurt and made the promise to, it is important as a life skill. Someday our children will be asked to commit to paying a mortgage or rent for a home they live in. They will be asked to commit to a person to respect, love and honour them. They will be asked to commit to turning up everyday for a job that they will receive money for doing. And if we don’t teach the importance of keeping their commitment, they may well end up homeless, lonely and with no prospects. Teaching commitment is a life skill.
Let’s look at what is going on when children fail to keep a promise they made.
When children fail to keep a promise they have made there can be a variety of reasons why. It isn’t necessarily that they just couldn’t be bothered, although this is sometimes the case – I have a 9 year old and two teenage steps sons and believe me – sometimes they just can’t be bothered!
From my days back in Youth Justice, when we used Circles of Support and Accountability to enable highly vulnerable young people to achieve, I have always found the frame below really effective in helping me to figure out how to handle a broken promise.
This basically works on two axis (the “Could Not” and the “Would Not,”) with a broken commitment or promise in the middle. The first thing we need to do is figure out why they have broken the commitment in the first place because this will direct whether we are going to be having a support conversation with them or an accountability conversation with them.
The Could Not Continuum – Capability or Crisis.
Capability is where the child has perhaps promised something which was too ambitious in the first place, or perhaps the child’s circumstances have changed and they are no longer capable of meeting the commitment in the form it was initially promised. Examples of an over ambitious commitment may be where a child promised to pay back the full cost of new blazer they ripped in a scuffle rather than pay for the professional repair of the jacket by a seamstress. Or perhaps they were making regular repayments for a repair of a school blazer they ripped, but a parent was made redundant and now his parents need most of his part time wages to help support the family.
Crisis is where something has happened which has temporarily prevented a child from doing something they promised they would. For example perhaps a child agreed to stay behind after school once a week, for the next 4 weeks and help the school janitor paint graffiti off a school wall, but on week 3 she doesn’t show up because her Gran was taken into hospital the night before and her mum needed her to come straight home and look after the younger kids so she could go and visit her mum.
In both of the above examples, and many more like them, a support conversation is invited.
In the first example your purpose is to either increase the child’s capability by resourcing them with the knowledge, skills or resources that they need to complete the promise they made, or perhaps by altering the boundary around the promise made – such as extending the period of time over which the child might make restitution for the damage he caused. It is never to dismiss the promise made as not important.
In the second example your purpose is to provide temporary relief of timescale, reinforce the promise made and help the child to strategise how she could have prevented this being a broken promise by sharing her crisis with a trusted staff member to ask for her day to be swapped to a different day or the timescale extended. Again, it is never to dismiss the promise made as not important enough to be followed through.
The Would Not Continuum – Commitment or Chancer
Commitment is where the child has lost focus on the reason why they made this promise in the first place. Commitment tends to be very high when the child is faced with the impact their behaviour has had on another person and they will be feel genuinely remorseful and motivated to resolve the harm they caused at the time they make their promise. But commitment is about maintaining the action to complete something long after the feelings which were present when you made the promise have passed. And in the fast paced life of a child – this can pass pretty quick! That doesn’t mean they are bad, or unaccountable, or liars, (or any other judgey-type labels) – it just means they’ve lost focus and need to be reminded through an accountability conversation.
The Chancer position is when a child is just chancing their arm to see if they can get away with not doing what they said they would. Now before we all nod sagely and knowingly and a little bit patronisingly, lets just put this in perspective. When was the last time you said you would meet your friend and go to the gym with them to get fit and then you made an excuse at the last minute because you’d had one glass of red wine / bottle of beer too many the night before? We are all chancers from time to time. It’s natural – the human brain is hard wired to take the easy route.
The Accountability Conversation
In both of the above examples, and many more like them, an accountability conversation is invited.
In the first example your purpose is to re-engage the child with their commitment and often a simple conversation about their promise will be enough to refocus and motivate their commitment to completing the action. However, it is worth bearing in mind that this might have to be repeated several times if the commitment they made is a long term one taking place over several weeks, so I would advise (if it is appropriate) to keep reparations short and sweet and if they are longer for more serious harms, then build in a quick 10 minute review at intervals.
In the second example your purpose is to re-engage the child in the feelings they had at the time of making the commitment , taking the child back to the reasons why they made the commitment, holding their word up as honourable and asking them to respect themselves by honouring their word.
In the second example it is to challenge the child to rise to your expectation and hopefully their own of being an honourable person who keeps their word. It is never to dismiss the promise made as not important.
Regardless of whether the conversation is a support conversation or an accountability conversation it is crucial that we hold children to account for the promises they have made. It is important that we highlight the impact that a broken promise has on us now and on them in the future. And it doesn’t matter if it is a little broken promise or a big one, or an almost completed promise or a just engaged in one – the important point is that we all need to learn to be accountable to others if we are to live in more peace and harmony.
If you would like to learn more about this way of managing conflict and holding to account in your school, you can complete our Introduction to Restorative Practices in Education online course here, by clicking on the link below, or contact Linda for more information on workshops on 07805093965.
One of the most common questions I encounter when working with educators in building restorative practice into their schools is “what do you do when a child flat out denies that they are responsible for a harm that has been caused?” This question goes to the very heart of why restorative practice is a culture that needs to be cultivated and not just an intervention applied at the point of conflict.
To understand what to do about this when it happens (and it will happen) you have to first understand the motivation behind why children (and adults) deny responsibility for something they have done that has caused harm to others. While the research on motivation for telling lies lists hundreds of reasons why someone might lie from protecting others, to tact, when it comes to school based examples there are a handful of common motivations.
This is probably the most common reason for telling a lie when a child is confronted with the direct question about what happened. If the child believes there will be a punishment following an admission then there is an increased motivation to tell a lie to avoid punishment. The lie is not an attempt to avoid responsibility (and this is an important distinction) the lie is told to avoid the punishment.
Concealing reward or benefit
In this case the motivation is to conceal the reward or benefit the child obtained by breaking an explicit or implicit rule which they were expected to follow. This could be anything from having stolen something from a peer to having peeked at their neighbours test sheet and copied the answer.
This is a common motivation when the child feels guilt about the impact of their actions but also fears that they will be shamed for that impact, rather than understood. An example might be the child who denies they were given the homework instead of admitting that they did not have enough money to buy the supplies to complete it.
Protecting someone else from harm
In this case the motivation is that the child does not want to get their friend into trouble. It might be because they can identify with their friends reasons for having acted as they did, and so in some way they approve of their actions. Or it can be that they feel the need to adhere to a “bro-code” even if they disagree with their friends actions. This one is difficult because on some level we, as a society, approve of the characteristic of loyalty that comes in hand with lying to protect someone else from harm. This is apparent from the derogatory words we use to describe someone who does tell on a friend like “snitches”, “rats”, “tout.”
Pain is the name of the game
Ultimately the underlying purpose of all of these motivations is the same. The purpose of avoiding pain which could be physical, social, or psychological pain. Human beings are hard wired to seek out pleasure and joy and to avoid pain and distress and our brain psychology has many ways of achieving this. Therefore the temptation to tell a lie when faced with pain as a possible outcome of telling the truth is a very strong one and it is not limited to children. We all have the capacity to tell lies, omit truths, or deny knowledge of something when the motivation to avoid a temporary painful experience outweighs the benefit of an admission.
If children believe that your intention behind discovery of “What Happened” is to punish, shame or cause pain (physical, social or psychological – even indirectly and unintentionally) then there is a strong motivation to avoid responsibility by denying fault. The Admit Nothing, Deny Everything, and Ask for Proof phenomena is likely to be even more acute with children (or adults) where they have had life experiences which have reinforced punishment or pain as a response to admitting responsibility or being found guilty of something. Children who have strong unresolved shame behaviours (see my earlier posts on shame behaviours) are highly motivated to avoid pain through any means necessary to protect their physical, social and psychological being.
But what if you build a culture where children understand your intention is not to punish, but to understand what happened so you can help them to repair harm, rebuild relationships, and develop strategies to meet their own needs which led to the harmful event in the first place? This sounds more complicated than it actually is. Most teachers I encounter in my training have these skills already but perhaps aren’t thinking about them explicitly or applying them deliberately in a consistent model of practice. As a result, when they are tired, their defences are down and they are “winging it,” (and lets be honest – we all do this from time to time because we are human too), then the wheels come off and we undo great progress we had previously made with children who are less confident about telling the truth and not being shamed and judged as a result. Don’t worry, if you have ruptured a relationship with a child through a momentary lapse of your superhero powers, you can repair this with daring to be vulnerable enough to admit to them that you got it wrong – and the impact of this on your relationship with them is so powerful you will wish you apologised more! See my earlier post on rupture and repair.
Building a restorative culture to reduce denial, lies, and avoidance?
So what are the key features of building a culture where children can feel able to risk being honest, knowing that there may be a temporary experience of discomfort but with a more permanent pleasurable outcome in the long term?
I remember my Dad telling me one day "parents don't always get it right." I don't remember what he had got wrong, but I remember the power that his apology had in that moment in validating a sense of injustice.
Build a child's sense of identity, who they are, what sense they make of their experiences and how the build resilience to cope with what the world will throw at them in the future, is so important. And yet as a parent I often get it wrong too. Even with all my training and experience, I still have days when I am Just. Not. Cutting. It.
I sometimes hear myself dismiss my son's concerns. Most often it is a misguided attempt to soothe his fears. But sometimes it is to "deal" with something quickly and get it "fixed" and "move on" because it is inconvenient for me to spend the time to really deal with his fears there and then.
Sometimes I feel intensely uncomfortable in just sitting with him and his fears, connecting with his worries and knowing I can't soothe them through wishing them away, but only through feeling them with him, validating and hearing him.
This article is really helpful in identifying things we commonly say to our children that do more harm than good.
In today's world where many children have so much and others so little, it has always been important to me to teach gratitude and gratefulness for the privilege we enjoy. For the many of us who have kids who want for very little - this comes with a challenge for parents. A challenge to ensure they don't become entitled. A challenge to ensure that they have what they need, but don't get everything they want. A challenge to ensure that they still understand what it is to earn something, to struggle for something or to go without, to wait and have patience, to prioritise one desire over another, to live in the real world. Because some day they will have to make their own way, hopefully teaching their own children these lessons and recognise they had privilege so that they can have gratitude for it and use what privilege they have to promote the needs of others.
Christine Carter said "If we want to be happy and raise happy kids, then we need to practice gratitude. The art of being grateful or we may end up feeling more entitled than appreciative. When we feel entitled we often stew about unfulfilled expectations. Disappointment is not a happiness habit, gratitude is."
There is a whole rake of research which shows that children are happier, healthier, more content, optimistic and more resilient when they feel gratitude regularly.
What can you do to teach gratitude? There are loads of ways but here are the 7 we use in our house.
1) Have your family count things they are grateful for. You can do this round the dinner table - we ask the kids to talk about one thing that they really enjoyed, felt good about each day or thankful for each day. What I love most about this is our relationships with each other are often the top feature in this discussion.
2) Use a gratitude jar. Fill this over the year with things that you notice about each other that you like or love. When you feel a little low, or angry or undervalued in your relationships - open the jar and share one or two of the contents with others. It will lift your spirits immediately and it's a great switch from seeing the negative in others (and yourself) to seeing the positive.
3) Lead by example. Comment on all the beautiful things you love and see in the world. Your children will start to do the same. My Dad used to do this and now I can never look at a mountain and just see a mountain - now I see every colour of purple and green and blue in that mountain. For me, I love the sunrise, autumn, that first glimpse of our home after a day at work, the smell of a peat fire, the glow of Christmas trees, the first hug of the day, the last hug of the day.....it goes on and on.
4) Get the kids to do an appreciation scrap book. Or if they are a bit older and like technology (like our three do) then give them your phone and tell them to get snap happy taking pictures of all the things they love on your family walk, around the house, out of their bedroom window, - you will be amazed at the beauty and happiness a child sees through their eyes. (I once got 436 shots of a blue and yellow trainer on my Iphone because Jacob thought they were super cool).
5) Express your thanks through service to others - it might be donating your time, your un-played with toys, your money, your skills, but giving something that would otherwise be of value to you gives children a great feel good factor. I love this pay it forward ideal. We have a Secret Santa who leaves potatoes, carrots, brussell sprouts and onions on our door step every Christmas. For the first year I wracked my brain trying to figure out who it was who made my Christmas with such a simple but generous gesture - then I realised it didn't matter who it was that did it - it mattered that I paid it forward. Now every year we select someone and under ninja like cover (great fun) we leave them a gift on their doorstep. It could be anything from warm slippers to a bottle of booze - the point is - we do it in secret and it makes us feel amazing and I know it will be paid forward thousands of time without any expectation of compensation.
6) Do something nice for the world, pets, animals, wildlife. Cook peanut butter balls for the birds, make a hedgehog feeding station, or crossing tunnel. Or you could just talk about the importance of recycling!!
7) Make a blessing table cloth or wall - we have a blackboard painted on our kitchen wall and the kids love writing messages on it. You can do this or use a white table cloth and get the kids to write the things they love and are thankful for on it. Every so often get it out and serve a fun dinner on it. Get them to sign their names and dates on it as they add to it. You can also ask visitors to do the same.
Have a great day everyone. LJ
Emotional regulation is the skill we learn to manage the occurrence, intensity and expression of our emotions.
The first step in regulating is being aware of the emotion we are feeling. Many children don't learn this skill, especially in these modern times when we are more disconnected than ever from our children's emotions, which are often played out and learned in their interactions with TV, gaming and social media. Their emotional vocabulary is becoming more and more limited and this poses a serious challenge for their ability to properly recognise what they are feeling and then managing it.
Emotional regulation is the foundation skill required to be able to then develop emotional intelligence in our children. Emotional Intelligence is the skill of being able to recognise in others their feelings and emotions and use that knowledge to think, problem solve, behave towards others and be in relationship with them.
Failure to be able to regulate emotions can create difficult behaviour in children such as anger, aggression, and anxiety leading to acting out (towards others) or acting in (towards self) behaviours.
Brene Brown points out that it is impossible to give a child what you have not got yourself so being able to regulate and manage your emotions is key for children to learn this by observing you.
She goes on to say that the job of parenting is not about "knowing it all" and teaching your children what to do. It is about being with them in their struggle, feeling with them, talking to them about their feelings and emotions, naming them, and confirming for them that they are real and normal, and helping them to build skills to problem solve these for themselves, sometimes even to just build the resilience of being able to tolerate the painful feelings. Feelings and emotions, once named and no longer kept secret and silent, lose their power to shame us. And it is shame that is the most detrimental emotion of all.
Shame. Do you have it? Here's the thing. We all do. Some of us deal with it better than others, yes, some of us are more aware of it when we experience it and process and recover from it more quickly or more whole-heartedly. But we all experience it. It does not discriminate between those who have money and those who don't, between race, religion or gender, between young or old or educated or not. It is experienced by us all, and often on a daily basis. So what is it? How does it affect us and what can we do about it?
Shame is the most base and powerful emotion we experience when something goes wrong in our lives. It has a powerful impact on our self esteem and our self confidence.
It is usually experienced in response to an event that presents evidence that we are "not good enough." These events can be anything from someone hurting you deliberately, to the loss of a loved one or the ending of a significant relationship. The message we internalise is that we are "not good enough to be loved," "not good enough to be respected," "not good enough to be protected," "not good enough to be prioritised."
The variety of ways in which shame can present in our lives as multiple, minor everyday events, or one off, major, life-changing events, mean that we cannot avoid experiencing shame. All of us. Even well adjusted adults, teachers, parents - me and you. They can be experienced at home within our families, in the community with our peers, and in school.
Take a moment to think about the last time someone communicated to you, either with their words or their behaviour that you "were not good enough." It might have been someone tailgating you on the way to work and you felt unsafe, it may have been harsh words spoken to you by your partner and you felt unloved, or it may have been someone using the last of the milk this morning, and you felt unimportant. In all of these examples, you felt "not good enough" to be protected, loved, valued.
As a result of this you will have presented a shame behaviour. It may have been very subtle or it may have been quite extreme. Shame behaviour or responses are an attempt to seek relief from the discomfort of feeling "not good enough" by behaving in one of the following four ways - what we call shame responses.
1) Denial or Avoiding, (with the purpose of not confronting the shame feeling and replacing it temporarily with another feeling)
2) Withdrawing, (with the purpose of not having to deal with the public face of the shame you have experienced or the risk of someone finding our about your private shame)
3) Attacking others, (with the purpose of discharging negative internal feelings and transferring them out of you and onto someone else)
4) Attacking ourselves (with the purpose of punishing ourselves for being not enough).
Each of these shame responses can be exhibited singularly or in combination and they can present in a range from mild to extreme. Below are example of a mild and an extreme example for each.
To Deny or Avoiding Behaviours
A mild example might be to pour a large glass of wine and ask your partner to watch escapist drama on Netflix with you so you don't have to think about whatever has shamed you, whereas an extreme example would be to engage in a serious drinking binge, or to be involved in addiction or other life risking behaviours such as poly drug misuse, joy riding. Anything to switch the feeling of shame with another feeling of temporary excitement or pleasure.
A mild example might be to take a sickie from work or school, whereas the most extreme example is to withdraw from life, to feel so shamed by an experience or set of experiences that the need to withdraw permanently and irrevocably from feelings of any sort becomes preferable to living with the feelings of shame.
Attacking Others Behaviours
A mild example might be to swear at someone under your breath, through more serious behaviours like bullying or trolling on social media. More extreme examples would be to seriously assault someone, the most extreme of all of course being to kill another person or living animal.
Attacking Self Behaviours
A mild example of attacking self would be the negative self talk, sometimes spoke aloud, sometimes just a voice in your head that says "You're rubbish at this," "You'll never get that job - don't even both applying" or "look at how fat you are" through to more extreme examples such as self harm.
Recovery from Shame Experiences - Time and Perspective
Time and Perspective are two things that assist us to recover from these shame behaviours.
Having the time to process, and recover from one shame experience before another is anticipated is crucial. This is why children sometimes have extreme reactions to minor disappointments or upsets, because they have experienced a layering of shame events and have had no time to recover from one before the next has arrived. Then when someone scratches the surface there is a gush of shame responses that come out in response to all those which have not yet been recovered. Helping children (and yourself) to build in time to process shame feelings is a fundamental self care strategy.
Being able to gain perspective is equally crucial. This is usually done in communion with others as perspective requires you to get outside of yourself and see this from another person's view point. Therefore strong and trustworthy social networks are fundamental in assisting individuals to see that there are different ways of thinking about an event that happened to you other than that you were "not worthy" of love, protection, thought, help etc.
So what can you do about it?
Shame survives in secrecy. It grows when you can't get perspective on it. So talk about it. Find a trusted other and tell them that you are feeling less than, not good enough, ignored, undervalued, not pretty enough, not clever enough, not protected, or any of the other shame feelings you have. Talking about that feeling carves out the time and space that you need to start processing it, to start measuring the evidence against the reality. And doing it with trusted others allows you to get the perspective that your own negative self talk won't let you have. And if you see someone else struggling with shame, help them to carve the space and time out in their relationship with you to talk about the feelings of not being enough, and help them to gain perspective by testing the evidence with them.
Shame has huge implications for individuals ability to meet their potential, to achieve in both your professional and personal life and so it merits thinking about what your pattern of behaviour is when you experience shame and how you process it, whether you carve out time and space for perspective. If you want to know more about shame, and how it impacts on a child's ability to learn and reach their potential, then reach out for a conversation about our restorative workshops and online training at email@example.com
Ever felt like your child has just unloaded a full artillery of bullets on your head just because you ran out of ketchup? Has it left you reeling? Bewildered? At a total loss as to what to do, say or feel?
Developing emotional intelligence in children can be an overwhelming and daunting journey. But so crucial in creating well adapted, strong and capable children.
Here are 4 first steps to begin your journey.
It can be so hard to live in the knowledge that you can’t “do” anything about the pain, struggle or challenge that your child is in. But what if you consider that your job is not to protect them from that pain, struggle or challenge, rather your job is to help them cope with them gain perspective, tolerate their feelings and realise they will survive the big emotions they are currently experiencing. What if you began to realise that the most valuable “do” is to empathise with what they are experiencing. Just being understood helps small (and big) humans let go of troubling emotions. If the reaction seems out of proportion the remember we all bottle up big feelings until we are in a safe enough place to let them go. And if you are that safe haven, it can feel pretty hostile when those feelings are all focused in your direction at once.
Empathising doesn’t mean you have to agree with your child, but you do have to appreciate the situation from their side. They may have to toe your line when it comes to house rules, but they are still entitled to have feelings about your rules. As long as they aren’t breaking any other house rules such as damaging stuff or physically harming people then let them express their feelings. And remember, what you experience as anger is always underpinned by a real emotion - for example hurt, disappointment, sadness, fear or frustration.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Feeling understood helps the child to feel soothes. Over time that neural pathway you are teaching them to strengthen is what they will use to soothe themselves as they get older.
* Children develop empathy by experiencing it from others.
* Helping your child to think about their experiences and what happened that they feel this way about it, teaches them to connect triggers, to feelings, to behaviours. Being able to name the feeling allows them to express it which externalises it so they don’t have to bottle it up internally like a pressure cooker.
2) Allow expression
Don’t dismiss, trivialise or shame your child’s feelings. “Big boys don’t cry” or “shhh don’t make a fuss” are stifling responses to a child’s way to express their emotions.
Firstly it shames them, which has a very destructive impact on their self identity, and secondly it encourages them to deny the validity of their feelings. For more on this check out our training on Restorative Practices in particular the process of shame, unresolved shame and the impact on growth mindsets.
Just think how important it is in today’s environment of increasing suicidal ideation in children, that we don’t prevent our children from getting big emotions out and not bottling them in until they can no longer cope. Repressed feelings don't fade away, like feelings that have been freely expressed do. Instead
they spill out uncontrollably, and unexpectedly when a child suddenly hits another child, starts to have nightmares or develops anxious behavioural patterns.
By the same token think about the message we are sending to a child who is feeling scared of a predatory adult if we teach them “not to make a fuss”. Children, especially young children aren’t able to differentiate between what is something you should make a fuss about and something they shouldn’t.
Instead, teach that the full range of feelings is understandable and part of being human, even while some actions must be limited.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Your tolerance of your child’s emotions helps your child to tolerate their own emotions too. This tolerance is what enables us to sit with the emotions until they can accept them and then move on. This is emotional regulation.
* Your acceptance enables your child to realise that emotions are not shameful or bad, and that they can with time and support change, reduce or become less acute. They also learn that everyone has difficult feelings and even the not nice parts of our personalities do not make us bad, just human.
3) Listen to your child’s feelings.
All behaviour is communication and if you don’t listen to and reflect the child’s feelings back to them, they will continue to express their feelings in every escalated ways until the message they are trying to communicate lands and you get it.
Once they feel they’ve been heard, they will let them go and get on with their life. This means creating an environment in which your child feels you are genuinely present and listening to them. So put the phone away, turn the TV off, ask the question.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* The nature of normal human emotions is to flow through us, engulf us, and then ebb away. When we deny them they get stuck inside us. Children are not yet skilled in handling their strong emotions, so they try to avoid them until they feel safe enough to experience them.
* When we help our children feel safe enough to feel and express their emotions, we not only heal their little brains and bodies, but we also help them trust their own emotional capabilities so that they can handle bigger stuff like social and intimate relationships as they get older without destructive tantrums or repression.
4) Teach problem solving
Emotions are messages to communicate needs and wants. Teach your child to tolerate the emotions so they can express their needs and wants while realising they may not have them all met all of the time, and once they aren’t in the grip of intense emotion anymore, to problem-solve and take action if necessary.
Most of the time, once the child feels their emotions are understood and accepted, they quieten and lose their intensity. This creates space for problem solving.
Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to formulate possible options. Resist giving them the answers unless they ask or there is an immediate safety issue as this communicates that you believe they are incapable of handling it themselves and this will create a fixed
mindset of “can / can’t” instead of a growth mindset of “can’t yet.”
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Children need to practice how to find constructive solutions to problems and that means we have to model it for them and allow them the space to struggle.
* Research shows that simply empathising with our kids is not enough because they still feel at sea with their emotions. Teaching them to respect their feelings as alerts about things they need to do differently in their lives increases their personal power to influence and change their experiences. This self efficacy is crucial in children feeling capable, confident and empowered.
My favourite film is "It's a Wonderful Life." I think the story of how Clarence (the Angel for those who haven't seen it) shows George (the suicidal hero) how many lives he had touched and what those lives might have been like had he not been there to touch them. Whilst a wildly fantastical film, there is so much truth in the lesson that "you don't always know the impact you have on others." Sometimes you will be lucky enough to find out in your lifetime. Sometimes you won't and it will be your children or grandchild that hear the stories of the impact you made. All you can do is make sure that whatever you do in this world, you try as best you can to make a good impact on those around you.
My high school was an excellent school. The teachers were genuinely interested in children and I have more that one memory as a young teenager of teachers who reached out to sensitively support children who were struggling. I am immensely proud that one of those teachers who is thought of so highly is my own dad. I am also so glad that he is still with us to hear the gratitude for the impact he had on others. Social media is not all bad!!
This morning I woke to a conversation in which I was tagged in Facebook. It lifted my spirits and I immediately reached out to Bobbie to ask if I could share. This is what Bobbie had to say:
..."At Ballycastle High I was in Glendun and our house colour was yellow. I never did Physical Ed, I managed to get out of it. So in first year I would spend most of my time in the greenhouse at the back of Mr Saywers (sic) class. He was very good to me and did his best to teach me some common sense and initiative. I learnt a lot there and I would like to say thank you to him for going the extra mile with me and having the patience and determination that he had to reach out to me and give me the confidence and strength to redefine myself rather than being defined by my illness....he taught me to have some initiative and in all honestly when I think back it was much more worthwhile I didn't do PE and much better for me that I was in the greenhouse instead....I really appreciate everything he did for me...he also taught me to have respect for others." Bobbie Gibson.
I am immensely proud of the teacher my dad was (and still is to my son - and well - also me). I am thankful that he gets to hear how he touched the lives of others.
Tell me - which teacher made the biggest impact on you and how?
Ever want to rub out and start again? None of us are perfect. Quite the opposite. So here’s me, delivering workshops on parenting and managing conflict better with your kids and giving choices and meeting needs and showing compassion, and having patience and breathing and.... yep - not perfect!
I do not always get it right. I am not always nailing it. Sometimes I just haven’t got my plastic pants and superhero cape handy. This day at the end of last year was one of those days.
Little did I know when I rolled over and kissed my partner goodbye as he left for a two day business trip what awaited me. I thought I was organised. I thought I was prepared. But sometimes life just kicks you up the ass, pokes you in the eye and then laughs in your face.
Let me paint the picture. Traffic on the way to work - arrived late. Now just to let you in on a secret - my pet peeve is lateness - I hate it. Strong word hate - but I do. Anyway, it was one of those crazy day's when I didn't look after myself very well. I didn’t stop to pee, to have a drink of water, I barely registered inhaling my lunch, and I left work late. I picked my son, Jacob up from after school - late. (Did I mention my pet peeve?)
I got home to discover he hadn’t finished his homework at after school and now I'm starting to feel more than a little stressy!! Started to finish his home work with him whilst trying to get dinner cooked and one eye on the clock to get him out to Judo on time.
He was struggling with homework, overwhelmed and confused and I was too focused on timescales and not being late so I missed the cue and he lost it and ripped up the dictionary. (Not any old dictionary - the Mrs Wordsmith, beautifully illustrated, cost a fortune, dictionary).
I lost it. I shouted. He screamed. I slammed the dictionary on the table. He started to cry, I burst into tears, he howled, I howled, and somewhere in the middle of all this he knocked over the juice on the table - all over his homework which we had almost completed, and then ran through the puddle and sticky footprints across the kitchen and up the hall.
Because I was under pressure and made my priorities his. Who cared if we were 5 minutes late for Judo? Me. Who cared if we had to do homework when we came back from Judo. Me. Who cared if the home work book was a bit sticky. Me. Not him. Me. And it’s not that they aren’t important things. It’s that they weren’t the most important thing right then.
Putting my arms around him and saying “homework sucks, but I can help you” was important to him. Eating his dinner without rushing was important to him. Finding the word in the dictionary instead of a pile of illustrated pictures was important to him. Going to Judo and worrying about homework later was important to him. And nowhere did our priorities meet in the middle.
I ruptured our relationship that evening. But, and there is always a but. I also repaired it. He was so angry at me for not seeing him. And I was so angry that he ripped up the book that I loved (and paid a fortune for!) But I was the adult.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper and shouted Jacob, I said. "It was wrong of me, I should have noticed how hard you were finding homework and not rushed you. I’m so sorry I upset you and shouted.”
“It’s ok”, he said “I’m sorry I ripped the lovely book - I was so frustrated and I tried to tell you”
“I know, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you,” I replied.
“I love you mum” he said.
I burst into tears again. Some days suck but even when you rupture, you can still repair.
I was invited back to a school that I delivered restorative training to, to observe how they were using the principles and values in practice and to consult on developing their skills further. It was an exciting time. But it was also a little nerve wracking if I'm honest. As a trainer, I know that what I deliver works when it is put into practice. But once I have delivered the knowledge and skills to teachers, I have no control over whether they apply the principles as they should be (and as many media articles have had great pleasure in reporting, when the practice is delivered poorly the outcomes are not favourable!)
The class was a primary 2 class - so the children were between 5 and 6 years old. This is an age which teachers who attend my training often tell me "children won't get it." But oh my goodness - they really do get it when you have teachers like this one.
I had been there for about 40 mins, the children had finally stopped being distracted by me and had been directed to complete work at their desks while the teacher listened to a small group of children reading at the front of the class. After a few minutes the noise levels in the class started to rise. The teacher was distracted and "shushed" the class a few times. I was interested... I could see the teacher's frustration beginning to peak. She got up, and walked to the front of class. What she did next was the loveliest example of restorative classroom management I had seen in a long time.
"Boys and Girls" she said. "I have a problem, can you put on your super sleuth hats and circle up?"
Immediately, as if they had been primed for this moment, all the children, pulled their chairs into a (haphazard) semi circle and (get this.... cutest thing ever), pulled on imaginary super sleuth hats.
"My problem", she said, "is I really need to hear the children at the front reading, but the noise level in the class is too high. I'd love your help - any ideas how you can help me solve my problem?" The kids were loving this.
Kid: "We could put our fingers on our lips and shush"
Teacher: "That's a good idea - I like that"
Kid: "We could put our heads down and go to sleep" (I love this kid)
Teacher: "A good idea but I also need you to do the work that I set for you."
Kid: "We could whisper to each other"
Teacher: "Another great idea"
Teacher: These are great solutions - lets try them out - we can decide how well it worked after I've finished reading with the group at the front.
The class went back to work and the teacher went back to reading at the front. The noise levels subsided and periodically over the next 15 minutes they rose again only to be shushed by one of the children and to subside again.
I felt immensely proud of that teacher. She had taken all of the learning from the training and had genuinely put it into practical practice.
She used problem solving circles to
identify how the impact of the noise on her feelings was founded on her own needs, not the behaviour of others, (if that doesn't make sense - you need to come and do our training where I will explain the importance of recognising that your feelings come from your needs and not from what other people do to you),
empower the children to be part of the solution
hold the boundary when one of the child came up with a less than desirable solution
provide an opportunity for the children to review their solution and so turned a discipline moment into a learning moment.
If you would like to know more about how to engage the children in your school in restorative practice, if you would like to find a more peaceful and cooperative way to resolve issues in your classroom, the corridors, playground and beyond, or if you would simply like to see if working in this way would hold value for you, then check out our Introduction to Restorative Practices in Education Settings. We have an online course as our face to face courses are not currently running during the COVID-19 crisis.
Or contact me, Linda, on 07805093965. Stay safe.