When children are locked in conflict with each other often adults apportion blame and try to fix the problem by focusing on the person most at fault. This takes the power, the responsibility, and the accountability away from the children involved in the conflict - both the child who was hurt and the child who caused harm. Rarely are the two exclusive. So in International Restorative Justice Week here are a few thoughts - if you agree feel free to share them.
Conflict most often occurs when children feel treated unfairly and unjustly. It is their feeling that matters here. Storytelling allows children to transform injustice through imparting knowledge to a trusted other, being heard and validated, allowing them to reframe their hurt as something bad that happened to them not because of them.
Hearing the hurt of those in conflict is the starting point - it’s the “what happened?” of the restorative script. And it is hard, indeed sometimes not yet possible for a child to take responsibility for their actions when the hurt and injustice caused to them is not yet acknowledged.
If we support children to take responsibility by hearing their stories with an open mind, without judging or apportioning blame, and then step back and allow children to see that the solution to that conflict is within their gift to others they learn three very important things.
1) They learn they have control over their lives - they have choices to make or not make - this is empowerment.
2) They learn that guilt is simply a emotional recognition that they are better than their behaviour and it is something to embrace not fear. This is taking responsibility.
3) They learn they have the power to transform hurt they have caused into healing they have repaired. This is being accountable.
The starting point for this process is always the shared story, not the apportioning of blame by someone not involved in the conflict. First listen, then understand, then step back and support children to be their own solution.