RESTORATIVE PRACTICES BLOG
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It's not Rocket Science
Parenting is not rocket science, but that doesn't mean it is easy. And when something isn’t easy – it’s best to keep it simple. Like fly into space - drill a hole - drop a bomb - and leave (Hmmm). How wrong could it go Mr Willis?
The Sciencey Bit
Risk enough to learn, but not so much to get dead
Knowledge about the brain is important as we try to enable our children to develop in a socio-emotional way, where they can learn to get their needs met effectively, taking enough risks to learn, but ultimately staying safe enough to protect their life. Being able to link the behaviours we see on the outside to what is happening on the inside, gives us an opportunity to better understand their needs and provide effective support. Over time this teaches them how to master their own skills of self-regulation. The younger the child, the more support they will need to regulate themselves and problem solve.
Simple is not the same as easy
So whilst we say it is simply 3 steps of:
it is, in reality, not easy. As a parent it requires you to be able to manage your own emotions, be able to sit with uncomfortable feelings that your child is experiencing and recognise you can't always fix them, and help them to imagine all the different ways they could solve their problem and the positive and negative consequences of these possible choices. It even sometimes means letting them have a go at trying something (with safety boundaries in place commensurate to developmental and chronological age) and picking up the pieces when they fail. Failure is not a bad thing – it’s just another learning opportunity.
The most precious thing of all
But most of all it means time. The most precious thing you can give your child is your time. In between the first step of regulating your child's emotions and the third step of helping them to learn how to problem solve is the second step of relating with them. This cannot be done alone - they need to do this WITH someone. So spend the time to relate with them.
Time consuming as this is, the 3R’s teaches your child skills which will mean that later in their life you will not be trying (as much) to regulate their feelings, build relationships and teach problem solving skills with them as teenagers, when the problems are exponentially bigger and more complicated than they are right now, and when you most need them to take the time to talk to you.
The gift of the year passed and the year to come
If there is anything last year (and it seems also this year) has gifted most of us, it's the time to spend with our children. The time to sit down with them when they are upset, angry, confused, anxious and disappointed and help them to regulate these feelings, relate to their situation and help them reason a solution that will work for them.
J: Yep. I hate school, I want to go to a different school.
Me: Really? You sound sad about school. What's happened that you feel so sad?
J: I am sad - Jimmy keeps calling me names - he says I am a rubbish baseball player and I can't play their games - he leaves me out and tells the others to not let me play.
Me: (Stifling my inner mama bear roar and with an ache in my heart - I take a deep, deep, deep, breath) That sounds horrible - that must make you feel very sad.
J: It does - I hate him - I don't want to go back to school.
Me: Ok, I can understand that. I can see you feel very sad and a bit angry about this too.
Me: And maybe left out too? And disappointed?
J: Yes – I’m not going back to school ever again.
Me: I understand. So where does this happen in school?
J: In the playground, at lunch time and break time.
Me: Let’s think about what you could do about it? What do you want to do most?
J: I could punch him in the nose.
Me: Ummm. Yeah - you could - and then what would happen?
J: He will feel as bad as me.
Me: Yep, he sure would, what would happen next?
J: I'd get in trouble with the principal.
Me: Yeah, I think you would. Would anyone else feel upset if you punched someone in the nose?
Me: Yeah I reckon she would. Is there anything else you could do?
J: I could go Turbo Ape and scream at him.
Me: Wow - Turbo ape - that sounds erm, dangerous?
J: (Excited now) Yeah, I would just kick and punch and throw my arms about like a windmill and make loads of loud noises to attract attention.
Me: Oh that sounds like your plan if someone is hurting your body or you feel trapped and uncomfortable?
J: Yeah. It’s like Donkey Kong on Turbo power.
Me: Is that how Jimmy makes you feel?
J: (thinks for a minute - he does this with great dramatic effect - visualise Rodin's "The Thinker"). Well no, but I do want him to stop calling me names.
Me: Of course you do – I do too. (Silent pause)
J: I could tell the teacher. But I don't want to be a snitch.
Me: How bad does what is going on with Jimmy make you feel on a scale of 1-10?
J: About a 6
Me: How bad does being a snitch make you feel?
J: About the same
Me: Oooh tough choice. That's hard. What are you going to do?
J: I could tell Jimmy he is being a D***.
Me: Okaaaay. Is there another word you could use?
Me: Mmmmm... what do you think will happen next if you do that?
J: Shrugs - he might stop.
Me: What friends have you around that would stick up for you?
J: Adam and Joseph.
Me: Do you think it would be better to have them around or not when you tell Jimmy to stop being horrible?
J: Probably be around.
J: Yawns... I'm tired.
Me: Yeah me too - get some sleep.
Image Credit: NJ Life Hacks
The solution is not in the outcome, it's in the process
Now bearing in mind, none of what J came up with here is an actual solution to what Jimmy was doing to him at school. The more gentle "please stop" was likely to be ineffective, and the "punch in the nose" tactic was likely to escalate things and result in a phone call from the principal - so also ineffective. I didn't sleep much that night - but so is the burden of a parent.
However, what was achieved and what is so, so, SO important is that J began to see he had options. He was not trapped. His options were not all great ones, most of them would be entirely ineffective and on some level he probably knew this, but from this conversation he got 3 very important things.
These three things moved him from feeling like a passive victim - to feeling like an active player in the outcome. This very process raises self esteem and confidence and increases the likelihood that this will translate in his body language and attitude to Jimmy.
The reality of the outplay
So what actually happened?
J: Hey Jimmy - I'm sorry we weren't getting on very well last week, I'd like to be friends.
Jimmy: Sure. Do you want to bat?
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant, living in Northern Ireland. She is partner to JP, Mum to J, a Covid-redundant hugger and the chief quality controller of all chocolate in her home.
Just like the Iceberg that Kissed the Titanic, it is Underneath the Surface that You Will Find the Four Goals of Inconvenient Behaviour.
Children's behaviour is ALWAYS a form of communication. A way of telling you, showing you, how they are feeling and what it is that they need from you. And if you miss the convenient way that they ask for what they need, they will begin to use inconvenient ways. Some children, by the time they reach our schools or mainstream community services have already been taught that their inconvenient behaviour gets them what they need faster than any other means.
Just like the iceberg which kissed the Titanic, behaviour which is exhibited is only the tip of the story and the real knowledge and understanding lies deep below the surface in the feelings, thoughts and needs of the child. If we can identify and address the feelings and needs of the child, then inconvenient behaviour will subside and be replaced with convenient behaviour.
Rudolph Dreikurs, an Austrian psychologist identified 4 common goals that children are trying to achieve when they are behaving inconveniently. He found that by acting out these inconvenient behaviours children were trying to mediate the uncomfortable and distressing feelings of:
As a famous African Proverb reminds us, "The child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it's warmth"
Dreikurs set out to identify the goals which children were trying to achieve in behaving in inconvenients ways and he identified four clear motivations.
Let's take a look in a little more detail.
When children display inadequacy behaviours we tend to feel frustrated and helpless. This often mirrors exactly how they are feeling, incapable, anxious, frustrated, and more than anything, scared that they will be seen to be "less than" their peers or you. What children need when feeling like this is to know that it is OK to not be brilliant at everything, so talk to them about their strengths and their areas for development.
They need to know that getting something wrong is not being a failure, rather it is just another way to learn. Thomas Edison when challenged by journalists that he failed to make a light bulb over 3000 times, famously replied "I did not fail 3000 times - I learned 3000 ways how not to make a light bulb." There are so many amazing victory stories which children can connect with from hearing that Bill Gates' first business failed, to Albert Einstein not speaking until the age of four, or how Richard Branson has dyslexia and Stephen King's first novel was rejected 30 times before it became a best seller and sold over 350 million copies! (It was Carrie if you were wondering).
But most importantly, they need to know that even YOU fail from time to time. Tell them your epic failure story, it will connect them to you and that relationship is so key in helping them to be ready to learn.
(Photo Credit Bill Watterson)
Despite the common attitude that you should not give attention to attention seeking behaviour, this is a mistake. Whilst ignoring attention seeking behaviour may reduce it temporarily, this will just displace it to somewhere or sometime else in your relationship with the child or it will re-emerge in a different inconvenient behaviour such as power and control.
You know the behaviour is attention seeking when you feel irritated, preoccupied by the child and their actions and we want to turn away and give no attention to the behaviour which is irritating us. The key here is not to ignore the child, but instead to give attention to the underlying needs rather than the inconvenient behaviour.
The child will be feeling under-stimulated, overlooked or unimportant, and their behaviour is an attempt to get you to turn towards them not away from them. There is truth in the position that negative attention is better than no attention at all.
So what are the needs which are arising from the above feelings? The child will need to feel stimulated, interested, and they need to receive positive attention or confirmation of the value that they hold within the classroom or peer group.
Examples of ways in which you can meet these needs are:-
1) Pointing out positive behaviour, for example "I really like the way you are forming an argument there - I can see how you came to that conclusion, I wonder if there another way of looking at this?"
2) Shift their focus (and yours) to something you are proud of, for example "Your homework yesterday was so neat, it really made me proud to see how much effort you put into it."
3) Give attention for something completely unrelated, but positive, for example "How did you get on with your football match at the weekend? Was it a win?"
4) Encourage them to do something with you, for example "Could you write the important points up on the board as we discuss them?"
The aim here is to meet their need to connect with you and feel important, not through commentary on their negative behaviour, but rather through commentary on their positive behaviour, (even if it is not currently being displayed).
When children are displaying revenge behaviour we are mostly likely to feel angry, hurt, and sometimes disgusted. When children are in vengeful behaviour patterns it is because they in some way feel hurt and treated unjustly themselves, even if this is only their perception and not based in reality.
Interestingly, even though you might be the recipient of the vengeful behaviour, you are not necessarily the cause of the injustice or hurt that the child is experiencing. Children often transfer this behaviour onto you because you in some way remind them of, or represent the person by whom they feel hurt or mistreated. This might be another authority figure, a parent, or just a grown up. Of course, it could also be you. None of us are perfect and we don't always get it right!
What the child needs is to have their hurt and injustice heard and validated, and they will most likely need this from you before they can attend to validating any hurt they have caused you or another person.
This is sometimes a difficult concept for those parents and teachers who are repetitively experiencing a very challenging relationship with a particular child or student. If you are one of those people, I understand that the idea that you need to mend a bridge with that child before that child can mend a bridge with you seems "a bridge too far." Yet it is effective. So, with compassion for your hurt and upset, I ask you to genuinely open your mind to that child and listen to their story. I fully appreciate and respect how difficult this is but when you hear that story, it will rarely anger you, more often it will break your heart.
It helps to understand why "them first, us second" is the best way to practice. I think of the empathy pathway in the brain a little like a busy road junction. Before a child can progress down an empathy pathway for you or another person's pain and hurt they need to clear the junction of their own pain and hurt. The more pain and hurt they have, the more traffic there is in that busy junction and the less likely they will be able to see or respond to your or another person's pain and hurt.
This is where an adults skills in empathy are really tested. Can you put your feelings of hurt aside to address their hurt first, and in doing so clear their junction and maximise the opportunity for them to hear your hurt at a later stage? In my experience, even the most difficult to reach children respond really well to connecting and empathising with our hurt, when we have first acknowledged and validated theirs.
Power & Control
When children are exercising power and control behaviours we generally feel in struggle with them, a back and forth tussle for the "upper hand."
Contrary to popular belief that children exercising power and control is a "bad thing" it is actually a very necessary developmental skill that meets their need to have influence on people and their immediate environment for the express purpose of increasing their sense of security and safety.
(Photo Credit: Nursing Education Consultants: 2007)
Imagine that you have no control over the environment around you or what people will say or do to you? How insecure and unsafe would you feel? And if you thinkk about Maslow's Hierarchy we know that without this safety and security, there is little progress to be made in empathy building, problem solving skills or achieving educational or social goals.
When met with this behaviour it is important that we do not force our will, as this is the quickest route to the child feeling even less in control and unable to influence their environment, further raising their anxiety about being unsafe and insecure. What we do need to do is give firm boundaries and choices within those. For example, you might say to a child refusing to engage in the lesson "I can see you aren't in the mood for completing this lesson, would you like a five minute break and then complete it, or would you prefer to take it home and bring it in completed tomorrow, and instead work on this other task right now?"
Similarly, you might engage the whole class in choosing between completing this lesson first, or that lesson first. The more choices and personal autonomy you can give a child or class, the more likely you are to get buy in from them as an individual or as a class.
Safety and security is a basic need for all people to achieve in their life to allow them to explore, learn, and take risks to achieve goals. Without safety and security there is no learning. Of course when you put those firm boundaries in place prepare for them to be tested. This is not children intentionally or wilfully causing you difficulty. This is children testing if you will hold them safely and securely.
I think of this a little like being on a roller coaster. When you get on - what is the first thing that you do after pulling the safety harness into place? Yes, you give it a little shake, and then a bigger shake! You test it. Will it hold you safe and secure? Can you relax and enjoy the ride? Most children are on this roller coaster - consistently testing the boundary to see if it will hold so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Be their safety net so they can learn.
If you would like to learn more about needs led, and trauma informed restorative practice for teachers, parents and partners, then you can contact Linda here
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer and consultant, living in Northern Ireland. She is partner to JP, Mum to J, a covid redundant hugger and the chief quality and controller of all chocolate in her home.
Without fail, in every training I deliver, at least one teacher or parent will say to me “they don’t mean it when they apologise, it’s not genuine, they just say it to get off the hook.”
My response is always the same. I ask whether they told the child how they had been hurt or did they just tell the child that their actions were unacceptable?
When an apology doesn’t appear genuine it is usually because a key element in the process of reparation has been missed, overlooked or purposefully avoided. What tends to happen is children give an apology for their behaviour. It sounds a little like this:-
While this seems like an apology, it is actually only the first step, it is only an admission of guilt.
For it to connect and feel genuine to the person who has been harmed the child’s apology needs to acknowledge the victim’s hurt and connect it to what they did.
It sounds more like this:-
This is accountability - a connection between actions and impact.
To facilitate this the victim needs to express how they have been hurt through a conversation with the child. Therefore, when teachers challenge the genuineness of a child's apology, I always start with "Did you tell them how they hurt you?"
If we are to find peaceful ways to resolve conflict, there needs to be conversation, and we need to be in the messiness of that conflict together. And yes , you feel vulnerable when you say to a child “your actions pulled the rug from under me, crushed me, hurt me, made me feel small,” but to not step into the circle and speak our truth we close down the opportunity to repair and strengthen our relationships with our students when they need it most.
If you want to find out more about how the skills of restorative practice can help you to connect better with your students or children through, and beyond conflict, then I would love to hear from you, or you can check out our upcoming training events here.
LJ Sayers is a restorative trainer, mum to J, partner to JP, a COVID redundant hugger and the chief quality controller of all chocolate in her household.
The four strategies are represented as different combinations of high or low control and high or low support, (see fig 1.) Practitioners often swap in the words “Expectations of Behaviour” or “Accountability” for control. Personally, I don’t have a difficulty with any of these and also like “boundaries” – but the general rule of thumb is that the vertical axis of the model is about the frame within which you are working, the allowed and not allowed, the purpose, the direction, the boundaries and expectations. The horizontal axis is about what you put into that frame (or don’t put into it) through physical, emotional and social resources.
fig 1: The Social Discipline Model: P McCold & T watchel
The restorative quadrant combines high expectations of behaviour with levels of resources or support and is characterized by doing things with people, rather than to them or for them. The restorative approach allows us to address the problematic behaviour, while also practicing empathy and maintaining a strong relationship.
Take, for example, a child who is repeatedly disruptive, speaking over you, giving back chat, making jokes and distracting or irritating others.
The Neglectful approach is to not do anything, to ignore it and hope that the child will just eventually stop. If you want to learn more about why you are on a hiding to nothing with this approach and you are just storing up trouble for later, then you definitely want to click into our Online Course below and learn about behaviour, communication and displacement.
The Punitive approach is punishment, doing something to the child who is misbehaving. You might give a detention, ground the child, remove privileges like pocket money or school trips. This strategy is all about telling the child “you’d better …(desired behaviour) and if you don’t…(threat).” It drives fear, resentment and disconnection. It also doesn’t work as the child will make decisions to engage in the desired behaviour or not based on their assessment of risk and reward rather than on engagement in curiosity and learning. It also completely fails to address the reasons for the disruptive behaviour in the first place and so this behaviour will keen popping up when you least want it to. Trust me on this.
The Permissive approach is when we do things for someone. We accept their excuses or make excuses for them. We might tell ourselves that it is “because of their disability,” or they are “having a hard time at home / school.” Let’s think about this. We are basically saying “we don’t believe you can do this.” How soul crushingly rubbish a message for a child to hear, no matter how well intentioned. I had a teacher who used to step in frustratedly and say to me “not like that, like this” and then do it for me. It never felt like my work product after – and it affected how much I believed I was capable. This also can impact other children who begin to believe that if behaviour is not expected of one, it should not be expected of another.
The Restorative approach is when we work with the child to resolve the issue. Talking to the child using the restorative language formula of
When you… (behaviour)
I feel … (impact)
Because I need … (needs arising)
Would you be willing to … (connection),
To help me out? (relationship)
To learn more about the difference between shaming language and restorative language – have a quick read at my blog post on “The Shitty First Draft – I’ve put the link for you below – because I’m nice like that.”
Of course, you still need to meet the needs underlying the child’s behaviour. So, at a quiet or appropriately private moment (you will know when it comes) speak to the child to understand what is happening. Keep the questions curious and open ended. Again using the “Can’t Do” lens rather than the “Won’t Do” lens will help you to stay in the curious zone and get a solid understanding of what is happening so you can work out ways to reduce the stressors, meet their needs and teach the skills they need to be a connected child in your family or school.
The restorative strategy for addressing behaviour requires humility on the part of the authority figure approaching the problem in front of them as a curiosity and seeking to understand. It views the people involved in the conflict as each having something interesting and valuable to contribute to the understanding of the problem. So rather than thinking that we know best and approaching the problem with an already formed answer (as is the case in both the punitive and the permissive strategies), the restorative strategy approaches the issue by asking questions, with a humble and compassionate desire to better understand. It is the only strategy that allows us to actually get to the core of the issue.
Here are a few things you can do within your own life to address conflict and issues more restoratively.
First Up: Ask Questions. Lots of them. Keep them open ended, lots of and what else? Tell me more. Help me understand. That’s interesting – can you say more about that?
Next: Follow the three pillars of the restorative framework and don’t skip out the middle pillar of it will come tumbling down. These are:
Spend some time working out which approach is your default response. Take a week and pay attention to what you say and do when someone is causing you difficulty. Do you punish, threaten, warn? Do you ignore, avoid, detach? Do you excuse, protect? Or do you have a conversation about your expectation and what they are struggling with to plan a strategy to support?
I'd love to hear what your natural position is, so if you tell me yours, I'll tell you mine. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practices trainer, mum, mediocre saxophonist and chief quality controller of all chocolate in her household.
There was a knock on my door. “Have you a minute?” Lisa said as she edged open my door. She looked angry. Very angry actually. “Of course” I said as I put down my pen, swung around towards the empty chair in the corner and gestured for her to take a seat. I took a deep breath and braced myself for the SFD.
The “Stormy First Draft” as Brene Brown (a shame and empathy researcher from Texas USA) calls it. Brene, if you don’t know her, is my favourite story-teller and knows just a little bit about shame, blame, and leadership. Her teaching tells us so much about how to be restorative when working with teams, complaints, and breakdown in effective communications.
The Stormy First Draft. We all have it. We all do it. We all need it. It isn’t a judgement on you as a person if you have lots of them. I have a library of them – all unpublished. If you ever see me driving the M2 in Northern Ireland you’ll see me orating them in the car. Every. Single. Day. My husband to be, JP, is a seasoned audience of my SFD’s. Patient, kind, generous of spirit, and one of the best reflectors I know, he is my editor of SFD’s.
The Stormy First Draft is your first and most emotional response to an event which threatens some sense of your security. They are usually gift wrapped in past pain, insecurities, fear, and tied with a colourful bow which reads “I’m not good enough.” And before you think this is a gift just for the girls. It isn’t. Guys have Stormy First Drafts too. They just don’t talk about them as much as girls do, which is a great sadness to me considering the suicide rate in men and the raft of research which suggests that women’s propensity to tell their SFD to, well just about anyone who will listen (including a random granny at the bus stop who just asked how your day was going), is a protective factor in mental health. We all need an editor for our SFD’s, and good leaders accept this (often unacknowledged) responsibility with the wisdom that it will build stronger and more resilient employees. It is the “support” function of your leadership role.
Lisa sat down. She took a deep breath and said:
“I hate working here. I am so fed up with this. Do you know what they did?”
“To You?” I asked, checking myself against the fourth rule of braving leadership – Vaulting.
“Yes to me!” she replied
“Ok, good,” I thought, we were within the boundary of talking about things that belonged to Lisa to talk about. In practicing restoratively, "Vaulting" is keeping confidential things that are spoken to you, but which do not belong to you, and equally important, not listening to things that are spoken to you which do not belong to you or the person talking about them. It goes to the core of integrity – of being trust-worthy. Bottom line is if you or the person talking to you, isn’t involved in the trouble you are sharing, if they don’t impact you or them in some way – then mind your own business and frankly, stop being a gossip.
And so out it came, the SFD, words tumbling over each other. How, ever since she had spoken out against the expectation that everyone should work overtime, and she had chosen to not work overtime, because she had children to care for, “they” had ignored her. Whispers fell to silence when she walked in the room, covert looks were passed over shoulders and although nothing was said, she could feel the judging stare as she packed up her bag at 6pm every evening and left the office.
“They’re bullies – they don’t understand what it is like to juggle children and work. I’m going to put in a grievance.”
Now the Stomry First Draft is a double-edged sword. They are dangerous if they become your truth. And they become your truth through unchecked repetition either to yourself or to others. And so this effective and crucial leadership skill of processing the SFD is not just for managers and HR. Everyone should be trained in it. Because often we choose to tell SFD’s to selective people whom we know will agree with us, we keep them secret from people who will actually process them. And yet, in organisations that have great leadership, the task of processing the SFD is a cornerstone in building a compassionate culture, where creativity, solutions, harmony and collaborative productivity resides, and avoiding the shaming, blaming culture where those things come to die.
The unarguable pre-requisite for the SFD is permission to tell the SFD in the first place, safely, and without fear of judgement that you are “hysterical,” “weak,” “a complainer,” “can’t cut it”, or you “need to grow a set.” Don’t even get me started on what the “set” to be grown is… Balls? Breasts? Both? Neither? Who knows? But the message is clear, “you are less than when you express feelings.” The list of judgements which can come on the back of the SFD when your team are not explicitly trained in the value of it, in the right place with the right people, is long and often the experience is harsh, punitive and destructive.
Now, I’ve covered permission giving and receiving as part of trustful container building before, so I won’t labour it again here. You can read it on our blog here, and learn a quick exercises on how to build it in the resources section of our website here. But let’s talk about what you should do when someone brings you their SFD.
Listen to the SFD
Unfettered. A little like a tummy bug that needs to be expelled from the body, just let them get it out. Don’t try and work out what is in it just yet. Just let them say it out loud. I use lots of these:
Tell me more
Can you say more about that?
This takes a wee bit of time, so remember your boundaries. If you don’t have the time right there and then, schedule a time and acknowledge the importance of respecting their story enough to give it time.
Acknowledge and Empathise with their feelings
Acknowledge and empathise with the feelings they are expressing. Naming them is important in building emotional literacy so that they are able to verbalise the emotion rather than demonstrate it. Did you know that only 20% of adults can name more than 3 basic emotions to describe their feelings? That means 80% of us can only name, 1, 2 or 3. And when we can’t verbalise a feeling, we tend to act it out in the manner of a 3 year old stamping their foot.
Find the emotion. Name it. Check it. Without stepping over the boundary, into their feelings (sympathy). So lots of these types of acknowledgements:
"This sounds really difficult for you – you feel treated unfairly, I understand how angry you are."
"I hear you saying how rejected you feel."
"You sound hurt and isolated."
But never this:
“I know exactly what you mean, I felt totally furious when that happened to me. It’s horrible isn’t it?”
This is sympathy. Not helpful. Because now you are both wallowing in the SFD and sinking fast.
Reflect and reframe the basis of their feeling as a consequence of their unmet needs
Learning how to reframe SFD’s as having an impact on your needs as is a key skill in restorative practice. We have a very snappy title for it – “Restorative Language.” Good eh?
Different to blaming language, where the feeling is connected to the other person’s behaviour, in restorative language we connect the feeling to our needs. Identifying your needs which are impacted by someone else’s behaviour, allows you to express much more clearly what is and isn’t a boundary for you in a concrete, professional and assertive way. The difference can be seen in Fig 1 & 2 below.
Restorative Language follows a very simple formula.
For example you might say in response to Lisa’s SFD:
“So when Julie and Aoife stopped talking as soon as you came into the room you felt hurt and suspicious because you need to feel like you belong in this workplace too and if there is a problem you need to be able to address it transparently?”
“So when you pack up your bag in the evenings, you feel judged because you need to be valued for the work you do when you are here and not for the choice to put a boundary around your home life?”
The above way of reframing feelings as connected to our needs rather than someone else’s behaviour helps us to feel more in control of ourselves, express our needs more clearly and take the personal out of what often feels (and sometimes is) very personal to us. Often we go straight to blaming language which connects our feelings to their behaviour and sounds more like this:
“Every time I walk into a room and they stop talking they make me feel like crap.”
This contributes to a sense of not having control over our own feelings because we have given power (in our heads) to someone else to “make us” feel something. And of course this just isn’t true. So having someone help us to make sense of that SFD and start to identify which needs of ours have been offended or infringed upon helps us to identify what we then can do about it.
Bridge the Gap With Them
This is where you help the person to identify what request they must make to best secure their needs being met. It’s the “would you be willing to…” request made clearly and directly after an assertive assessment of how what is currently happening is impacting on their needs.
So the above restorative statement above extends to become:
"When you stop talking as soon as I come into the room
I feel hurt and suspicious
because I need to feel like I belong in this workplace too.
If you are upset with me, would you be willing to talk about it privately with me? "
Of course, when you do this you are making yourself vulnerable to a refusal, a further rejection. This is the bit that takes the courage. There are some things you can do to maximise the chances of the person agreeing to your request.
In my experience, when you use this very clear way of communicating, taking radical responsibility for your own needs in expressing what the problem is for you, instead of pushing your feelings back onto them, I have found people generally work in harmony with you. Of course not always. So let's look at 3 possible outcomes:
When this last example happens it is disappointing but surprisingly it won't bother you anywhere near as much as you think it will. It has less power to impact you, because you now know this is about them and their issues and not you or yours. Because for you, your SFD is no longer tied up with the bow that reads “you are not enough as you are,” and that shaming message, at the end of the day, is most often the real crux of the problem.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner and trainer, a mum, a partner, a mediocre saxophonist, and the chief quality controller of all chocolate in her household.
Relationships are difficult. Even good ones. I want to tell you a story about a young person I worked with, had a great working relationship with in fact, but which went horribly wrong one wet afternoon in August..
I'd been working with this kid for nearly two years. He was a great kid, but had a lot of difficult trauma in his background. He arrived at the office for a meeting and it was as clear as the nose on your face that he was under the influence of something. He was disorientated, paranoid and angry, but couldn't quite explain what he was angry about. Now bearing in mind I was a seasoned Social Worker of nearly 15 years at this point, I did the one thing you should never do when a person is in a state of anger. I told him to "calm down." I know. Let's all do the eye roll and accept we are not perfect. His explosion was immediate. A torrent of abuse let rip at me in front of colleagues, members of the public and other young people, and as he left the office he spat on me. A great, big, wet, gob that landed right in the middle of my face.
I was stunned. It was public and I felt so humiliated. To put you in the picture, my ego and pride had a big part to play in how I experienced this damning display of rejection by a young person I was fond of, I had built a good working relationship with and whom I had worked hard to support. My humiliation came from three places.
Sometimes these are the hardest humiliations to recover from. The one's where people you have connected with suddenly and confusingly disconnect from you. In the interests of radical responsibility let's break down what my part was in this.
Trying to tell someone what you want them to feel instead of connecting, empathising with them and reflecting what they are presently feeling is a sure fire way to disconnect from someone - it is a sure fire way for them to unconsciously realise that you aren't hearing their communication and it is a sure fire way for them to up the ante and communicate in an escalated way what they are feeling again in an attempt to get you to hear them - in this case with a great big gob in the face. Nil points to me.
Failure to receive communication is one of the most common reasons for misunderstanding, one of the most common reasons for escalating behaviour and one of the most important reasons to learn restorative listening skills in working with, well anyone. The ability to put aside the "story in your head" and really slow it down to listen to what a person is feeling is a lot harder than we think.
So now that I had played a part in rupturing this relationship, I had a choice. I could attempt to repair it or I could bin it. Well obviously I wasn't binning it. I had worked too hard to cultivate a relationship of respect with this young person, and I was adult enough to see that I had played a part in the rupture. This is in no way to absolve the responsibility of the young person in spitting on me, or to give him a free pass on this behaviour - it is a horrible behaviour, has a huge impact on someone's self-esteem and whilst this was before Covid, in the current climate it is dangerous.
So let's pause for a second and look at this from the shared story, the non judgement and the restorative angle. This wasn't a relationship that was ruptured just for me. This was a relationship that was ruptured for him. And while I was humiliated and impacted, so was he. We both had a part to play, we both were in the relationship together and we both had to solve it together.
I was surprised by the amount of people who were in support of "charging him with assault," Surprised, not because it wasn't assault - it was by any interpretation, but because it wasn't the most effective way forward for him or me and I thought in the field I worked in, people would get this. I needed him to hear how hurt I was, I needed to say it and have him validate it so I could move on with getting back to the business of working with him. But I suspected he also needed to explain why he had hurt me too, and have the opportunity to learn that his poor choice of behaviour does not equate to the destruction of relationships when it is framed with courageous understanding and real talk. I also knew I needed to apologise to him for missing the opportunity to connect with him and his distress, and I was pretty sure he needed to apologise to me too.
I found my support in a colleague, who also worked closely with this young person, who also had a relationship with him and knew him for better things, and who also respected the importance of restorative practice in talking about actions, harm and needs, not broken rules and laws which in no way dealt with the human beings behind the rupture. She agreed to facilitate the restorative meeting between me and the young person. She prepared him to meet me, reassuring him that this was to "sort things out" not to punish him. Reassuring him that I and she believed that he had made a mistake that he could put right, but that he needed to hear how he had affected me.
I don't mind admitting to you that I was nervous walking into the room that day. I had thought a lot about what I would say, how much I would share, how vulnerable I would make myself by telling him the truth about the feelings that I had when he spat on me and the impact it had on my family. I also knew that I owed him an apology and that put me in a vulnerable position too. It was not lost on me, just how much we both had in common walking into that room to talk to each other.
When I opened the door that afternoon, he looked up at me and the shame and regret was palpable. I put my hand on his shoulder as I passed around the back of his chair to get to mine and gave it a squeeze, trying my hardest to say "we are in this together." He put his head down.
My colleague opened the meeting, thanked us all for coming and reminded us all why we were there - not that I think any of us were in any confusion about it. He looked like he was about to bolt out of the room, so I said "I don't know about you, but I'm really nervous." His shoulders sagged, he let out a breath of air and said in a rush, "I'm so sorry." I nodded, but waited, I knew we needed to go through the process. I knew I needed to go though the process, and I knew he needed it too.
He told his story first. How a breakdown in a family relationship sent him into a tailspin, he went on a bender, took a cocktail of drugs and came into the office that day on the downward spiral of coming off them. He said he had a bleary recollection of feeling angry and that I was out to get him just like everyone else and he remembered spitting on me. "I'm so sorry" he said again. I nodded. "So am I," I replied. "I let you down, I didn't really listen to how distressed you were, I just wanted to get you out of the office before you kicked off, it's partly my fault that you lost it and I'm really sorry that you didn't feel supported by me." A range of emotions flickered over his face, surprise, embarrassment, and then reassurance. We were connected again, by the very nature that we both had a part to play in what had happened and a realisation we both needed to apologise and repair this.
I then told my story. I explained I knew he was under the influence of something because his personality was not recognisable as the young person I knew and respected. I then told him how humiliated I felt being spat on in front of my colleagues, members of the public and other young people. I explained it was because I believed I was good at my job, and nothing communicated I was a failure quite like a young person spitting in your face. I told him that the most difficult thing however, was not being able to kiss my son goodnight until after I got the all clear from the Doctor that his spit which had landed on my face and in my eye hadn't communicated any infections to me. He looked shocked and quietly said again, "I am so sorry."
My colleague, gently and quietly asked him what exactly it was that he felt sorry about it. "For you not being able to kiss your wee boy night night." I felt validated. He had completely understood that it wasn't what he had done that required the apology, it was the impact of it that required the apology. He had totally heard me and validated my right to feel hurt which told me that what happened to me shouldn't have happened to me, I didn't deserve it. Even as an adult this is so reparative. But I also felt shame. Shame that he could demonstrate this empathy and connection, yet I had failed to do it for him. Sometimes we think kids, especially boys, can't hear sensitivity, or reject it. But in a private and safe space I think it is so important for children to hear sensitivity and boys especially. I told him he had more compassion and courage than me, and I was truly sorry that on that day I had shut him down when he needed me most to listen to him. I asked him to accept my apology and he did. There were tears, to be fair it was mostly me and his family supporter, he was way too cool to cry.
If you want to learn more about the frameworks for repairing harm and thinking about the shared story, and the parts we all play in conflict when it occurs, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more, or sign up for our Online Restorative Practice in Action course.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and and chief quality controller of all chocolate in her house.
The Double Circle: A Collaborative Problem-Solving Approach
A collaborative problem-solving approach I really like and have used in the past with schools, businesses and in Justice Settings is that of the Double Circle. After all, the only thing that is better than one circle, is two circles. This works on the idea of an inner circle surrounded by an outer circle. Those in the inner circle are the people who are impacted by the problem you are trying to resolve. They might be the child, the teacher(s) and the parents, it might even be a group of staff who are struggling with changes in your school or have a problem to resolve which was identified by an Educational Inspection. Those in the outer circle are the resources. They are there to offer options to resource the plans or needs which the child, family, teachers and others in the middle identify, (see diagram below).
Much like a family group conference model, the Inner Circle meets first to talk about what problems are being experienced and what people need to move forward positively. After this has been identified, the Outer Circle joins and works to resource any needs that the Inner circle couldn’t resource on their own.
Here is an example of a Double Circle we ran at a rural Secondary School back at the end of 2019 and the action plan which the Double Circle came up with as a strategy to resolve a 16 year old girl’s truancy from school.
The Circle (all names have been changed to protect anonymity)
Crystal has been referred to Educational Welfare because her attendance at school had dropped so dramatically in the last 6 months. Her History teacher was vexed because he saw great potential in Crystal and so he asked for a circle to be offered to Crystal and her family to try and support her back into school. An early preparation conversation between Crystal and Mr O’Donaghue revealed that Crystal’s mum was suffering from depression following the death of her Grandmother, and her father was often working away, (he was a long distance lorry driver) so Crystal at the tender age of 16 was being relied on to cook, do laundry and support the younger children with homework.
In the Inner Circle was Crystal, her mother Margaret, her father Patrick, and her two aunts, Marie and Claire as well as the History Teacher Mr O’Donaghue. In the outer circle was Crystal’s Head of Year, Miss Albert, The Education Welfare Officer, Alicia, and a local youth worker, Paul.
After welcomes, introductions and reassurances at the beginning, the Inner Circle began with Mr O’Donaghue explaining why he had called the circle, speaking fondly of Crystal and her fun and bright nature in his class. He posed the question of “What’s Happening?” that Crystal was not coming to school regularly.
There was a very awkward silence and it was clear that Crystal was conflicted, her eyes darting between her mum and dad. The Inner Circle was stuck. Mr O’Donaghue tried again reassuring everyone that this was a safe place to talk and everyone here believed in the importance of all working together to give Crystal the best of themselves. But still the Inner Circle was stuck.
Mr O’Donaghue tried again – this time, working from a basic knowledge of what he knew was going on for Crystal, he shared his own story. He told everyone how as a 15 year old he had struggled to always be at school on time because his parents had separated and his dad took the only car the family had with him, so he had a 2 mile cycle to get to the bus stop. And in a rural setting, he remembered one particular day when he was furiously kicking the “pedal to the metal” only to see the back end of the bus pull away around a corner. The next day in a fit of anger he said to the bus driver “would you ever give me an effing chance – I’m trying to fit in a 2 mile cycle to get to you on time and you left 5 minutes early yesterday morning.” The bus driver, a calm and grandfatherly sort, had laughed and said “son, you should have said – I’ll give you 5 minutes leeway in future.” Mr O’Donaghue laughed as he said “I never realised it at the time, but that Bus Driver gave me the best chance I had back then – I guess none of us can do it alone.” This is a beautiful example of building common ground and connection and it was transformative. Crystal laughed, the Aunt’s laughed, even Patrick laughed, and he didn’t look like a man who had cause to laugh too often with his rough hands and his furrowed brow. There was a pause before Mr O’Donaghue asked again “What Happens in your house that makes it difficult to get out the door in the morning?”
Crystal quietly said that she just “didn’t have enough time to do everything that needed done.” By the time she had “sorted the wee one’s in the evening, made sure they had something to eat and their homework done and their clothes set out and tidied for the next day, she often missed out on getting her own homework done. Or it was sloppy and untidy.” She paused and then looking down at her hands and picking at the skin on the side of her fingers, she said “I hate being told off all the time for being careless and untidy when it’s just not true. It makes me feel pissed off most of the time and I don’t want to be here.” Mr O’Donaghue nodded and replied, “when actually you are caring for everyone a lot, that must feel very thankless and tiring.” Crystal nodded, head still down, tears splashing into her lap. Her father looked so uncomfortable, his face had turned the colour of his t-shirt, a muddy red colour. Mr O’Donaghue looked him straight in the eye and said “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be torn between working to look after your family and wanting to be there to help your daughter cope with all she has on her plate. What can we do to help?”
Patrick looked like he would burst – he blurted out “I don’t know – it’s all fallen apart, Margaret lost her mum – it’s been really hard”, he patted Crystal’s mum’s hand awkwardly as she started to cry, “I don’t know what to do,” he shrugged. Now this is where silence is a beautiful thing, but as anyone who has sat in silence with someone else before, you know it can also tip over into feeling painful and punitive, so be careful to keep connecting and reassuring people but without stepping into the space and directing the conversation. Mr O’Donaghue held the space beautifully. He made a few reassuring murmurs and said “I know it is hard.”
Then one of the Aunt’s, Marie, explained that her sister had been struggling to cope since their mother had died last year. Mr O’Donaghue turned to Crystal’s mum and said “I know what it is like to lose someone important – I fell apart when my mum died two years ago – it is so hard to get your head above water, what can we do to help?” Until this moment, Margaret had been struggling to say that she felt deep rooted shame that she wasn’t “cutting it” as a mum, something she had always prided herself on, but she felt so angry and lost at the death of her own mother. In a waterfall of words, tears, and pain out came Margaret’s total devastation at the untimely loss of her mother to cancer. A rock in her life, the lynchpin of the family and now she felt completely desolate and lost. Mr O’Donaghue’s empathy and understanding was the catalyst to encouraging Margaret to share out loud her shame and regret that she was not able to be the mum she knew Crystal needed. When she took a breath, Mr O’Donaghue said “right now.” “What?” said Margaret. “You can’t be the mum Crystal needs right now – but you will get back there again with support,” said Mr O’Donaghue. This is a lovely example of understanding, of being real and of recognising that it is OK that we are not all perfect, all of the time. This, I think was the moment I wanted to clone Mr O’Donaghue and put him in my pocket to take to every school I ever visit.
Mr O’Donaghue then asked Crystal directly, “Crystal, what do you need to come to school in the mornings?” Crystal shrugged and then said “I need to not be tired and have had time to do my own home work.” “And what else?” said Mr O’Donaghue. “And to get my head shired” came the simple reply. (For those of you joining us from outside Northern Ireland this is a colloquialism meaning to get out of the worry in your head and have some fun and relaxation so that you can be refreshed) “Anything else?” asked Mr O’Donaghue. There was a pause before Crystal said with a break in her voice. “And I need to know mum is going to be alright.” Mr O’Donaghue nodded.
“Ok,” he said. How do we make this happen? Who can help? He wrote up the four things Crystal had said she needed up on a flipchart.
The Head Of Year from the Outer Circle suggested a referral to a bereavement counsellor, and when Crystal’s mum shook her head in rejection of the idea of talking to someone, Crystal, bolstered by the support of other people in the room, tearfully said “I can’t keep doing this on my own mum, you need to get help.” Aunt Marie then suggested that Margaret might feel happier talking to their priest initially, until she felt more able to approach a specialist support group. Aunt Marie committed to making an appointment for them to see the Priest together and going with Margaret for the first few times until she felt more comfortable. Margaret seemed more able to cope with this suggestion and agreed to give this a try.
Patrick then admitted that he had been taking on a lot of overtime in the lorry driving, because it was so uncomfortable to watch Margaret fall apart. “I don’t know what to do with her,” he said clearly uncomfortable with all these feelings flying about the room. He turned to Crystal and said “love I promise I won’t take on any more overtime, I’ll be at home more often to give you a break.”
Ms Albert, the Head of Year then suggested that perhaps Crystal could avail of the homework club which ran on Monday’s and Wednesday’s after school. It would perhaps help her to find some quiet time to concentrate on her homework. Crystal hesitated and Aunt Claire immediately said, “Don’t worry, I’ll pick the younger one’s up and take them until tea time – it’ll give you a break too Margaret, and you can focus on getting better and maybe having a tea ready for everyone when they get home.” Margaret nodded.
After listening quietly for the whole meeting, Alicia, the EWO simply said, “I am amazed at how strong you are Crystal and what a great family you have around you. I feel like you need something for yourself. To just have some fun. My own daughter attends a dance and drama group – is it something you would be interested in? Crystal nodded and Alicia offered to get the details of the group and check out any funding sources available to get Alicia registered onto a programme. Again, concerned about her mum and the younger children, Crystal hesitated and Paul the Youth Worker suggested that both the younger children attend their youth club which was open 4 nights out of 7, to give Crystal the time to chill out with her own friends and pursue the drama and dance programme if that interested her.
The circle naturally came to a close with Mr O’Donaghue asking Crystal again if there was “anything else?” Once he was satisfied they had developed a workable plan, Mr O’Donaghue asked would everyone be prepared to connect with him by phone in 4 weeks to see what progress had been made, and after gaining agreement, Mr O’Donaghue promised to send out the actions from the circle meeting.
This is what Crystal’s Circle Action Plan looked like at the end.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and an excellent chocolate quality controller.
(Credit: errantscience.com) Totally check this guy out - super funny stuff.
Impostor Syndrome, Courage and Curiosity
Leadership is tough. Brave leadership is really tough. But also worthwhile. You can lead from a place of “expertness” – the all knowing person who has all the right answers. I’ve tried this, and can I tell you, it is damn scary, very lonely, and frankly a lot of nonsense.
Because any teacher, parent or business leader worth their salt, knows that the more you learn the more you realise you have to learn. It is just not possible to be all knowing or to have all the right answers.
So, what happens when you fall into the seductive pit of “I am an expert?” Well unless you have the confidence of the single bull in the cow pen, you start to develop “Impostor Syndrome.” Impostor Syndrome if you haven’t heard of it before are the crippling feelings of inadequacy that persist despite external proof of competence. Impostor Syndrome has been my dark enemy for many, many, years and I still struggle with it today. In fact you can be guaranteed as you read this I am sitting at home repeating a gratitude mantra to myself to prevent me from falling into the dark pit of self-doubt as to whether I should have ever thought I was good enough to write a Newsletter about Restorative Practice and Themes. I think we all have it to some degree. The dark hours after an interview, or meeting, or class, when you rehash all the things you said and shouldn’t have, that you didn’t say that you should have, that you forgot, that you spent too long labouring that you… urgh - it’s exhausting!
One of the best ways to combat Impostor Syndrome is to accept that we are not experts in anything. We are just part of a team of people who have something to contribute and if you can get out of “I’m the holder of answers, knowledge and the right way to do this” and step into collaborative leadership which is curious and courageous, then you have a solid foundation to discover and create teams and projects and schools and families which will develop, create and pivot as challenges come their way. Talking about your Impostor Syndrome is a huge step towards this. You will be stunned at how many people of all genders, ages, cultures and backgrounds and of all degrees of success experience it.
There are ways to build this into your school or organisation. But be prepared, this will take effort and will be uncomfortable. Here are three of them which Brene Brown talks about in her "Daring Leadership" programme:
Name it: It's tough to do this, but the discomfort is short lived, mere seconds in fact. You might say something like: "That's one way of thinking about it, and you often have great answers, but you will lead more effectively if you can ask the right questions. We can work on this together."
Teach Curiosity: Make learning curiosity skills a priority. Like any skill, it has to be practised. I still work on this daily. Asking questions, and trying not to talk to much! There are three great books in the recommended reading list in our September Newsletter, on how to build curiosity skills (subscribe above to get this direct to your inbox).
Acknowledge & Reward the IDK's: Acknowledging and rewarding the "I Don't Know's" gives your team and children such immense power to be a learner, to be on a journey (growth mindsets) instead of in the "right" or the "wrong" camp (fixed mindsets). You can say things like "I don't know either, how can we find out?" Or "That's a great question, hey everyone, listen to this great question - what are your thoughts?" Or " Now that's a question which brings a fresh perspective, nice work - what do you need from me to follow that path?" Or " That's a brave question, thank you, I appreciate that. let's talk about this for a while."
Curiosity and Courage are my two central values. They are both hard. Curiosity requires me to give up expertness in favour of being an eternal student. To reduce my giving answers behaviour and instead ask questions like “tell me more”, “and what else?” and “how do you see this?”, and “what are your ideas on how to tackle this problem?” which inform and help others and myself to become more clear on what we have, what we need and how to go about achieving it.
Courage is even harder, it challenges me everyday to do the difficult things, to publish the newsletter, to reach out and ask someone for a referral or recommendation, to challenge a colleague who I believe is acting irresponsibly or who hurt me, or who devalued me. To tell my partner I feel less connected to him than usual, to say out loud, “I don’t feel good enough today”, to ask my son “how do you really feel about me getting married again?” and really listen to the answer!
When people are unconscious of their Impostor Syndrome thoughts they can easily fall into behaviours which are covert and hidden, to try and protect themselves by covering up mistakes, pretending to be a knower or expert in something that they just aren't, telling lies to themselves and sometimes others, and having cold clammy sleepless nights feeling the fear of “when will they catch me out and realise I’m an Impostor?”
The Harvard Business Review highlights why it is important to spend time learning about your Impostor Syndrome thoughts and understanding where they come from. (If you are interested - most of them come from our core shame and sometimes trauma, (see earlier Newsletter Articles for more on these areas). They note how a range of early life shaming messages can make some people more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome in later life. These messages are conveyed (with no malice, I should add) in schools, families and communities, when children are very young and they internalise these messages as they grow and develop into teenagers and adults. You can read the HBR article with great onward links here
For me courage and vulnerability certainly helps. These are not different things, they are the same thing, just different sides of the coin. To be courageous you have to be vulnerable. This is why when a child comes to a parent or teacher to say sorry, or is willing to just sit in the same room as someone they hurt and hear what they have to say, I am awed by how much courage they have. And, when it is a child who has no reason to trust any adult in their lives, who has been hurt, let down, rejected, scorned and humiliated most of their young lives and they still turn up in a room to face a person they have hurt and perhaps learn something very upsetting about the impact of their behaviour, I am hands down, straight up, humbled by their courage and bravery. And I tell them this. Don’t ever sniff at how much courage it takes a person to put their hand on a door handle, push it open and step into that place of vulnerability. And while we are talking about it, you don’t outgrow vulnerability when you get older. If you really practice courage then you grow towards it. Taking more risks, leading from the unknown with curiosity to learn.
In our free Online Introduction to Restorative Practices Training (click here) you can learn more about how shame and feelings of “not being good enough” impact a child’s internal world and external confidence. You will no doubt recognise your own shame behaviours and Impostor Syndrome scripts in there too! You can also learn some of the ways in which you can combat it.
You can learn more about our face to face training by contacting me at email@example.com
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
Mrs Tanner contacted me to ask for help around her Year 9 class. There is a lot of stealing going on." She went on to explain that money had gone missing on numerous occasions and complaints from parents were beginning to become a regular occurrence. "I’m pretty sure I know who it is, but I can’t prove it" she said. Do you have any ideas what we could do? "Sure," I replied. "Let's try a circle." Mrs Tanner facilitated while I supported.
Circles are a great way to address harm and conflict when the behaviour is impacting a group of people and it is especially effective when you don’t have a clear admission of responsibility. Because circles are not focused on a specific person’s actions which harmed another person or group and rather then are focused on the best interests of the group as a whole, they are really effective in situations where no one is taking responsibility.
Mrs Tanner prepared the class by explaining in their weekly class meeting was going to take part in a “circle discussion” about the upset some students had about things going missing at school. She was to advise the students that they could choose to sit out of the circle if they wanted, but she really hoped that the whole class would take part.
She explained the circle rules to her students so that they were clear about what to expect:
This is what happened.
Mrs Tanner asked the students to "Circle Up" and introduced the circle topic and the talking piece. She then phrased the first question and passed the talking piece to her left. As the talking piece was passed around the circle, the students began to share how they felt about their possessions going missing and money being stolen. They expressed their hurt, their disappointment and how it undermined trust in each other, creating suspicion even of people who probably hadn't done anything wrong. As the students began talking about what they believed might lead to someone taking things from their friends, Mrs Tanner drew out comments from her more emotionally compassionate students about some children feeling "less than" and "having less than" their peers and how difficult this must be.
The students conversations developed into a deep and meaningful conversation about how money and possessions didn't define whether you were popular or "good enough" in their eyes rather being trustworthy, reliable and loyal were characteristics they celebrated in their closest friends. Mrs Tanner chose this moment to take a short break for comfort. She asked the children to return in 10 minutes ready to address the last question of "what they could each do to reduce the likelihood of their things being taken in the future." When the class returned, the circle continued with each student asked to give examples of what they could do to reduce the likelihood of further stealing. Examples given ranged from "I could look after my own stuff better," to "I could be more watchful of my friends things for them too," to the most beautiful comment which came from a young 13 year old boy who said "I could make sure that my friends don't feel less than me just because they have less than me." There was more than one tear shed in the room that day and I don't mind telling you that some of them were mine.
I followed up with Mrs Tanner six weeks later. Not one further incident of theft had occurred in that time.
Emotional Explosions. Like wrestling a bag of wasps. What should you NOT do and What SHOULD you do?
Ever heard yourself telling someone who is as mad as a bag of wasps to “calm down?” How did that go then? Yeah I thought so. Me too. As a seasoned social worker of 20 years I heard myself say this to a young person once. And yes, I got stung. Hard.
Telling someone to calm down when they are clearly not in control of their emotions at that moment is like poking a bag of wasps, insulting their mother's, and then opening the bag! Not pretty, very noisy and someone always gets hurt!
Telling someone what you want them to feel when they are clearly feeling something else is futile. This is because all behaviour, (whether it is inconvenient, convenient, pleasant or otherwise) is communication. And if you haven’t received the message (and shown that you have received the message) then the person trying to communicate with you will escalate the behaviour until the message is received.
This is why ignoring your child’s inconvenient behaviour is just not effective. It will escalate it as they try to connect with you, or they will redirect it somewhere, sometime or to somebody else. So what can you do? Well it’s simple. To coin a catchphrase - "Say what you see". Don’t describe what you want them to feel, describe how they are actually feeling. Examples might be...
“You are furious, I can see that, what can I do to help?”
“You seem really angry with me, I’m sorry you’re feeling so mad.”
“You are so disappointed about the party being cancelled, I know, I would feel that way too, but please don’t kick the back of the car seat.”
You may have to repeat the displayed feeling several times but as you correctly identify their feeling the emotion dissipates a little each time, and as you match the newly reduced emotion with a different word, you are helping your child to connect feelings to words - you are teaching emotional literacy - a key skill for emotional regulation. Here's an example in helping a child who was picked last for the school footie team and appeared at their mother's car after school ready to kill dead things:
“You are FURIOUS!!, something must have happened, tell me about it.” And then,
“You are still SO mad, I can tell this is a really big deal for you.” And then,
“You are angry, that is understandable, you must feel hurt by being picked last.” And then,
“You are disappointed and feel left out and unimportant, and those are hard feelings. I get it. You will always be loved and included in our family.”
This builds emotional regulation and intelligence skills where your child will start to recognise that the feeling they are experiencing is disappointment not anger, or hurt, not anger, or panic not anger.
Anger is a pseudo-emotion. That is one we use to express other more complicated, vulnerable and difficult to express emotions. It is an easier emotion to express, it is effective in that it gets the attention of people and it communicates something is wrong. But it isn’t really the crux of the matter and if we are to really soothe and help our children solve their problems, we need to get to the crux of the matter. If you are interested in learning more about how to communicate restoratively and to effect better connection with your children, students or partner, reach out. We'd love to help.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
We often see self care as an indulgence. But it really isn't. It's a routine and necessary practice to ensure the safety of our body, mind, and soul. Here are 7 simple self care tips that you can start to build into your daily routine to self care.
I know I go on and on and on about boundaries. But they are so important. Like next to oxygen itself important. Otherwise you will end up used, abused and burnt out. Set. Your. Boundaries. What do I mean by this? Plan your time realistically, schedule regular breaks, input joy and pleasure into those breaks (even if it is just one Fortnum and Mason Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie), don't over promise and under-deliver - (it's a serious motivation killer), and learn to say NO.
Set time aside to check in with how you are feeling. You can use a simple form of restorative questions for this. What am I feeling? How is this affecting me? What do I need? How can I do this?
Plan it or Let it Go
If it is within your control - plan it. I use a simple frame to do this, (see below). If it is not within your control - Let it go!
Recognise that Fear is the Shadow of Gratitude
When we fear something it is most often because we have something of value that we don't want to lose. Turn it on it's head and shine a light on that shadow of fear by identifying what it is that you have that you fear losing. Then say thank you for being lucky enough to have that. The Gratitude Attitude.
This might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier to enjoy the first cup of tea of the day in peace and quiet. It might be a work out routine after work, or a 30 minute meditation before bed. It might even be to write a list of things you want to achieve the next day (but remember, don't over promise and under deliver - even to yourself!)
Pay Attention to Negative Self Talk
Monitor your self talk. We are prone to the negative self talk which is so subtle and insidious, but oh so dangerous at eroding our sense of value and worth. The "I can't", "I'll fail," "Who Do I think I am?" "What's the point?" language which over time translates into a sense of us not being enough. Don't do it. When you hear yourself saying negative things about yourself in your head, imagine you are saying it to your best friend. What would they say back to you? This is the advice you should listen to.
Hug it Out
This is a particular favourite of mine. I'm a hugger. And there is so much evidence out there that hugging calms the nervous system and helps us to co-regulate. Find someone to be your co-hugger, Covid bubbles permitting. (And always ask permission otherwise it's just not cool and quite possibly illegal).
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
Let's face it, if the answer on to how to move back into schools safely, meeting the education and mental health needs of students, parents, and teachers was squirrelled away in the Principal's office, not one of us would think twice about creeping in there, full on ninja style, and stealing it. And we would probably find ourselves waiting in a (socially distanced) queue behind everyone else with the same desire for answers. But what if everyone is looking to you for answers and you don't have them? You wouldn't be the first school leader who found out what was happening in your school on the 6 o'clock news. That's not a comfortable place to be.
Despite not having the answers to all the questions, there is still a need for School Leaders to lead in this journey of uncertainty and to do this in ways that are inclusive and build resilience. The first step in this journey is admitting that you don't have all the answers, but that you are doing everything you can to get the right information, and to share that fully with your staff, parents and where appropriate your students. But this is an unfolding situation and you have little idea of when or what you might be facing in the next peak. I travelled the Amazon river in my early thirties, and had a very sage guide called Julio who, when asked what sort of weather we should dress for that day, replied "all of it". And so we prepare.
Be Prepared to Collaborate
In preparation you must collaborate with the people you are leading. And not just to tell them what is happening, but to ask them where they are at right now, where their children, students, parents are at right now. What their biggest fears, worries, and wishes are going forward. And then you need to do the same with the parents, and with the children. They will all bring something different to the story, a different angle, a fresh perspective, a nugget of importance that might just be the key that opens the door to a way forward in meeting education needs alongside mental health needs.
It is tempting to diminish the need to do the ground work of mental and emotional health support in favour of getting back to basics with Maths and English, but we know from years of research that until a child feels safe and secure they cannot work on belonging and self worth. And that until they feel that they belong and are worthy, they will not have the confidence to take a risk to try something that realises their potential. Asking "What do you need from me going forward?" is a crucial question. This is not a promise to deliver outcomes, it is a question to understand needs. "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." as Stephen Covey: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People famously said.
Hold Values Close
Good leaders hold their values close at times of struggle. Get really clear on what these values are. Make sure you have buy in from your team. Make sure your parents, your staff, your children understand what they are. Is it safety? Is it life long learning? Is it safety and love? Is it striving for the best? Is it reaching your potential?
Give Permission and Promote Accountability of Others and Themselves
Good leaders also create safe spaces and permission to share needs and struggles. Now, most teachers, in fact most people, I talk to about the importance of permission do a little eye roll here. "Of course people have permission to speak openly!" they say. But do they really? Think about this. You can have the best model in the world which pushes a permission agenda encouraging you to talk openly about fears, anxieties, upsets and conflict, but if you don't cultivate this everyday, lead by example and hold others accountable when they don't protect the permission culture, you will not only completely ruin the permission, you will actually further dis-empower people to speak openly. I have seen this done with a throwaway comment made by a leader or about another staff member or pupil, denigrating them, dismissing them, or a decision they made. I have seen it done by colleagues and peers and it went unchecked by a leader. This creates fear. Fear to speak out and have your view respected, not just right now, while you stand in the room, but after you leave and are no longer there to defend yourself. And fear as a culture will create more shame and silence than you could ever imagine. Because those people watching and listening to you being denigrated or dismissed or eye-rolled at after you have left the room, will never have permission to speak their truth safely.
Listen, Listen and Listen
Good Leaders organise time to consult with everyone. To seek out the views of everyone, not just the talkers and the confident kids and parents. To find ways to hear what the less communicative students, parents and teachers think. Provide different ways to be heard, publicly, anonymously, verbally, in writing, through text, phone call, the means of soliciting the views of others are many and varied. Two ears one mouth. Enough said.
Are Kind to Themselves
This is by no means the least important. Good leaders know that they have to self care. They know that a burned out leader is as much use as a handbrake on a canoe. Take regular breaks, ensure you have a day when you aren't taking phone calls, writing contingency plans, measuring out 1 metre distanced desks or developing strategies for the toilet run. Whether you have a faith or not, keep one day sacred. For you.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
Failure. The most scary and vulnerable place I have ever found myself is at the door of failure. And I've been there so many times. I've done a lot of belly button gazing over my 45 years, and for me this fear comes down to the simple (but so, so, complex) belief of "people will not love me if I fail." Where this comes from I am not sure, because I was never told this or shown this as a child, the messages I remember are all that I was enough as I was. And yet, here I am, 45 years old and still struggling with failure. But when you broach that subject with people who have succeeded, what they tell you is very interesting. Everyone is scared of failure. It is a horrible place to be, but it is in the learning to use it as a learning experience that you transform it into a check point in your journey rather than a full stop than your final destination.
I often find myself standing in front of people, holding my breath, trying very hard not to say the words that I am feeling? These moments are laced with fear. Fear that I will burn my bridges, get my card marked, appear like a victim, appear like a bully, lose control, be wrong, be right, cry, stumble, say the wrong words, be laughed at, be ridiculed, be rejected, excluded, humiliated. The list goes on, and it is long!
Our biggest challenge to speaking our truth is our belief that being vulnerable is weakness. Vulnerability, that moment when you put yourself out there with no safety net, risking judgement and rejection is not weakness, it is courage beyond belief. Practising that courage is painful. But there are boundaries you can work within to survive doing this hugely important but difficult work in yourself and with others.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer & consultant, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
In this case example from a primary school in Northern Ireland, Ms Creighton, shows how a problem solving circle can be used to harness the cooperation and collaboration of a group of children. The first skill I love about Ms Creighton's example is her self awareness that her feelings of irritation stem from her own needs being impacted and her recognition that the children's chatter was simply inconvenient at that point in time and that in other circumstances their engagement with each other would have been very convenient). Turning away from the blaming approach she engages her second restorative skill, the grace to invite the children in to solve the conflict of needs that they were in together, together.
The noise in the class had risen several times and Ms Creighton was struggling to hear the children reading at the front of the class. She was feeling frustrated, distracted and more than just a little stressed. She could feel her anger rise. She checked her emotions and quickly asked herself three questions. "What do I need?", "Why do I need that?" and "What happens if I don't get it?" She took a deep breath and moved to the front of the class.
She raised her voice slightly, smiling and said "Girls and boys! Let's circle up." Without any fuss, the children, all around 7 or 8 years old, shuffled forward and sat in a haphazard circle. All eyes on Ms Creighton, she said "I have a problem and I need your help." The kids gazed at her. She continued, "I love it when you talk about your work, but at the moment the noise in the room is so loud that I can't hear your friends reading to me and I need to be able to hear their reading so I know how they are doing. Can you help me solve this?"
The children began to talk, one after the other moving clockwise around the circle. "We could put our fingers on our lips Ms." "We could whisper Ms." "We could put our heads down and go to sleep for a while Ms" (I love this kid - he is my kind of kid).
Ms Creighton smiled and responded to each of the suggestions, "That's a good idea...that might work...not sure about that one but its a lovely fantasy isn't it? "
Then she asked the children, "How will we know if our solution is working?" Again the children made suggestions. "You will be able to hear Ms Creighton...you won't have to ask us to circle up again... the room will be quieter..."
"Excellent work boys and girls. Now one last thing, what can you all do to make sure this solution works?" One by one they all made a commitment to whisper or to be quiet. The class returned to their seats, and Ms Creighton returned to the front of the class and the children began reading again. The noise rose again, and with just a glance from Ms Creighton, a few children shushed their friends and the noise subsided again.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
As we all begin to move towards our new normal in the school setting, teachers, children and parents, are all wondering how to manage the losses of Corona Virus and how to take forward the opportunities that have come from this experience.
Talking Circles are a great starting point. We have all experienced loss. For some of us it has been the loss of a friend or family member who has died because of the Virus and for some of us it has been a loss of connection with friends and family or the familiarity and security of our normal routine. For some of us it has been a loss of reprieve and distance from abusive family members whom we have had to stay in lock down with, or the loss of a predictable meal once a day at school.
Being able to express these losses in a safe place will be a key starting point in beginning to restore a sense of understanding, of control and of safety. Circles give teachers, parents and children an opportunity to express these losses so that we can begin to connect with each other again and find our common interest in planning ways to look after each other and heal as we move forward.
It is important to do this work before returning to the curriculum of schooling. Children, parents and teachers have all experienced an undermining of their feelings of security. And there still exists fear and uncertainty around the virus and if or how you might infect or be infected by one another. We know that when people are pre-occupied with their basic needs of safety and security, they cannot focus on engaging, problem solving or learning.
Google Classrooms, Zoom Meetings and Microsoft Teams among other digital platforms have been used to engage in live ways with children, and whilst these are great ways to communicate from distance, we must remember that for many children and parents, smart phones and digital platforms are not accessible. Poverty, poor network coverage and digital know-how, all have an impact on how accessible these formats of communication are.
So bear in mind that if you do choose to do a circle through online platforms before returning to the school room, take note of those children or parents who did not, or were unable to join and make sure you connect with them to ask the same questions, even if this means doing a "socially distanced" circle in the first week of a return to school. And don't forget your teachers, classroom assistants, and support staff.
Some Guiding Principles
Here are some suggested questions, loosely based on the restorative script which will help guide your discussions.
Don't forget to highlight the Circle Agreements for everyone before beginning. There are many variations of these, but as a core set of agreements I like:
Stay safe, and take care of each other, LJ
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
A famous and experienced pianist took a break in the middle of a concert to chat to his audience. Whilst chatting, a child ran onto the stage and began to bash away at the piano, to the wide open mouths of the audience. The pianist, smiled, turned and sat down beside the child. Then he began to play alongside him. Using his competence and knowledge of the piano he began to compliment the notes the child hit, building on them and the beginning of a beautiful song emerged. The child smiled and played more intently, listening to the famous Pianists notes, watching his fingers, copying his riff’s. They played for a few more minutes before they stood up together and took a bow, connected by their shared music and attached to each other in this new relationship of collaboration.
Teaching is just like this – as is any role where you provide discipline (from the Latin verb “to learn”). But how you do, and who does this is up for grabs. I’m a pancake wizard. It is my calling on this earth to provide perfect and yummy pancakes. On our kitchen wall it is written “I love you… I made you pancakes.” I started to teach my son how to make them when he was about 5. Now he will remind me regularly, “butter in before the milk or it will go lumpy.” He’s nearly 10 and he is still mastering the “flip” but he’s getting there and nowadays we eat more pancakes than we do clean them up off the floor. Progress. Learning. But he also teaches me things. Like yesterday he taught me how to build my dream home in Minecraft. It has two, completely glass walls overlooking a lake below. I doubt very much if it is architecturally secure, but it looks amazing.
One of my step-sons (to be), given a reprieve from GCSE’s this year because of Corona-Virus, took on the challenge of supervising my 10 year old’s school work while I am out working. He is remarkably good at it and is now nick named “The Professor”. I watched his style – he was all “I don’t know J, let’s try it out together and see if it works.” Curiosity and Collaboration – two of the most important things in learning.
Whether it is the story of the pianist you remember, or the pancakes, or of 16 year old’s supervising 10 year old’s school work, remember that learning works best when you use curiosity and collaboration alongside the expectation to discipline – when you are “with them in it.”
Ted Watchel a well known proponent of Restorative Practice and models such as the Social Discipline Model said: "Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.”
Recognising your natural position within the Social Discipline Model (see fig 1) and how it impacts on your style of teaching, is crucial to your ability to connect with students and develop their skill to take responsibility for their own (first dependent, then co-dependent and then independent) learning journey.
fig 1: The Social Discipline Window: P McCold & T Watchel
You can read more about the Social Discipline Model by clicking on the link below.
Or if you are interested in learning more about social discipline styles and the impact they have on a child’s capacity to learn as well as on the environment in which they learn, (be that the classroom or the kitchen table), then check out our online Introduction to Restorative Practices by clicking below. You can get 50% off by just entering RESTORE at the checkout and receive this course for only £24.
We also offer Group Discounts – just contact us below to find out more.
As we got closer to bedtime it was brewing, the behaviour was getting more boisterous, nothing was right, he wanted this, he wanted that, but not this way and not that way. It was somewhere around this point that I realised this was not boredom, this was not “focus on me, not your work mummy” I realised we were heading for a big tsunami which had been coming for weeks.
After the last “it’s not fair, why can I not have your laptop to load up my games?” and the accompanying slam out the door, (and boy can he slam) I got up from the sofa where my partner and I were watching Ozark, and said “carry you on watching, I’m going to be a while.”
I knocked his bedroom door. “Can we talk?” “I hate you,” came the reply, “you never let me do anything, you always take everything away from me. You’re more interested in your work than in me.”
I got onto his bed and held out my arms. He came straight in, snuggled into my chest and he let rip. I mean really let rip. It started with “You won’t let me have your laptop, you won’t let me have the living room TV in my bedroom, I didn’t get pizza for dinner tonight,” and I listened, occasionally saying “you are so mad at me aren’t you? I’m sorry you are so mad at me.” I don’t know how many times I repeated this or versions of it, just reflecting back to him what he was clearly feeling without commenting on what he said was the trigger. And then somewhere about 5 minutes in, when he finally understood I was really listening to him, we got to it, the torrential outpouring of loss and grief. The real stuff. The stuff you can’t hide from when it smacks you up the face. I’ve got to hand it to him – for an almost ten-year-old, when he finally feels brave enough to express it – he does it remarkably well.
He sat straight up and looked at me, tears streaming down his face. “You left my dad… you took me away from my dad… you moved me away from my school and friends… I loved my house in Greenisland… you ruined my life… I want it to be 2016 again when it was just you and me… I want it to be 2013 when it was you me and Dad… I wish I’d never been born, then you and Dad would still be together and I would live with both of you, (you have to appreciate the mix up of a child’s reality and fantasy here)… you care more about living closer to your mum and dad than me living close to my dad – how do you think that makes me feel?”
Bam! There was the question. It was like a kick up the teeth. The decisions I had made, for us, without consulting him. Now to be fair he was four years old and didn’t really understand the basis for the decisions that were made, and despite having a good co-parenting relationship with his dad, we do now live an hour apart, rather than the 20 minutes it used to be. But that is irrelevant, because right now, I had to suck up the fact that my decisions impacted him beyond the day on which they were made and long past the situations in which they needed to be made, had passed. My decisions now had come to bear and I had to deal with the feelings of loss and grief that happened as a result.
I took a deep breath and thought here goes - off the diving board, dark waters below – let’s crack this issue wide open. “I’m sorry Jacob. You are right to be so mad at me. I made all these decisions that affected you and I didn’t ask you how you felt about them. I made all these decisions and they hurt you. I’m so so sorry. I took you away from your friends and your school and your home and I didn’t ask you about any of it. You must have felt so confused and lost. I’m so sorry. I totally understand why you are so angry at me and feel so hurt. I would feel the same if someone did that to me.”
I didn’t make promises that I could change these decisions. I didn’t justify the reasons for those decisions. I just apologised for the pain he was in. For the loss he had experienced. He threw a few more examples of things I had done to him. (I’m pretty sure one of them was giving him an unreasonable bedtime!)
It was surprising how quickly the tsunami left. Cuddled back into my chest he hiccupped a few times and then asked could he watch TV for a little later than usual tonight. I gave in. “Sure” I said. (So sue me – I was exhausted, he was exhausted, I was fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to stay awake too far past his bedtime anyway).
This grief comes around every so often. It’s like a tunnel that he spins around and every so often he touches the jagged edge and it hurts and then the wound opens and we deal with the outpourings. It can be triggered by anything from a particularly good weekend with his dad and the disappointment of coming back to the mundane of me, or it could be watching his friends’ Dads’ pick them up from school and he realises his can’t. Life throws curve balls at him too, that ricochet him back into that jagged edge, like Corona Virus, which stole his summertime with his friends, and will steal the 10th birthday party he had dreamed to have. These losses just reopen the trauma of his most deep running loss. I know my pending marriage to my new partner and his dad’s pending marriage to his new partner will also open a wound, and while it will be a happy, happy, day for me, consideration has to be given to how it will be another loss for him.
We can’t stop our children from feeling loss and grief, it is part of life. But how we teach them to deal with it when it comes is important. Ignoring it, devaluing it, or pretending they are too young to have these feelings, that they are silly, insignificant or misunderstanding the situation is not helpful. You don’t have to solve it. You just have to empathise with it, normalise it, feel with them.
I am preparing myself for more loss and grief to come. Send wine.
Why do we find it so hard to say no? Being a “people-pleaser” I have struggled with this all my life. And I don’t mind telling you it has landed me in some difficult situations, some of which were just downright risky. So why is it so difficult to just assert our true feelings about something and say “No – I disagree,” or “No, Don’t Do that to me,” or “No, I won’t do that for you.” Why are we sometimes so loose with our personal boundaries? Let’s dial back a few years to unpick this a little.
Toddlers are switched on. They get that they can say no and so they do. Without fear or favour. Just “uh uh.” “Nope.” “Not happening.” “NO!”
And then a few months after we are through with the dramatic eye rolls and chuckling to our friends about how cute wee Callie is saying “no” to everything like she is practising for government, we suddenly realise that shit just isn’t going to get done if wee Callie says “no” all the time.
And so we begin to “socialise” them. We manipulate their needs and behaviour for our convenience and we teach them that “no” is not a desirable word. That it isn’t nice, it’s wrong, perhaps even bold. We teach them not to make a fuss, to just button that lip and get on with it. We teach them that grown up’s, people who are bigger than them, have the final say about whether their “no” really matters or not.
Now like all parents and teachers, we don’t get a manual, we often haven’t a clue what we are doing and mostly we are just repeating the histories of our own childhood and educational experiences. We think we are teaching children how to be sociable, how to get along in life with others, but really what we should be doing is teaching them how to explain why they don’t want to sit down for story time, why they don't want to work with that group, why they don't want to share their favourite toy, kiss their auntie (don’t get me started on emotionally coercing kids to kiss random relatives that they don’t want to), or why they don’t want to wait their turn.
Instead we skip this step and go straight to the convenience of a quick fix. A guilting and shaming of the “no” word, of exercising the right to make a choice. We say “don’t defy me,” or “it’s naughty to not do as you are told” or (my worst one) “no one will want to play with you if you don’t share your toys.” We communicate that by saying “no” we risk disconnection or worse, rejection. And what do kids want more than anything else? To belong and connect. And so they conform. They learn to say “yes” when they want to say “no”. And big people are pleased and little people reinforce their belief that “no”’is a bad word.
At the lower end of the continuum this creates teenagers and adults who are overwhelmed by saying yes to too much, who have a fragile ego based on “if I don’t say yes to everything then I will not be good enough to be liked.” But imagine it at the worst end of this continuum. Imagine it for a child who learns not to say no when they are uncomfortable with a predatory adults behaviour, or a teenage girl or boy on a night out who doesn’t want to make a fuss and says yes when they really want to say no, to alcohol, to drugs, to sex. Basically, as children we are often conditioned to say “yes,” to be agreeable, compliant, obedient, helpful and facilitative and this is not helpful for our future ability to manage our personal boundaries, nor to express our needs.
It is in learning the skills to express why we feel resistant to something that we teach children how to recognise their needs and teach them how to ask for them to be met in ways that do not damage relationships. As adults (whether a parent or a teacher) it is within our gift to help children to do this important thinking work, to internalise the skills to recognise their needs, to not apologise for them and to find ways to ask for them to be met without hurting others.
A wonderful frame in which to rethink how a child in front of you who is saying "no" is experiencing the world at that point in time is Ross Greene's "Won't Do Vs Can't Do" Frame. This beautiful map helps us to consider children as vessels who need to be resources, taught, supported, understood, rather than wilfully difficult beings who are trying and testing our patience. In the visual below he considers how switching from a Won't Do Frame to a Can't Do Frame helps us to take a curiosity mindset towards children and ask the right questions to enable them to express needs and find ways of meeting these appropriately. Helping children to explain the reasoning behind their no, is an crucial relationship skill, but more importantly helping children to not feel shame for saying no is a crucial survival skill.
You can find out more about learning the skills to identify and meet needs and how to help children to express them more clearly in our training here
LJ Sayers is a restorative trainer, mum to J, partner to JP, a COVID redundant hugger and the chief quality controller of all chocolate in her household.
When was the first time you realised you were not colourblind? That you think, interpret, and value the world in colour? That you are also part of racial discrimination through your ignorance to be aware of it?
For me I was about 21 / 22. About to start my social work course full of ideas about how I might “change the world.”
It was watching Matthew McConaughey as a white lawyer making his final summing up in the trial of Carl Lee Hailey, a black father who shoots the men who raped and battered his 10 year old daughter. It was when he said “now imagine she is white.”
How did you feel when you watched that film? Did it highlight something uncomfortable for you?
I watched that film feeling angry and horrified about the rape of Tonya by two white men, but until those words were uttered I was unaware that I watched it as a white woman. It was very uncomfortable realising in that moment that I was inherently part of a system, an institution, a group, that saw ourselves as more valuable, important, worthy, than black people.
If we are to really change the world, it begins with admitting who you are and what your cultural inheritance has placed in you. And then working every day to change you.
Storytelling sometimes gets a bad reputation. It is seen as exaggeration, day dreaming or telling lies. But I believe story telling is more about promoting the painful or joyous parts of an experience rather than exaggeration, about visions of better futures rather than day dreaming, and about transforming a difficult experience into a desire for what it should of, or could have been, rather than telling lies.
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of recording in the world. People used it to educate, to pass down family history, cultural traditions and moral values. Obviously over the years stories change, interpretations are made according to the culture or politics of the day, sometimes words are changed, replaced or erased.
There is an interesting challenge to be considered around the journey of stories and who it is that holds centre stage in the telling of stories that reach the masses, which change, replace or erase the words and direction of stories in history and ultimately the story that is told in future generations. When people of one race (or predominantly one race) hold this power, and we do not challenge this or push against it, we are complicit in the smelly water of generational and institutionalised racism. Promotion of the voices of others is a requirement of someone who calls themselves anti-racist or anti anything for that matter. It needs to have many positions which are “against” the predominate other. It is not a neutral or passive position.
Storytelling is a very powerful medium for communicating experiences, ideology, and desires of the past, present and future. In restorative practice storytelling is central to understanding the experiences of all involved in relationships with each other. Here are 3 ways you can use story telling within restorative practice in anti-oppressive ways.
I would love to hear your recommendations for more.
He fell over again today. I mean, how many times do I have to pull him back up again before he gets this? I think he is doing it deliberately. I have decided I’m not going to help him anymore. If he doesn’t want to learn well that’s his problem.
This is ridiculous isn’t it? Would you ever give up on teaching your child the skill to walk? No of course you wouldn’t. Behaving in a socially acceptable way, being in relationships with others and knowing how to get your needs met without harming others is a skill that needs to be learned and taught just like walking.
But still I get asked, (way too often) at what point do you stop “doing” restorative practice? At what point do you say “this just isn’t working let’s stop”. The answer is never. I always work to restorative principles and values – even when the child is not engaged in resolving the conflict or harm they have been involved in or caused. Children learn by watching, by trying and failing and making mistakes. And they do it at different paces arriving at skill mastery at different times from their peers.
I see glimmers of responsibility or accountability all the time from children who have been written off as having “no empathy”, “no conscience.” The difference? They show these glimmers with people they care about, and respect, people they have a relationship with. This tells me that the first step to teaching anything, whether it is how to walk, how to behave or how to do trigonometry, is to develop a relationship with the child first.
There is no doubt in my mind that there are children who are harder to reach and harder to teach, and let’s not get all sanctimonious here – it is never their fault, so there is no child who is not deserving of someone who will reach for them and teach to them. No child. Even the ones that drive you round the bend!
“And if those children are unresponsive, maybe you can't teach them yet, but you can love them. And if you love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.” Jeffrey R Holland
If you would like to know more about how to work restoratively with children who will not engage in resolving the conflict reach out for a conversation about our Introduction to Restorative Practices Workshops or our Developing Restorative Practices Workshops. And if you just want to check out what it is all about before you commit that’s ok too, you can do this by purchasing our most popular programme since lockdown, “Online Introduction to Restorative Practices” Click HERE:
Broken Promises – The Couldn’t / Wouldn’t Phenomena
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 the promise, and (just in case you were wondering) it doesn’t matter if it was an important promise or not, whether it was made by a 5 year in a pinky promise, or by a 17 year old in a formal promise to pay restitution for a jacket ripped. It doesn’t matter if it was a completely unfulfilled promise or an almost fulfilled one. What does matter is that we hold them to the promise they made, in the spirit they made it. This is important not just for the person they hurt and made the promise to, but 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 which reaches far beyond The Promise.
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 (COSA) 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 or pocket money, 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 Granny was taken into hospital the night before and she had to go straight home and look after the younger kids so her Mum could go and visit her Granny.
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 a child is faced with the impact their behaviour has had on another person and they will most often feel genuinely remorseful and motivated to resolve the harm they caused at the time they made the promise. But we define commitment as maintaining the action to complete the promise 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 and it's physiological! The human brain is hard wired to take the easy route - it is how the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in the body work. When something is hard the brain looks for an easier route, the path of least resistance.
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. 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 Free Introduction to Restorative Practices in Education online course here, and entering the coupon code August2020
Or you can contact Linda for more information on tailored workshops on 07805093965.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and expert chocolate quality controller.
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 lie is told mostly to protect the self from the shaming of the person "as less than" that often follows being discovered to have done something which "is less than." Again an important distinction between "being less than" and having "done something less than."
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. Whether a child experiences having less than as shame or embarrassment is largely dependent on whether they see “having less than” (embarrassment) as an indication of “being less than” (shame). Children will work harder to hide shame than embarrassment, so always bear in mind that if you suspect a child is lying to you, ask yourself what shame they are risking in telling you the truth and how can you separate having less from being less.
I have a beautiful memory of an Art teacher at my high school who during for the last two periods of every Friday from when I was a first year until I was an upper sixth year, we painted, drew or modelled, still life of food stuffs. Fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and once a whole chicken still in the supermarket wrapper. And at the end of that class she would casually comment in her thick Ballymena accent (for 7 whole years) a variation of “Anyone who wants to take that off my hands would you? I’m only gonna have to bin it otherwise.” And always there was one or two pupils who would say “Sure Miss, I’ll get rid of that for you.”
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 disapprove of their friend's actions. This one is difficult because on some level we, as a society, approve of the characteristic of loyalty to protect a friend from harm. This is apparent from the derogatory words we use to describe someone who does tell on a friend like “snitches”, “rats”, and a local Northern Ireland one - “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. This is very prevalent in cultures where community reprisals have been historically or are currently active. Children who have strong unresolved 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 believe your intention is not to punish, but to curiously understand what happened so you can help them to repair harm, rebuild relationships, and develop strategies to avoid future problems by meeting the 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!
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?
If you would like to know more, or try out some of our courses which develop the skills to practice restoratively as well as learn the restorative interventions check out our online Introduction to Restorative Practices here, or contact Linda on 07805093965 to book a workshop.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller.
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