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.
Emotional regulation is the skill we learn to manage the occurrence, intensity and expression of our emotions.
The first step in regulating is being aware of the emotion we are feeling. Many children don't learn this skill, especially in these modern times when we are more disconnected than ever from our children's emotions, which are often played out and learned in their interactions with TV, gaming and social media. Their emotional vocabulary is becoming more and more limited and this poses a serious challenge for their ability to properly recognise what they are feeling and then managing it.
Emotional regulation is the foundation skill required to be able to then develop emotional intelligence in our children. Emotional Intelligence is the skill of being able to recognise in others their feelings and emotions and use that knowledge to think, problem solve, behave towards others and be in relationship with them.
Failure to be able to regulate emotions can create difficult behaviour in children such as anger, aggression, and anxiety leading to acting out (towards others) or acting in (towards self) behaviours.
Brene Brown points out that it is impossible to give a child what you have not got yourself so being able to regulate and manage your emotions is key for children to learn this by observing you.
She goes on to say that the job of parenting is not about "knowing it all" and teaching your children what to do. It is about being with them in their struggle, feeling with them, talking to them about their feelings and emotions, naming them, and confirming for them that they are real and normal, and helping them to build skills to problem solve these for themselves, sometimes even to just build the resilience of being able to tolerate the painful feelings. Feelings and emotions, once named and no longer kept secret and silent, lose their power to shame us. And it is shame that is the most detrimental emotion of all.
Shame. Do you have it? Here's the thing. We all do. Some of us deal with it better than others, yes, some of us are more aware of it when we experience it and process and recover from it more quickly or more whole-heartedly. But we all experience it. It does not discriminate between those who have money and those who don't, between race, religion or gender, between young or old or educated or not. It is experienced by us all, and often on a daily basis. So what is it? How does it affect us and what can we do about it?
Shame is the most base and powerful emotion we experience when something goes wrong in our lives. It has a powerful impact on our self esteem and our self confidence.
It is usually experienced in response to an event that presents evidence that we are "not good enough." These events can be anything from someone hurting you deliberately, to the loss of a loved one or the ending of a significant relationship. The message we internalise is that we are "not good enough to be loved," "not good enough to be respected," "not good enough to be protected," "not good enough to be prioritised."
The variety of ways in which shame can present in our lives as multiple, minor everyday events, or one off, major, life-changing events, mean that we cannot avoid experiencing shame. All of us. Even well adjusted adults, teachers, parents - me and you. They can be experienced at home within our families, in the community with our peers, and in school.
Take a moment to think about the last time someone communicated to you, either with their words or their behaviour that you "were not good enough." It might have been someone tailgating you on the way to work and you felt unsafe, it may have been harsh words spoken to you by your partner and you felt unloved, or it may have been someone using the last of the milk this morning, and you felt unimportant. In all of these examples, you felt "not good enough" to be protected, loved, valued.
As a result of this you will have presented a shame behaviour. It may have been very subtle or it may have been quite extreme. Shame behaviour or responses are an attempt to seek relief from the discomfort of feeling "not good enough" by behaving in one of the following four ways - what we call shame responses.
1) Denial or Avoiding, (with the purpose of not confronting the shame feeling and replacing it temporarily with another feeling)
2) Withdrawing, (with the purpose of not having to deal with the public face of the shame you have experienced or the risk of someone finding our about your private shame)
3) Attacking others, (with the purpose of discharging negative internal feelings and transferring them out of you and onto someone else)
4) Attacking ourselves (with the purpose of punishing ourselves for being not enough).
Each of these shame responses can be exhibited singularly or in combination and they can present in a range from mild to extreme. Below are example of a mild and an extreme example for each.
To Deny or Avoiding Behaviours
A mild example might be to pour a large glass of wine and ask your partner to watch escapist drama on Netflix with you so you don't have to think about whatever has shamed you, whereas an extreme example would be to engage in a serious drinking binge, or to be involved in addiction or other life risking behaviours such as poly drug misuse, joy riding. Anything to switch the feeling of shame with another feeling of temporary excitement or pleasure.
A mild example might be to take a sickie from work or school, whereas the most extreme example is to withdraw from life, to feel so shamed by an experience or set of experiences that the need to withdraw permanently and irrevocably from feelings of any sort becomes preferable to living with the feelings of shame.
Attacking Others Behaviours
A mild example might be to swear at someone under your breath, through more serious behaviours like bullying or trolling on social media. More extreme examples would be to seriously assault someone, the most extreme of all of course being to kill another person or living animal.
Attacking Self Behaviours
A mild example of attacking self would be the negative self talk, sometimes spoke aloud, sometimes just a voice in your head that says "You're rubbish at this," "You'll never get that job - don't even both applying" or "look at how fat you are" through to more extreme examples such as self harm.
Recovery from Shame Experiences - Time and Perspective
Time and Perspective are two things that assist us to recover from these shame behaviours.
Having the time to process, and recover from one shame experience before another is anticipated is crucial. This is why children sometimes have extreme reactions to minor disappointments or upsets, because they have experienced a layering of shame events and have had no time to recover from one before the next has arrived. Then when someone scratches the surface there is a gush of shame responses that come out in response to all those which have not yet been recovered. Helping children (and yourself) to build in time to process shame feelings is a fundamental self care strategy.
Being able to gain perspective is equally crucial. This is usually done in communion with others as perspective requires you to get outside of yourself and see this from another person's view point. Therefore strong and trustworthy social networks are fundamental in assisting individuals to see that there are different ways of thinking about an event that happened to you other than that you were "not worthy" of love, protection, thought, help etc.
So what can you do about it?
Shame survives in secrecy. It grows when you can't get perspective on it. So talk about it. Find a trusted other and tell them that you are feeling less than, not good enough, ignored, undervalued, not pretty enough, not clever enough, not protected, or any of the other shame feelings you have. Talking about that feeling carves out the time and space that you need to start processing it, to start measuring the evidence against the reality. And doing it with trusted others allows you to get the perspective that your own negative self talk won't let you have. And if you see someone else struggling with shame, help them to carve the space and time out in their relationship with you to talk about the feelings of not being enough, and help them to gain perspective by testing the evidence with them.
Shame has huge implications for individuals ability to meet their potential, to achieve in both your professional and personal life and so it merits thinking about what your pattern of behaviour is when you experience shame and how you process it, whether you carve out time and space for perspective. If you want to know more about shame, and how it impacts on a child's ability to learn and reach their potential, then reach out for a conversation about our restorative workshops and online training at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever felt like your child has just unloaded a full artillery of bullets on your head just because you ran out of ketchup? Ever felt like the student in front of you hates you as he unloads reams of words that even the Urban Dictionary would have difficulty putting in print? Has it left you reeling? Bewildered? At a total loss as to what to do, say or feel?
Developing emotional intelligence in children can be an overwhelming and daunting journey. But so crucial in creating well adapted, strong and capable children.
Here are 4 first steps to begin your journey.
It can be so hard to live in the knowledge that you can’t “do” anything about the pain, struggle or challenge that the child in front of you is in. But what if you consider that your job is not to protect them from that pain, struggle or challenge, rather your job is to help them cope with the feelings of shame that come from these struggles and challenges? To enable them to gain perspective, tolerate their difficult feelings and learn that they will survive the big emotions they are currently experiencing. What if you began to realise that the most valuable “what can I do” is to empathise with what they are experiencing. Just being understood helps small (and big) humans let go of troubling emotions. If the reaction seems out of proportion then remember we all bottle up big feelings until we are in a safe enough place to let them go. And if you are that safe haven - then you are doing something right. But it can still sting like a bugger when those feelings are all laser focused in your direction at once.
Empathising doesn’t mean you have to agree with the child, but you do have to appreciate the situation from their side. They may have to toe your line when it comes to house or school rules, boundaries are important and children need them to feel safe and secure, but they are still entitled to have feelings about your rules. And as long as they aren’t breaking any other rules such as damaging stuff or physically harming people then give them a private space to express their feelings to you. And remember, what you experience as anger (a surface or psuedo-emotion) is always underpinned by a real emotion - for example hurt, disappointment, sadness, fear or frustration and sometimes in my case, hunger!! We've all heard of hangry right?
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Feeling understood helps children to feel soothed. Over time that neural pathway you are teaching them to strengthen is what they will use to soothe themselves as they get older. The more you soothe them the stronger that neural pathway gets, a little like a new path that gets carved out on a trek by years of people using that shortcut through.
* Children develop empathy by experiencing it from others. Role modelling - plain and simple - children will learn more from what you do, than what you say. My son is a classic example of this, with his Autism he is a visual learner, and he is into repetition BIG time. I see and hear my behaviour in him daily often in the exact words that I use, which admittedly can be a little self confronting, especially when its a frustrated word that has slipped out and been muttered under my breath. He has ears like Batfink!
* Helping your child to think about their experiences and what happened that they feel this way about it, teaches them to connect triggers, to feelings, to behaviours. Being able to name the feeling allows them to express it which externalises it so they don’t have to bottle it up internally like a pressure cooker. When a child can say what they feel, they can communicate problems more clearly and immediately to others, which prevents the escalation of behaviour which goes a little like this. I have a scowl on my face because I am not happy. You don't see my scowl? OK, now I am stomping around with a scowl on my face because I am not happy. You don't hear my stomps or see my scowl? OK, now I am stomping around, with a scowl on my face and kicking things because I am not happy. You don't see my scowl, or hear my stomps or see me kicking things? Ok now I will scowl, stomp, and kick YOUR things. Ah! Now you notice I am unhappy. Pro tip - when you see the unhappy behaviour - name it straight away, over time children will learn it is safe to name feelings, and that when they do, things get done to help.
2) Allow expression
Don’t dismiss, trivialise or shame your child’s feelings. “Big boys don’t cry” or “shhh don’t make a fuss” are stifling responses to a child’s way to express their emotions.
Firstly it shames them, which has a very destructive impact on their self identity, and secondly it encourages them to deny the validity of their feelings. For more on this check out our training on Restorative Practices in particular the process of shame, unresolved shame and the impact on growth mindsets.
Just think how important it is in today’s environment of increasing suicidal ideation in children, that we don’t prevent our children from getting big emotions out and not bottling them in until they can no longer cope. Repressed feelings don't fade away, like feelings that have been freely expressed do. Instead they spill out uncontrollably, and unexpectedly when a child suddenly hits another child, starts to have nightmares or develops anxious behavioural patterns.
By the same token think about the message we are sending to a child who is feeling scared of a predatory adult if we teach them “not to make a fuss”. Children, especially young children aren’t able to differentiate between what is something you should make a fuss about and something they shouldn’t. Instead, teach that the full range of feelings is understandable, part of being human and have the right to be expressed, even while some actions must be limited.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Your tolerance of your child’s emotions helps your child to tolerate their own emotions too. This tolerance is what enables us to sit with the emotions until they can accept them and then move on. This is emotional regulation.
* Your acceptance enables your child to realise that emotions are not shameful or bad, and that they can with time and support change, reduce or become less acute. They also learn that everyone has difficult feelings and even the not nice parts of our personalities do not make us bad, just human.
3) Listen to your child’s feelings.
All behaviour is communication and if you don’t listen to and reflect the child’s feelings back to them, they will continue to express their feelings in every escalated ways until the message they are trying to communicate lands and you get it.
Once they feel they’ve been heard, they will let them go and get on with their life. This means creating an environment in which your child feels you are genuinely present and listening to them. So put the phone away, turn the TV off, ask the question.
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* The natural flow of human emotions is like a surfers wave. They flow through us, overwhelm us, and then fade away again. My previous post on grief, loss, divorce and corona virus deals with an example of how important and effective it is to listen to and name a child's difficult feelings. When we deny them they get stuck inside us. Children are not yet skilled in handling their strong emotions, so they try to avoid them until they feel safe enough to experience them.
* When we help our children feel safe enough to feel and express their emotions, we not only relieve the toxic stress they are experiencing in their brains and bodies, but we also help them trust their own emotional capabilities, so that they can handle bigger stuff like social and intimate relationships as they get older, without destructive tantrums or repression.
4) Teach problem solving
Emotions are messages to communicate needs and wants. Teach your child to tolerate the emotions so they can express their needs and wants while realising they may not have them all met all of the time, and once they aren’t in the grip of intense emotion anymore, to problem-solve and take action if necessary.
Most of the time, once the child feels their emotions are understood and accepted, they quieten and lose their intensity. This creates space for problem solving.
Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to formulate possible options. Resist giving them the answers unless they ask or there is an immediate safety issue as this communicates that you believe they are incapable of handling it themselves and this will create a fixed mindset of “can / can’t” instead of a growth mindset of “can’t yet.”
Why this encourages emotional intelligence:
* Children need to practice how to find constructive solutions to problems and that means we have to model it for them and allow them the space to struggle.
* Research shows that empathising with children is not enough because they still feel lost and overwhelmed in their their emotions. Teaching them to respect their feelings as alerts about things they need to do differently in their lives increases their sense that they have the ability to influence and change their experiences. This personal power (so important for every human being's sense of safety and security) or self-efficacy is crucial in children feeling capable, confident and empowered.
LJ Sayers is a restorative practitioner, trainer, mum, partner, mediocre saxophonist and excellent chocolate quality controller. You can contact her for more information on training and consultancy services at email@example.com
One of my favourite films is "It's a Wonderful Life." I think the story of how Clarence (the Angel for those who haven't seen it) shows George (the suicidal hero) how many lives he had touched and what those lives might have been like had he not been there to touch them. Whilst a wildly fantastical film, there is so much truth in the lesson that "you don't always know the impact you have on others." Sometimes you will be lucky enough to find out in your lifetime. Sometimes you won't and it will be your children or grandchild that hear the stories of the impact you made. All you can do is make sure that whatever you do in this world, you try as best you can to make a good impact on those around you.
My high school was an excellent school. The teachers were genuinely interested in children and I have more that one memory as a young teenager of teachers who reached out to sensitively support children who were struggling. I am immensely proud that one of those teachers who is thought of so highly is my own dad. I am also so glad that he is still with us to hear the gratitude for the impact he had on others. Social media is not all bad!!
This morning I woke to a conversation in which I was tagged in Facebook. It lifted my spirits and I immediately reached out to Bobbie to ask if I could share. This is what Bobbie had to say:
..."At Ballycastle High I was in Glendun and our house colour was yellow. I never did Physical Ed, I managed to get out of it. So in first year I would spend most of my time in the greenhouse at the back of Mr Saywers (sic) class. He was very good to me and did his best to teach me some common sense and initiative. I learnt a lot there and I would like to say thank you to him for going the extra mile with me and having the patience and determination that he had to reach out to me and give me the confidence and strength to redefine myself rather than being defined by my illness....he taught me to have some initiative and in all honestly when I think back it was much more worthwhile I didn't do PE and much better for me that I was in the greenhouse instead....I really appreciate everything he did for me...he also taught me to have respect for others." Bobbie Gibson.
I am immensely proud of the teacher my dad was (and still is to my son - and well - also me). I am thankful that he gets to hear how he touched the lives of others.
As Maya Angelou said "People won't remember what you said, people won't remember what you did, but people will remember how you made them feel."
Tell me - which teacher made the biggest impact on you and how?
Ever want to rub out and start again? None of us are perfect. Quite the opposite. So here’s me, delivering workshops on parenting and managing conflict better with your kids and giving choices and meeting needs and showing compassion, and having patience and breathing and.... yep - not perfect!
I do not always get it right. I am not always nailing it. Sometimes I just haven’t got my plastic pants and superhero cape handy. This day at the end of last year was one of those days.
Little did I know when I rolled over and kissed my partner goodbye as he left for a two day business trip what awaited me. I thought I was organised. I thought I was prepared. But sometimes life just kicks you up the ass, pokes you in the eye and then laughs in your face.
Let me paint the picture. Traffic on the way to work - arrived late. Now just to let you in on a secret - my pet peeve is lateness - I hate it. Strong word hate - but I do. Anyway, it was one of those crazy day's when I didn't look after myself very well. I didn’t stop to pee, to have a drink of water, I barely registered inhaling my lunch, and I left work late. I picked my son, Jacob up from after school - late. (Did I mention my pet peeve?)
I got home to discover he hadn’t finished his homework at after school and now I'm starting to feel more than a little stressy!! Started to finish his home work with him whilst trying to get dinner cooked and one eye on the clock to get him out to Judo on time.
He was struggling with homework, overwhelmed and confused and I was too focused on timescales and not being late so I missed the cue and he lost it and ripped up the dictionary. (Not any old dictionary - the Mrs Wordsmith, beautifully illustrated, cost a fortune, dictionary).
I lost it. I shouted. He screamed. I slammed the dictionary on the table. He started to cry, I burst into tears, he howled, I howled, and somewhere in the middle of all this he knocked over the juice on the table - all over his homework which we had almost completed, and then ran through the puddle and sticky footprints across the kitchen and up the hall.
Because I was under pressure and made my priorities his. Who cared if we were 5 minutes late for Judo? Me. Who cared if we had to do homework when we came back from Judo. Me. Who cared if the home work book was a bit sticky. Me. Not him. Me. And it’s not that they aren’t important things. It’s that they weren’t the most important thing right then.
Putting my arms around him and saying “homework sucks, but I can help you” was important to him. Eating his dinner without rushing was important to him. Finding the word in the dictionary instead of a pile of illustrated pictures was important to him. Going to Judo and worrying about homework later was important to him. And nowhere did our priorities meet in the middle.
I ruptured our relationship that evening. But, and there is always a but. I also repaired it. He was so angry at me for not seeing him. And I was so angry that he ripped up the book that I loved (and paid a fortune for!) But I was the adult.
“I’m sorry I lost my temper and shouted Jacob, I said. "It was wrong of me, I should have noticed how hard you were finding homework and not rushed you. I’m so sorry I upset you and shouted.”
“It’s ok”, he said “I’m sorry I ripped the lovely book - I was so frustrated and I tried to tell you”
“I know, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you,” I replied.
“I love you mum” he said.
I burst into tears again. Some days suck but even when you rupture, you can still repair.
I was invited back to a school that I delivered restorative training to, to observe how they were using the principles and values in practice and to consult on developing their skills further. It was an exciting time. But it was also a little nerve wracking if I'm honest. As a trainer, I know that what I deliver works when it is put into practice. But once I have delivered the knowledge and skills to teachers, I have no control over whether they apply the principles as they should be (and as many media articles have had great pleasure in reporting, when the practice is delivered poorly the outcomes are not favourable!)
The class was a primary 2 class - so the children were between 5 and 6 years old. This is an age which teachers who attend my training often tell me "children won't get it." But oh my goodness - they really do get it when you have teachers like this one.
I had been there for about 40 mins, the children had finally stopped being distracted by me and had been directed to complete work at their desks while the teacher listened to a small group of children reading at the front of the class. After a few minutes the noise levels in the class started to rise. The teacher was distracted and "shushed" the class a few times. I was interested... I could see the teacher's frustration beginning to peak. She got up, and walked to the front of class. What she did next was the loveliest example of restorative classroom management I had seen in a long time.
"Boys and Girls" she said. "I have a problem, can you put on your super sleuth hats and circle up?"
Immediately, as if they had been primed for this moment, all the children, pulled their chairs into a (haphazard) semi circle and (get this.... cutest thing ever), pulled on imaginary super sleuth hats.
"My problem", she said, "is I really need to hear the children at the front reading, but the noise level in the class is too high. I'd love your help - any ideas how you can help me solve my problem?" The kids were loving this.
Kid: "We could put our fingers on our lips and shush"
Teacher: "That's a good idea - I like that"
Kid: "We could put our heads down and go to sleep" (I love this kid)
Teacher: "A good idea but I also need you to do the work that I set for you."
Kid: "We could whisper to each other"
Teacher: "Another great idea"
Teacher: These are great solutions - lets try them out - we can decide how well it worked after I've finished reading with the group at the front.
The class went back to work and the teacher went back to reading at the front. The noise levels subsided and periodically over the next 15 minutes they rose again only to be shushed by one of the children and to subside again.
I felt immensely proud of that teacher. She had taken all of the learning from the training and had genuinely put it into practical practice.
She used problem solving circles to
identify how the impact of the noise on her feelings was founded on her own needs, not the behaviour of others, (if that doesn't make sense - you need to come and do our training where I will explain the importance of recognising that your feelings come from your needs and not from what other people do to you),
empower the children to be part of the solution
hold the boundary when one of the child came up with a less than desirable solution
provide an opportunity for the children to review their solution and so turned a discipline moment into a learning moment.
If you would like to know more about how to engage the children in your school in restorative practice, if you would like to find a more peaceful and cooperative way to resolve issues in your classroom, the corridors, playground and beyond, or if you would simply like to see if working in this way would hold value for you, then check out our Introduction to Restorative Practices in Education Settings. We have an online course as our face to face courses are not currently running during the COVID-19 crisis.
Or contact me, Linda, on 07805093965. Stay safe.
When children are locked in conflict with each other often adults apportion blame and try to fix the problem by focusing on the person most at fault. This takes the power, the responsibility, and the accountability away from the children involved in the conflict - both the child who was hurt and the child who caused harm. Rarely are the two exclusive.
Conflict most often occurs when children feel treated unfairly and unjustly. It is their feeling that matters here. Storytelling allows children to transform injustice through imparting knowledge to a trusted other, being heard and validated, allowing them to reframe their hurt as something bad that happened to them not because of them.
Hearing the hurt of those in conflict is the starting point - it’s the “what happened?” of the restorative script. And it is hard, indeed sometimes not yet possible for a child to take responsibility for their actions when the hurt and injustice caused to them is not yet acknowledged.
If we support children to take responsibility by hearing their stories with an open mind, without judging or apportioning blame, and then step back and allow children to see that the solution to that conflict is within their gift to others they learn three very important things.
1) They learn they have control over their lives - they have choices to make or not make - this is empowerment.
2) They learn that guilt is simply a emotional recognition that they are better than their behaviour and it is something to embrace not fear. This is taking responsibility.
3) They learn they have the power to transform hurt they have caused into healing they have repaired. This is being accountable.
The starting point for this process is ALWAYS the shared story, not the apportioning of blame by someone not involved in the conflict.
First listen, then understand, then step back and support children to be their own solution.
A previous (and much missed) Assistant Director once challenged a group of us who were arguing that Restorative Approaches didn’t work for every child, that sometimes you just had to give up and accept they weren’t ready. She said “are these children difficult children or difficult to reach children?” The language is subtly different but the visual she gave me was so strong it hit me like Carl Frampton on a Friday Night. With that simple challenge she changed my view of difficult children forever.
It was like getting a pair of new glasses. She changed my lens from seeing the child as difficult to seeing the journey to the child as difficult. The two are very different. One leaves the problem very squarely with the child. They are the problem, they are the reason things are not working. The other, leaves the problem very squarely with those working with the child. How tenacious are you? How willing are you to stick with it? Work harder, longer and more cleverly to reach that child?
Those children, the difficult to reach, are difficult to reach for very good reasons. They have had horrible pasts. They have learned to be out of reach, because being in reach has rarely had a positive outcome. Their core shame runs so deep and is so accessible just below the surface of just about every experience they encounter that they have learned to dodge any sort of connection with people, just in case it hurts, just in case it brings that core shame to the surface.
Our challenge in restorative practice with the difficult to reach children, is to stick with them, keep reaching, until one day, and you might not even realise it, you will catch them.
Today I was leaving my son off at school. I only get to do this twice a week and it is a mix of emotions. Guilt, pride, and sometimes after a difficult weekend, relief. Today was a proud day. His playground assistant, Ruby, called me over. "I have to tell you what Jacob said to me yesterday" she said. I felt apprehension and curiosity all at once. Was this going to be one of those lovely stories I want to share on here or one that I want to file away at the back of my mind? Well, there's your clue. I'm sharing it!
"He told me I was doing a great job sweeping up the leaves and then he told me he loved me." She was so delighted, it had made her week. Jacob with all his social challenges often says exactly what he is thinking or acts out what he feels without any social filter. And while this can be embarrassing (I'm thinking of the time he "drummed" on a young woman's bottom in the queue at the shop because "it was just asking for it mum,") it can also be sweet and compassionate and make me awesomely proud. Like today.
Teaching our children to say the good things in their head, to positively reframe the not so nice things and to ignore the horrible things is an important life skill. And it begins with modelling it ourselves. The age old adage "praise the good and ignore the bad" is only two thirds of the story. The murky in-between ground where you have to find a way to positively reframe negative behaviours and feelings which are expressed by parents, other teachers and students, sometimes even by friends, is also important. If you dig deep enough you'll find that most of those expressed behaviours and feelings are borne out of disappointed expectations, shocked realisation, sullied dreams and broken trust. These are the conversations we need to have, the other side of the story that needs to be told in a way that helps children see that they are not bad, but that what they did made others feel bad. When we tell these stories we give them an opportunity to reclaim the good ground, to build expectations, trust, and hopes again.
One of my favourite sayings comes from a conversation with a colleague – Edele – when I worked in Youth Justice in Ballymena. “Don’t ask how smart are you? Ask how are you smart?” I loved this saying from the moment I heard it. It made me wish someone had said this to me when I failed my GCSE Maths for the 3rd time! I was not Number Smart and I wasn’t Geography Smart (ask anyone who has ever heard my story about where I thought Venezuela was until my 30th year). But that was ok, because I was Art Smart, I was Word Smart, I was People Smart. My self-esteem was grown through a realisation that I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t good at everything, but I was good at something – I was good enough.
I think one of the biggest challenges a school faces today is figuring out how to meet the performance targets set by the powers that be, but to recognise and embrace the differences of each student they encounter and all the different ways that they are smart.
Helping children to learn how to grow good self-esteem, to learn how to fail successfully without the shaming belief that they are not good enough, how to see mistakes as opportunities to learn whether it is a curriculum mistake or a behaviour mistake, is all part of the fabric of a school culture that is not recorded in the performance targets. And yet it should be. Because learning how to be accountable for our performance, our behaviour, our relationships is so so important in being a well-rounded adult ready to meet the world.
In every part of life, personal and professional, people will have to foster relationships, find ways to disagree and negotiate and resolve differences of opinion and perspective. It is not an easy thing to do - I am still learning. But letting our children go out into the world without the skills to listen to others, put right hurt that they have, and will again, cause others, whilst also communicating their own needs is failing them in their move towards independence.
When I was 18, my A-Level English Literature teacher, Mr Andrews, met me as I left the exam hall. He seemed furious.
“Did you answer question 2?”, he barked.
“No”, I replied.
“Why not?” he asked.
“I didn’t understand what juxtapose meant Sir.”
“It means compare!” he roared.
“Oh! I could have answered that”, I replied.
He pulled his hair in frustration, roared again and stomped off up the corridor, as only a man of 6ft 3inches and built like the side of a brick outhouse can do. I'm fairly certain that he stomped off to write a strongly and probably colourfully worded) letter to the examination board on the fact we were sitting an English Literature exam, not a vocabulary one.
My point is this. Communication, whether written or verbal, is only possible if it is accessible. If I'm honest, my desire to make restorative practices accessible to children with speech language and communication needs only really came to the fore when my own son was diagnosed with Autism. Inspired by the fear that he would be a misunderstood child, labelled "badly behaved" and dealt with through ever punitive ways, when really he was confused and anxious and didn't know how to tell others, led me to create and develop visual tools to communicate with children in the restorative justice process.
There are four areas to consider when translating the narrative to the visual.
First, consider your audience.
Bryan et al (2007)1 , Crew and Ellis (2008)2 , Gregory & Bryan (2009)3 , and more recently Brooks (2011) have all researched the prevalence of Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) in children in the youth justice system in the United Kingdom (UK). They found evidence of anywhere between 65 – 91% of SLCN evident in those studies. At even the most conservative estimate, it is fair to say there is an over-representation of children with SLCN in the UK’s youth justice system. If we do not develop innovative methods to communicate with children about, and within restorative justice, the message sent, may not be received. This risks children refusing to participate, or participating with anxiety, which can look like they don't give a stuff. Whether you want to accept it or not, these are the children you are most likely working with, you cannot ignore these statistics and the challenge to engage these children belongs to you, to me, to all of us.
Second, consider the message you want to convey.
You generally want to convey five messages in explaining what restorative justice is to children. Adults, often, in our need to feel important, to look intelligent and capable use complicated language which is unhelpful and isolating. Do these phrases look familiar?
In fact I remember a Principal Sheriff in a Court in Scotland calling me out on this very issue of using jargon to make myself feel clever. I had written in a sentencing report that the man in question had an offending history which was analogous with the index offence. He laughed, called me up to the bench, and told me if I could pronounce the word correctly, never mind explain it to the gentleman being sentenced he would happily accept the report. I stammered and stuttered my way through an explanation - but lesson learned. As I left his bench he gave me a piece of sage advice - "people want to understand - don't make it more difficult than it needs to be."
Next, consider the medium you use.
I advocate the use of visuals in both preparation for and facilitation of the conference. This increases the likelihood of being understood because there is an additional clue – the picture.
Visual representations can be things like:
Simple stick men are very acceptable and usually within the skill set of most people - if not - feel free to get creative whilst preparing children for the process - cut faces out of magazines, use emoji's, (kids love stuff like this).
Pictures of body parts
To identify feelings (stomach, heart, lungs, expression, gritted teeth, clenched hands, running feet, speech bubbles and thinking clouds).
Graduated colour wheels
Make intensity of emotions and feelings accessible.
Also good for intensity and are great to show the rise and fall of emotions.
For typical responses help the reciprocal communication of feelings in the moment.
I've used see-saws to show how a child's personal resources can be used to balance out victim needs, the list goes on.
With a bit of creativity and very little artistic talent required you can translate words to pictures for any child.
Lastly, consider the process.
Asking children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to sit still and communicate for an extended period of time is unlikely to result in a positive outcome. Similarly, expecting children who have SLCN to focus on thinking sequentially about their behaviour and the impact of it on others, is unrealistic.
Children can be supported to overcome this challenge by arranging the process visually from left to right in the room the meeting takes place.
At the left is the timetable drawn out in pictures.
1) Saying hello and who you are;
2) Ground rules explained;
3) Police facts;
4) Child’s Story;
5) Victim's Story;
6) What do we all do now?;
7) Thanks and close.
Moving around the room, each of these parts of the meeting are displayed from left to right, in the visuals the child and victim prepared with the facilitator in the weeks before the meeting.
It ends with a blank page where the promises are to be drawn. For children with ADHD this visual movement around the room is a particular gift. They can get up and move around the room; following the process, explaining their story, drawing up harm or sticking on emotion faces at different stages of the victim’s story.
This keeps them participating and active enough that their focus and concentration can remain "on task".
Creatively translating the above four areas from verbal language to visual representation for children will increase the likelihood of engaging them in a restorative conversation, regardless of their communication capability, securing more positive outcomes for all.
Bryan K, Freer J, Furlong C. Language and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders. International Journal of language and communication difficulties, 2007; 42, 505-520.
Crew M, Ellis N. Speech and Language Therapy within Bradford Youth Offending Team, 2008.
Gregory J, Bryan K. Evaluation of the Leeds Speech and Language Therapy Service Provision within the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme provided by the Leeds Youth Offending Team, 2009.
Brooks V, (2011) Report outlining the findings of a 13 month pilot project examining the effectiveness of speech and language therapy for young people known to Exeter, East and Mid Devon Youth Offending Team.